After writing the last blogpost about friendships, I got to thinking about why this has been affecting me now when the situation has been the same or worse over the last 6 years. And I think that it´s a comparative thing. Recently I have felt like I have deepened some friendships here, and feel very relaxed and able to be myself with some friends, but I also recognise that I´m still a long way off understanding all the cultural references and shared history that others share. I guess it´s a case of having come so far, and yet still feeling like there´s a long way to go. Other friends have left or are leaving, so all in all, there´s a sense of always working hard at friendships without necessarily reaping the benefits.
But I´ve come to the conclusion that real friendships are hard. Full stop.
The triple combination of my job, being in another culture, and my personality probably makes making and sustaining real friendships even harder. Accepting that, the temptation is to give up trying altogether. Sometimes it seems like the effort required is just too much. Those feelings are still there, but recently I´ve made different choices about how I manage them and get on with life. In some ways it feels like I´ve returned to a lesson that I actually learnt 30 years ago when my father died.
I learnt that God is the only certainty in this life and this world. Anything else is a bonus.
So I need to treat each of those things according to that reality.
I need to invest more than ever in my relationship with God, and trust in His unfailing love. Last week in my Bible study group at church, we looked at Matthew 13: 44.
"God´s Kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic - what a find! - and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field." (The Message translation)
At first glance this seems like blind stupidity - to give up everything. But actually nobody gives up everything unless it´s to gain something greater. That´s the reality of the joy we have in God - that it is so valuable, that everything else pales into insignificance.
So for me, I´m learning to let go and give up the self obsession and the 'need' to be liked and appreciated (; what I might look for in friendships) and focussing instead on what I know God has called me to (primarily, relationship with him) and the joy that that brings. This actually ISN´T a sacrifice. It´s a joy - when we have our focus right.
So then what does that mean for my friendships. Well, I choose to invest in others, to be thankful for the blessings that friends are, and that they bring to my life, knowing that I can´t take them for granted, recognising that they are a gift. No matter what shape or form they come in, or how long they might last, I want to always choose to be thankful for friends.
Thismorning I read Psalm 33: 16-22
"No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
(We could add ´No one finds true satisfaction in the number or depth of friendships they have')
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,
even as we put our hope in you."
It´s this balance that I need to get right. Being thankful and blessed by the friendships that I have but not thinking that they´ll ever sustain me or satisfy me. That only comes from resting in God.
And in a role that entails investing heavily in others, I´m also reminded of Jesus´ words in Matthew 11: 28 -30.
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
He asks that we learn from him (I´d never noticed that bit before) - to learn from him who gave himself completely for others, but yet didn´t feel overwhelmed by their needs, because he rested in His fathers love. He knew that he was sustained only in God. I know that Jesus was a very different case - but he does ask us to learn from him; to invest in time to rest in my relationship with the Father, and out of that resting to be able to serve and invest in others, without expecting anything back.