Updated: Jul 3, 2019
Here's something I'm working on. When I run into a friend that I haven't seen in a while, or find myself at the holidays with loved ones I don't see very often, I'm trying not to say any of the following things:
"It's been too long!"
"Where have you been!"
"I miss you!"
"We need to get together more often!"
Instead, I'm intentionally saying these:
"Hello, my friend!"
"I'm so happy to see you!"
"How are you?"
"I'm so glad to get to spend time with you today."
And here's why. The items on the first list carry subtle -- or not so subtle -- guilt messages to the person, implying that it's their fault we haven't hung out lately. Or that I'm frustrated that they haven't shown up for support group or Bible study. Or even, that I'm accepting blame because I haven't made time for them.
I caught myself doing this when I ran into my beautiful friend Jayme the other night. For a few months, our schedules had aligned and we saw each other regularly at a church event. One day we even got to man the doughnut table at which we had a profound, possibly life-changing, conversation. Then, our schedules stopped aligning and we hadn't seen each other in a while. When I saw her on Monday I said, "I've missed you!" and then immediately knew that could be perceived as blaming her for not being around the last couple of weeks. I love Jayme, and though we don't have regular coffee dates or phone calls, when our paths cross, she always shines a light into my life. I'm so very content with this arrangement.
The odd and wonderful fact of my life is that I love and admire more people than I can regularly spend time with.
These are women (and sometimes men) with whom I've formed sincere bonds and talked about deep issues. Some I served with in our young mamas ministry, and some I met when our kids were at school together, some I've met in classes or at retreats where I teach. I have other dear friends that I walked very closely with in seasons of my life, and now don't see very often. But when I do see them, we pick right up where we left off, and it's truly a joy to spend whatever time we can together. Some of my favorite relationships are with women who I know I can call out of the blue when facing a crisis that I know they have tools to deal with, even if we haven't talked in months, and vice versa.
So the last thing I want to do when I run into all these lovely people is point out some imagined failure in our relationship.
I'm guessing you can relate. You probably have old friends, cousins, in-laws, former co-workers, soccer moms, and other people who you sincerely like, don't see often, and are likely to see over the holidays.
I've been eating, sleeping and breathing about issues in female friendships over the last year, and though this idea didn't make it into my book (I guess there's still time...it's still in copy editing), many women struggle with guilt that they haven't kept up all their close relationships with regular contact.
My sisters, this is all okay.
How about we accept a healthy reality: We only have so much bandwidth for intimate relationships. We only have so many hours in the day. But we also have a huge capacity for love and goodwill. Shaming others or ourselves for allowing a few weeks to go between support group meetings or a few months between family reunions makes us less likely to connect and more likely to procrastinate about reaching out the next time.
So this holiday, when you run into the lady you roomed with at the last women's retreat or the mom you really liked on your daughter's soccer team last year, or your sister in law who lives four hours away but is super fun to hang out with -- how about you greet her not with, "Hey, it's been too long!" but with "I'm so happy to see you!"
And when you say goodbye, rather then, "Don't be a stranger," or "Let's get together more often" [if you really aren't able to follow through with that] say instead, "It was so good to spend time with you." Because it was.
Let this be one more way we give each other the gift of grace this season.