The Project-Friend

A new friend of mine asked me recently if I had picked them as a “project friend.” I knew immediately what that meant, I’ve just never been asked that question before, point blank.

 

The “project friend”: a person one takes on for an undisclosed amount of time to guide them through, convict them of, and teach them things that they genuinely couldn’t receive anywhere else.  (*sarcasm)

 

The “project-friender”: a person who frequently chooses to surround themselves with people who they perceive to need their help, and proceed to give their help throughout the relationship.

Project friender

 

 

Everyone loves a good project friend.  

Rephrase, us first-born, type-A personalities love a good project friend.  We get to boss them, pinch them, squeeze them, and watch them grow.  And sometimes, just SOMETIMES, we stay friends.

 

I’m a fixer.  It’s what I do for a living.  Think Olivia Pope of ABC’s “Scandal”, with a slightly less-fabulous tan. People pay me to boss them around, essentially.  To tell them what’s wrong with the situation, and tell them what needs to be done to fix it.  I give advice, compel people to action, and challenge them to find what’s buried deep down within them.  How on earth does one keep that from permeating other areas of life?

 

Wrong question, lady.  OF COURSE it’s going to seep through the cracks of one’s professional upstairs floor and end up all over the living room couch, but you can certainly control who sits on the couch, can’t you?

 

The right question is, how do you view your friends as peers?  Equals?  With each of you bringing to the table strengths and weaknesses that build, sharpen, and encourage each other?  The right question is how do you do this for at least PART of the time.

 

Well, to start off with, ask the Father to SHOW you their worth. He gave His son to be murdered in their place, (and, need I remind you, your place as well) so I’m fairly certain that they mean a great deal to Him.  What, that isn’t good enough for you?

 

There will be times when advice is needed of course, and God will put you in front of them, with the experience to give the advice, at that moment.  Everyone is messed up, each in our own ways, and to varying degrees.  You might need the advice next.

 

Another right question: WHEN DO YOU SHUT UP?  Just because you have great advice to give (whose advice doesn’t sound perfect in their own heads, right?) might not necessarily mean that you need to deliver it yet, or ever.

 

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” 1 Corinthians 3:6-7  ESV

 

It’s God who gives our words fruit, meaning, and a responsibility. Our advice is useless, unless God, in His infinite power, makes it effective.  And so often, I myself become gravely convicted, taught, or encouraged myself through the giving of advice, whether it goes on to “help” the other person or not.

 

When my friend asked me this question, my reaction was so strong, I had to take a break from the conversation.  WHY?

 

Hellooooo conviction.  I do have a tendency to fix my friends.  And what else is that skill than using your friends to make yourself seem or feel more relevant/powerful/important?

 

It’s PRIDE.  At its simplest, and yet its deepest.  As if I couldn’t possibly learn anything from this clearly inferior person.

 

Think back, to “that person” or “those people” in your life, who have been the most influential.  Was this person or these people trying to fix you, change you, judge you?  Not usually.

 

It was the person who was THERE FOR YOU.  Just… there.  Listening, giving advice when asked, and being open to what God was showing THEM through the experience.

 

That’s the kind of friend I want to be.  That’s the kind of friend I’ve asked God to turn me into.  That’s the kind of friend that I, just a few days ago, realized I am nothing like.  Yet.

 

The Mythical Soul Mate

Dead cupidI sat at a low-lit table trying not to stare at the friend-of-a-friend across from me, counting the minutes until the buffer (said friend) returned from the bathroom.  There was nothing to do but smile.  The restaurant had decided to increase the awkward intensity by playing music that was just barely too loud to make easy conversation.  I sipped my martini.

As more girls began to arrive at our table for 8, it became clear I was outnumbered.  There were two kinds of women at the watering hole that night: ones that wore wedding rings, and the ones that did not.

It was girls’ night.  In honor of my friend’s birthday.  I had met a few of these women before, but hadn’t gotten involved beyond Facebook status ‘likes’.  They were all single, except me- the youngest of the group, and one other who was a newlywed.  Being well on the other side of newlywed hell, (don’t believe all they say about the honeymoon phase) I was anxious to hear how things were going, and offer any wisdom I could.

Then the bomb dropped.  The only other woman at the table on my “team” announced her upcoming divorce.  (Annulment?  The relationship was still in infancy, so I don’t remember which.)  And more of story began to take shape.  They had known each other for only 2 months before walking down the aisle, and things had begun to fall apart rather quickly after the wedding march.

The girls began to do… what girls do.  The “you don’t deserve that” speech.

“You’ll find someone better.”

“He’s an idiot.  You’re too good for him.”

“Your soul mate is out there somewhere.”

I couldn’t bring myself to join in the pep talk.  At one point, someone asked me how my marriage was going.

“It’s going well,” I replied.  “Much better than in the beginning.  Our first year was the toughest.  But we’ve grown alot, and marriage has been sanding down our rough edges.  I love my husband.  I guess I found my soul mate.”

*Side note, I HATE using that term.  I simply used it because it seemed to be something that these Barbi-doll-wannabe’s could sink their stilettos into.  I was attempting to speak on their terms.

No sooner did the period on my sentence find its landing spot, then my friend whipped around.

“Jordan is your SOUL MATE?!”

The look of surprise on her face was that of a hunter that had encountered proof of a mythical creature in the woods.  As if the “soul mate” had been never before discovered in real life.

Unicorns on beach

“Uuum, yeah.  I mean, he’s my husband.”

“But you REALLY think he’s your REAL soul mate?  I mean, I just can’t believe that you’ve FOUND him.  The one for you, ya know?  It’s amazing.  We’re witnessing it.  You really found him.”

By this time, I had all seven pairs of eyes locked onto my lip gloss, hanging on my every word.

“Well guys,” I said nonchalantly, “let’s hope he’s my soul mate, because it’s ‘til death do us part.  If I treat him as anything other than my soul mate, this marriage is pretty much doomed to fail, don’t you think?”

The soon-to-be-divorcee’ leaned in, eyes wide.  “Oh. My. Gosh.  You know, that is so smart. You’re a really good wife.”

The other girls pitched in their amazement at my treatment of the term.  Again, I’ve never liked using the word.  It seems so… allegorical.  As if the ladies of the world just have to stay sane long enough to stumble upon our one-and-only knight in shining armor.  Then fireworks will spell out our compatibility, we’ll know beyond the shadow of a doubt that he’s the one, the stars will align, “Friends” will come back on TV, someone will cure cellulite, and we’ll live happily ever after.  Always happy to see each other.  ALWAYS.

Bull.  Bull crap.  Bull SHENANIGANS.  There are obviously different levels of compatibility with different people, but when you combine two imperfect people under the same roof, it’s never going to be a piece of the cake the entire time.  Platonic friendships aren’t even that!  And sex really does complicate things, so what makes anyone think that a marriage would be EASIER?  You could have a happy marriage with any number of people.

The term SOUL MATE just gives us permission to be discontent.  Always looking ahead for that magical connection that will make everything okay.  Never satisfied with what’s in front of us, or what the Lord might be using in our lives to teach, strengthen, develop us.

For the record, I love marriage.  Seriously, I was born to be married.  Marriage was what God used to turn me into who I was going to be, and what He’s still using for my sanctification.  And my husband is not perfect by any means, but perfect for me in so many lovely, challenging, steamy, nerve-wracking ways.

What I mean is that marriage is already an up-hill battle.  If he’s NOT my soul-mate, then I have two issues.

1.  Why the heck did I marry the guy?

2. How long do I think this thing- this FOREVER THING- is going to last if I’m entertaining ideas of being tied down to someone who wasn’t meant for me?

Are humans basically good?

I’m generally a good person.  I tip 20%, brake for squirrels, rarely use curse words, have never been arrested, etc. Isn’t it funny how often people say that? “I’m a good person, ya know?”  Usually followed, (exactly how I did) by a list of reasons that prove it.

But you know what else people say quite a bit?  “Nobody’s perfect.”  I realize that “perfect” and “good” are not the same word, but it’s interesting to be in a culture where two almost-opposing terms are used more than please and thank you.

Sad box-person

“Is the heart of the human race, basically good?”

I know plenty of people, but since I can’t speak for them, I’ll examine myself on this one.  A friend recently bought me dinner.  We had agreed to go dutch, but she swiped the bill at the last second, and refused to take my money.  Several hours (yes HOURS) later, we got up to leave, and I forgot to thank her.  I, the “good person” had been blessed by my friend, and just completely forgot to feel grateful.  I don’t know what to call that, but the word that comes to mind certainly isn’t “good.”

good

 [goo d]

adjective, bet·ter, best.

1. morally excellent; virtuous; righteous.

I was not consumed with moral excellence, I was consumed with selfishness.  But since no one was intensely hurt by my actions, or lack thereof, it’s harder to call it “selfishness,” isn’t it?

“Well that’s not THAT bad.  It was a small mistake, more forgetful than malicious.”  But who are we, but a collection of small actions?  And if the heart of the human race is basically good, then making extremely small, good decisions should be a piece of chocolate cake, right?

So driving home, I’m hit with this sense of conviction.  “Phew,” I remind myself, “good thing I’ve never murdered anyone.”  But the second wave of conviction wasn’t far behind!  The underlying reasons I do all these “basically good” acts is self-serving too!  Maybe not 100%, but I don’t think anyone could deny the presence of some selfish influence.  The reason I tip 20%: because I want -and expect- good service, because I want the server to like me, and I want the people I’m with to be impressed with my generosity.

The reason I don’t often curse: because I want to be respected as an intelligent person who can use a wide array of terms to describe situations.  The reason I brake for squirrels?  So I don’t get blood on my car.  How inconvenient would that be?  The reason I’ve never been arrested: (notice I didn’t say committed a crime) is because I have a reputation to uphold.

But nobody’s perfect, right?  Many people in our world today would arguably maintain that if one person’s crimes against another weren’t physical, then it’s not as bad or evil as it could have been.  Stealing a purse isn’t as bad as hitting someone, verbally de-valuing someone isn’t as bad as punching them, raping isn’t as bad as murdering.

Let me ask this, how many people do you know who have been through something physically traumatic at the hand of someone else?  (Beating, raping, abuse, shooting.)  Maybe a few come to mind.  And these few were no doubt greatly affected by these experiences.

Now, how many people do you know who have been through something emotionally or relationally traumatic?  (Divorce, verbal threats, end of a friendship, breakup.)  Ummmm, let’s see, EVERYONE.  You.  Me.  My friend who bought me dinner.

Isn’t it strange that we consider these “little” things we do to one another to be no big deal and just part of life as “basically good” people?  But in reality, these selfish, hurtful things affect everyone we’ve ever met, more often, many could argue, than physical crimes against one another.

Basically, the things that we use as examples of our “goodness” are most often the culprit in dividing friends/lovers/families and causing our own happiness to deteriorate.  The very actions that we offer as proof that make us “not as bad as the people who do such-and-such” are usually the ones giving the “nobody’s perfect” statement its truth.

Less than perfect is, well, IMPERFECT, now isn’t it?  Synonyms include: flawed, deficient, below-par, and defected.  Hmmm.

My most embarrassing moment

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.*

Girl hiding face B and W

The moment I laid eyes on Taylor, I just knew we would be friends.  She wasn’t overly pretty or frilly in the way she dressed, and in my experience, pretty girls ran together in unofficial packs that us plainer girls were not invited to.  Much like certain species on the African plains, I imagine.  Lions with lions, antelope with antelope, naturally drawn to each other by similarities in behaviour, appearance, and diet.

Anyway, there I was, watching just such a group form between two of the girls on my left.  The only other girl present besides the choir leader and my sister, was Taylor.  She stood next to me on my right, so we naturally fell into conversation.  She was around my age, (13) but a little less developed than I was, which, naturally made me feel as though I had some prior claim on adulthood, meaning I was a little more important.  She definitely seemed a little un-decided in certain aspects of her life.  She was sporting a short, boy-cut hairdo, and wearing gender-neutral clothes.  Even her name was sort of nondescript.  (I’ve never been a huge fan of names that made their owner’s gender unclear.  It’s the reason I have trust issues.)

During the first break of the day it was meal time.  We had all brought a bag lunch, so we scattered around the facility to partake.  The boys on one side, and the girls on the other, Taylor and I next to each other.  The only thing to really talk about at that age was who liked whom.  “Josie likes Adam, but I like Ryan.”  Just as our break time was coming to a close, the choir leader joked around in my direction, “well somebody likes Taylor.”  Trying to play cool, I pretended like I knew who she was referring to, but I was slightly confused as to why she had directed this comment to me.  I grew up homeschooled, so I spent most of my time in a general state of social confusion.

Back in the music room, we assumed the same places we had before.  Pretty girl squad on my left, me, then Taylor, my sister and the leader.  At one point, Taylor manifested a small toy out of her pocket and began tinkering with it.  We launched a secret game of trying to snatch it from one another without the leader discovering our activity.  Just as another short break was called, Taylor commandeered the figurine, so it was my turn to get it back.  We went back to the kitchen area for a drink, and Taylor sat on a wooden chair with her legs folded Indian style.  Freeing up her hands to uncap a water bottle, she put the toy on the chair, protected by the Indian-style fort made of legs.  I saw my chance.  I reached into the human Venus fly-trap, fully expecting her to snap her knees closed around my hand.  I was alert and prepared for anything…

Except what I found.  Instead of a small plastic action figure, my fingers had clasped around something…. else.  Something else entirely.

As we filed back to our places, I avoided eye contact with Taylor.  It was around this time that my sister began comparing the number of boys to the number of girls.  Looking at Taylor, she lamented “if only you were a boy, then we’d have even numbers.”

Taylor looked up, with the most innocent indignance I’ve ever seen.  “I AM a boy.”  Eyebrows high, desperately hoping to be believed.  It was repeated. “I am a boy!”

My sister, finding herself in the same “try to be cool” situation I had stumbled through earlier, sheepishly dismissed the issue, “oh I know.”

She hadn’t known.  And neither had I.  Until I got a handful of the proof.

Onions have layers

Shrek and donkey

Shrek:  “Ogres are like onions.”

Donkey: “They stink?”

Shrek: “No.  LAYERS.  Onions have layers…. Ogres have layers.”

Donkey: “You know, not everybody like onions.”

*pause*

Donkey:  “CAKE!  Cake has layers.  And parfaits.  Everybody likes parfaits.”

Friendships have layers too.  Today’s societal tendency is to stay on the surface, because, well, we all know that the friendship could be like an onion, and make you cry the deeper you get into it.  BUT, what if instead of an onion, it’s a parfait?  And you never get to taste the sweetness that’s buried beneath the surface, because you’ve held it at arm’s length?

Peeling back the layers is scary.  Getting real with people is scary.  You’re exposing places of yourself that can cause old wounds to sting, embarrassing traits to be seen, and bad decisions to be judged. But it has only ever been worth it, in my experience.  Even when I got hurt.  That’s usually when I learned the most about myself. Getting to the heart –and hard stuff– is usually how we get to know each other, as well.

And think about it! We feel important when our friends have the guts to open up to us!  The shear joy, honor and esteem makes us feel loved, accepted, and valued by this person, our peer, who had faith to tell us about the REAL stuff that’s going on in their world.  So make THEIR day and spread the love, value and acceptance.  But I have 3 points of warning.

1. Don’t act like your pain is worse than mine.  Everyone’s been through something hurtful.  Obviously, at varying degrees, but the emotions that these varied experiences create are often very comparable.  You can only speak for yourself.

2. Gossip disguised as a prayer request.  “Did you hear, our mutual friend so-and-so is considering divorce, so would you pray for them?”  Listen, I BELIEVE IN THE HEALING POWER OF PRAYER, but I also believe in the destructive power of gossip.  It can destroy the joy in our own hearts, as well as tear down friendships, trust, and love for one another.  If your mutual friend so-and-so has given permission for you to share, then by all means, be my guest. But if not, you must take it up with the Holy Spirit.

3. If you dish it, be willing to take it.  Being a good listener.  It takes practice, people.  And it’s not always fun, but it’s an excellent character-building exercise.  And much like physical exercise, there’s quite a sense of accomplishment that comes with it.  Not to mention, deeper trust, relational intimacy, and you never know, you might just learn something about your friend that you didn’t know.  More blackmail material for later.