About six years ago I had the privilege of being the president of a Christian organization on my University campus. I was honoured to work with an amazing, focused, steady, hardworking team and a body of dedicated Christians. It is easily one of the most memorable years of my life. When I started I did experience the dual emotion of excitement and nervousness to execute. I remember that as someone who cares for others on an individual level, one of my self-assigned responsibilities included reaching out to several members at once as a type of check in.
(Above: Here is most of the team I was privileged to work with 🙂 they are all fantastic and accomplished people today. Some of us are already parents and spouses and none of us are yet thirty. )
Quite a few of the folk I touched base with appreciated it and it was useful for me to know who was doing well and who I could lend some additional time and resource to when possible. I was grateful to be met with openness and sometimes inputs of wisdom. However, I soon found myself burnt out and overwhelmed without a certainty of why. Aside from the last efforts towards completing my Undergraduate programme and the few other extra curricular that kept me ticking, I was not sure why I felt quite so overcome with lethargy.
My friends made a joke about it. They thought it was hilarious. Why would I be “campaigning” so much AFTER becoming president? I chalked some of it up to introversion, perhaps all the socialising wore me out. But I was unquestionably interested in people and their specifics. This wore on for a while until one day as I sat with a small group of friends, my hair its usual distressed wildness in the tired smallness of my home. One of my always honest but compassionate companions at the time blurted it out:
“You can’t keep this up. Stop pressuring yourself to make sure that everyone is ok.”
I stared at him wordlessly at the time and he nodded understandingly. But as years have elapsed I understand more of what he said.
I still care about people’s well-being tremendously. I am still as open and as constructive with my communications as I can be. But I had to learn that everyone cannot possibly be your close friend. You do not share the same depth and history with everyone on your Facebook and your Instagram. By all means, connect with others, express love and understanding toward them, have meaningful conversations with them and give what you can to help them grow. But also understand that you cannot be best friends with everybody. You cannot solve everyone’s situations and you cannot become enraptured in deeply in everyone’s circumstances.
The older I get the more I understand. I get less offended when I’m excluded from things. I spend less time feeling unappreciated if my method of love is not reciprocated. I go into partnerships with fewer expectations that my colleagues and I must become acolytes. There were people I once valued more than the world but now I don’t know what is going on in their lives. While sometimes distance happens circumstantially, some of these rifts occur so naturally and blame for them is useless to assign. I have swallowed the boulder that while I had several core friends in school, I may only have a handful of constants now. That is okay. You see an old friend get married and you were not invited please know that that is okay. You have to cross a few people off your party list because you haven’t heard them in seven years? That’s okay. At times you meet up with these people again and pick up where you left off and find new ways of connecting or sometimes grow apart again. That is okay. This flowing and ebbing does not mean something is wrong with you (but don’t hesitate to do introspection) and often does not always mean something is wrong with others. As life rolls on not very much will remain exactly the same. Only the dead remain dead and even then they gradually change by decomposing. Do not house bitterness and have them clog up the arteries of your life over friendships in which you were unsure of where you stood.
I personally like low maintenance relationships so communicating every four weeks does not diminish closeness between my friends and me. Nevertheless, I have come to the realisation of how important it is to acknowledge and appreciate friends who have been there with you during difficult times. Who have shown you their true selves. Who have sacrificed for your sake. Who have remembered you when you were nobody and reinforced their loud rejoicing upon your successes. Who have offered wise words even when they were hard. Who have been loyal. Who you have trusted with secrets. Who have listened. And who, you have without a doubt done all of these things for too. To survive the rocky seasons of life we need to have robust alliances. This is no guarantee that they will not sometimes fail, but friendships worth fighting for will not fail permanently.
I think one of the most disturbing realisations going into my late twenties is how much we grasp for human attention and how much we pour into newly established connections without testing them. Please do not think that I am telling you not to make new friends. Biblical principle recommends that we must show ourselves friendly. I had no choice but to do that when I left home for university. And few things of late excite me more than clicking with new minds in an intangible and inexplicable unison. But you would not take your most important life decisions and place them in the hands of acquaintances. Would you? Can you imagine having twenty contradictory opinions on a major decision because you determined that several persons were your best friends? You would go to someone with whom you have established trust. Eh.. although I do know there is the one off when you need to hear outside, objective voices but I am digressing there.
If you are a mentor and a leader, people may lean on you who you love, add to and invest in but they may not necessarily be your best friends.
Those of us who grew up watching movies about mean girls and cliques cultivated a mindset that the most horrible punishment would be exclusion from someone’s small circle. But the reality is we would have to work overtime to be a part of everyone’s small circle and spreading ourselves too thin removes our effectiveness among a central few.
So many believe that popularity equates happiness but so many people can become isolated in their fame because they must be constantly vigilant that they are not surrounded by people who do not have their best interest at heart. Popularity attracts the ambitious and the assets but it also attracts the social climbers, the opportunists and sometimes the leeches. It attracts adoring fandom but also relentless criticism. So many successfully ride those waves because they have a trustworthy core who helps them remember who they are and what they’re doing.
My team helped me learn that important lesson at the time. No matter what went on with the organization, God helped us move past our internal conflicts to work hard together, care for each other, accomplish several goals and complete a successful year. From our whole relationships we were able to successfully reach others. No matter what happens in life secure your family unit, preserve your relationships. Be wise about how but do not challenge yourself to be unreasonably fastidious with the entire world. In the same breath don’t hesitate to give what you can to the world!
Please know that I am not advocating being a hermit. Although I guess that works for some. But put yourself out there and grab chances to thrive still please also know that everyone needs a team they know they can rely on no matter how small it may appear. Friends are not a random selection of people you are forced to spend time with circumstantially. They are not people who find you attractive only when it works in their interest. They are people you understand commitment, honesty, loyalty, longevity and love. If you have those people in your life don’t take that for granted. Sometimes we lose some and gleefully gain an unexpected few. Applaud the wins of people you know, show them support and when necessary kindness and help. But understand that you cannot take every individual into your deepest structure of selfhood. You are not slighting others or discriminating against them if you have established a tribe tried and true. Really… that is okay. 🙂