Thirty minutes later life feels better than good, it’s great. All it took was a phone call from a lifelong friend after a homemade banana split sundae. I’d enjoyed an afternoon out with my son to see the preview for the 3D movie, Cirque du Soleil. On the way home, we decided to buy ALL the ingredients necessary to make everyone at home a full-on banana split sundae including shaving cream. Yup, that was the running gag on the way home as I kept saying ‘Shaving Cream’ instead of a can of ‘Whipped Cream’. Thankfully we got the right one on the plate.
Now even though a dessert of French Vanilla or Hokey Pokey ice cream over a fresh banana with fruit salad and whipped cream is simply the sweetener for the night it would have only been the anaesthetic without the surgery of a friend. Sure, it was even better with marshmallows, Smarties and then topped with berry or caramel sauce but that little bowl of sin wasn’t what made the night complete. Satisfaction came from someone who chose to Be The Friend and called me out of the blue to ask us how we were. As we talked together about the ‘flat tire’ our life is enduring right now we could hear the heart-felt care and the trembling concern from a beautiful friend.
I was the bumbling apprentice to the experienced Sensei
This is a unique friendship that was built on shaky ground in the early years. They were the youth group leaders, I was the wandering teenager, and the connection was based on a need to be heard and loved. For many years it felt like I was the bumbling apprentice to the experienced Sensei. I would often be rehearsing the ‘check-up’ questions in my mind before each visit, knowing I would be asked about various areas of my life, faith and walk. This was the kind of love-hate accountability I wanted and needed but never felt I would survive. I knew my own youthful fallibility so the expectation was a handwritten self-deprecating prophecy.
The environment that this couple created gave me a trusted space with the responsibility to lead and create. It was comfortable and uncomfortable in the same moment as the fun of a youth group created trusted friendships while the Bible studies, and leadership responsibilities called us to grow, examine and review. Nothing stood still and through life, school, celebrations and head-over handlebars bike accidents the relationship deepened.
Friendship is powerful to heal
Sadly it wasn’t a consistent journey and the stumbles stand out like eye sores on the memory’s landscape. I don’t understand why so much drifts out of my memory banks like an outgoing tide and yet the faux-pas events that happen on the stage in front of our friends seem to be etched like the dates of war battles on granite. I can clearly recall two events where my selfish motives broke trust, damaged relationships and rippled through time. It wasn’t just the moment, or the act, it was the response. When you know you’ve broken a bond of trust the eyes tell a story of disappointment.
Friendship is powerful to heal and I was on the receiving end in those early years. Friendship can cement itself between the years and visits to change what was a few bricks in the yard to become a place of protection. Today a phone call invited us back to that special place that still stands.
Can I encourage you to listen to the small voice that says; “Ring John” or “Give Jenny a call”. It’s not your advice that’s needed right now, it’s your friendship. There are two things that you can do and ‘Be The Friend’ that won’t cost you money, an ongoing commitment of your time or a sacrifice beyond the enjoyment of a tall hot latte.
Be The Friend: Ask How Things Are
I remember the advice of Greg Laurie as he spoke about how to speak to someone grieving. He said that ignoring the death is a mistake and to simply acknowledge the loss and repeat something positive that you remember about the loved one who has passed away. While speaking after a death is often the hardest kind of friendship activity this is good advice. If you know what your friend is going through then speak briefly and clearly telling them with empathy that you know and understand it must be difficult. Then ask “How are they going?” This first part stops here. Don’t overthink it or think you can do it better. Take a deep breath and slide on to step two.
Be The Friend: Listen First, Talk Briefly
A good friend knows that listening grows empathy and time means trust. If your friend can talk then just rest into listening and pay attention. Your ability to ask short brief questions based on what they’ve told you will empower your friend that you are trusting their responses. Be careful not to question their actions at this point. Simply listening is allowing them to process more issues, ideas and paths forward than a night tossing on the pillow could hope for. If there is a moment to share your thoughts try to use phrases like “I’d probably” rather than “You should”. By keeping things centred on yourself you allow them to choose whether they take the idea or leave it with you. Using ‘probably’ instead of ‘should’ it allows your friend to decide on the timing of utilising your idea and making it their own.
This blog post is dedicated to the many people who have chosen to “Be The Friend” to the Pitchford Family over the years. Your listening ears, timely advice and warm welcome homes are what inspires us to be true to life, love and calling.
Now in the words of Ray Parker Jnr; “Who ya gonna call?”