Something seven years of chronic illness and isolation has taught me is just how intentional friendship needs to be.
Until I became chronically ill, I saw people regularly at church, extracurricular activities, and when I was walking through my family's neighborhood. I saw most people without having to put much effort into it. My energy levels were high, and I easily saw people when I was out doing things I enjoyed.
However, since I'm mostly homebound, it's not so simple anymore; my friendships have to be much more intentional. I have to be purposeful in taking a letter to the mailbox, calling, texting, writing an email, or inviting someone to visit, and my friends have to be intentional with me in the same ways. But while the intentionality takes effort, I think it's a good thing because my friendships are stronger as a result. Relationships take work, and I doubt any relationship will be strong and will last if both friends do not sacrifice for each other.
I have found that relationships that form simply as a result of seeing each other regularly tend to lack depth and are not the type that endure years of suffering, and yet I wonder why it is that many of the people I saw the most before I became ill quickly faded out of my life. There is doubtless more than one answer, but perhaps the biggest one is that it seems people bond more over shared brokenness than they do shared interests, activities, or social status.
In the past two-and-a-half years, I've seen more masks than ever, but people were wearing masks long before COVID-19 hit and continue to do so even as the regulations have become less strict. You see, it's not cloth masks that I'm talking about, but rather the masks of keeping the broken parts of our lives hidden. I think there's a few reasons for this facade, but I fear that many people downplay their own brokenness and ignore others who are open about their suffering because the realities of it make them uncomfortable. We need to learn to be okay with admitting how terrible suffering is and that there are no easy answers to "why?", while at the same time looking to the cross of Christ, which shows us that we can trust the loving character of God.
Yes, sharing brokenness is vulnerable. Sometimes people will reject you, and it will hurt. But as J.J. Heller sings in Unbreakable Heart,
"Come on, outside where, you belong
I know, you're scared, but you, are strong
You're made for love, not for the dark
Nobody wants an unbreakable heart"
So today, I am challenging myself and each of my dear readers to be purposeful in our relationships, to share our brokenness with each other, and to not walk away when someone is hurting. And it doesn't have to be complicated–often all people want is to be acknowledged, heard, and given a hug.
Who will you reach out to today?