Grace Notes

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The burden of friendship

By Nancy Kennedy

Recently, a friend came to me with "the look." As the mom of a teenager, her face said what her words couldn't: "What happened to my child - what happened to me? I used to be smart; I used to be competent, and now I can't do anything right. I even breathe wrong. Just ask my kid."

I hugged my friend and said, "Oh! It gets worse. But then it gets better!"

Since then, I've been thinking a lot about my friend and how I can actually be a friend to her in these next few years. Truthfully, I am woefully lacking in friendship skills.

Even so, I feel compelled to hone my skills. The Bible talks a lot about being a neighbor and a brother (or sister), of walking together and bearing one another's burdens.

Years ago when I was having a particularly difficult time with one of my daughters, I had a friend, an older woman, who kept my feet to the fire. She knew of my tendency, my first instinct, to do nothing, to hide and just wish away any unpleasantness. It's a skill I learned in childhood, to ignore things and hope they go away and call that "doing something."

But this friend wouldn't let me not do anything. She forced me to do the hard things, to not be a weenie, to draw boundaries and not waver.

I hated her, but I loved her for it. She was a true friend who walked with me and helped me bear my burden. With her I could fall apart and then gather courage. Sometimes living with a teenager is like engaging in guerilla warfare, dodging sniper fire.

At least it feels like that sometimes.

In addition to that friend, I also had others, those who didn't have any advice for me because we were in the same trenches. C.S. Lewis once said that "Friendship is born at the moment when one person says to another, 'What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.'"

There's something so soul soothing about walking the same path with someone who knows how you feel. King Solomon wrote, "By yourself you're unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn't easily snapped" (Ecclesiastes 4:12, The Message).

I have one friend who has an incredible gift of saying everything will be OK, and even though he doesn't know that for a fact, his words have a supernatural effect and I'm instantly calmed. Over the years he's kept me off the ledge just by those four words: Everything will be OK.

I'm not sure where I'm going with all this. I just feel for my friend who's having this difficult time.

Sometimes as a mom you flat out don't know the right thing to do, and other times you know the right thing but it's something you'd give anything not to do.

You worry that whatever you do will be a story your kid will one day tell a therapist who will in turn say, "Obviously that's the reason your life is so screwed up."

Sometimes you're just tired and want to lock your kids in a cage for a day or year or two and drink Yoo-hoos and eat Ho Hos until you're numb.

It's a wonder any of us can function in society.

Today I sent my friend an e-mail telling her that I have absolutely no wisdom to pass on to her. I'm not that kind of friend. On the other hand, maybe I'm the kind of friend with wisdom in retrospect, things I wish I had done differently. It's a testament to God's mercy and grace that my kids are decent human beings.

I think that's our common story. We do some things right and some things wrong and hopefully we learn from our mistakes. We gain strength from those who are stronger, wisdom from those who are wiser and encouragement from those who walk our same path.

When he was 85 and living in Africa, Dr. Albert Schweitzer was walking up a hill in the blazing sun. Seeing a woman struggling with a load of firewood, he left the group he was with and took the wood from the woman and carried it the rest of the way.

Someone asked him, "At your age and in this heat, why did you do that?"

He answered, "No one should ever have to carry a burden like that alone."

My friend shouldn't either, and my arms, as feeble as they are, are open.