One of my best friends from college came to visit last weekend. She lives 400 miles away, and as a physician, she leads a unenviable schedule in one of the most demanding professions around. But she had a rare free weekend, so she dropped me an email and said she could catch a bus if we’d like a visitor? Even in the throes of morning sickness I couldn’t decline that sweet offer.
So she hopped the bus to come see us for the weekend. We had a great time catching up, hanging out, and even venturing downtown in a rare burst of energy on the part of yours truly. She was a fabulous houseguest, especially given the laid-back (read: lazy) state of affairs in exhaustion-ville, population moi. And as always happens when any members of the college crew get together, I felt like I got a bit of my old groove back. She brought a bright spot to a gloomy January.
I was really touched that she made the trek: solo, in the dead of winter, on the bus, with no prospects of an adventurous weekend out on the town. She just wanted to see…me. Us. And her visit really cheered me up during a spell when I’ve been mostly down.
Since she boarded the bus back home, I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship. To be perfectly honest, this is an area of my life where I feel I’ve fallen way short since S arrived. I remember a nagging sense of guilt in the foggy newborn days, but I figured it would pass: once I got the hang of this parenting gig, I’d have time back for my friendships again, right?
But then the months began to pass and life seemed overwhelming in its busyness; time kept slipping by me as I felt worse about not having the time to pick up the phone and check in with all the friends I normally kept in touch with. It sounds awful to say, but even now at the end of a busy day of work and caring for S, the last thing my tired self usually feels like doing is returning phone calls or emails from the friends who were thoughtful enough to keep in touch. It’s not that I don’t love them or feel grateful for their checking in; I’m just exhausted. The triage of choosing where to give my time and energy means that I can’t give to my friends in the same way that I could before.
A few weeks ago, a woman told me that even since she became a single parent, she had to consciously distant herself from her friends. “To me, friendship is about giving. And in this season of my life, I have to give to my daughter, and to my work, and to myself. I can’t give to my friends in the same way anymore. It makes me sad, but it’s the reality of right now.”
Her words seemed so depressing when she first shared them. But then I realized I could sadly relate. I try to do a decent job of staying in touch with friends via email, Face.book, phone calls when I can. But I always feel like I’m falling short. People I love are facing really tough situations right now, and I want to be there for them. Yet many days all I can do is send good thoughts and prayers their way. With all the other callings in my life, I simply can’t do much more.
The sad truth of a 24-hour day, my own limitations, the demands of work and family mean that in this season, friendship cannot be one of the primary callings in my life. It was definitional in high school; it was life-changing in college; it was life-saving in grad school. But as a young mother trying to balance work and raising children, my priorities have shifted.
I have to grieve what that means in certain respects and celebrate it in others. This chapter in my life is the fulfillment of a dream, no matter how tough, how stressful it can be at times. And it is not the last chapter; there will be many others to follow, in which my friendships will surely play a more central role again. Falling short in friendship will not be the reality of my life, but it’s the reality of right now.
So for today, I’m left with the challenge of being the friend I can be, to the many friends I love, with the resources and energy that I have. Perhaps I will always feel lacking in this respect – that there are always more visits I want to make, more cards I want to write, more email catch-ups I want to send. But I have to know my limits in giving of myself what I can and releasing from the guilt that I cannot do more.
The beauty of long and true friendships is that we ride out these roads. We forgive our friends when they get caught up in new love or tough work or messy crises and they can’t be there for us in the ways we hoped. We know their true selves, and we trust that they will come around in time – that our care and love for each other is stronger than the moment’s preoccupations. So we stay in touch, we let them know we care, we do what we can across long distances and changing lifestyles.
I’ve been blessed with some unbelievably amazing friends over the years. My prayer for the next few years is that I can know how be a friend to them in turn.