Friendship in the midst of transition.

I remember when I was knee deep in reentry; still in the place where I kept forgetting to flush the toilet paper and was overwhelmed by too many options in Walmart.  In the midst of that season, I found myself trying to figure out this thing called friendship.

There was a part of me that was exhausted to my core with very little energy to put towards social interaction.  How was I supposed to build friendships when I was just so tired all the time?

There was a part of that was longing for friendship.  Longing to connect with people and be honest about how I was really doing.  How would I ever figure out how to get back to that place of having good friends?

There was a part of me that felt so awkward.  Insecure about my lack of knowledge of how social life in the US should function.  No idea what the rules were for what constitutes acceptable small talk.  How did I learn to not take it personally when someone’s idea of getting coffee lasted 30 minutes…when in my former country you didn’t even show up to coffee until 30 minutes after the scheduled time?

There was a part of the me that was skeptical to trust again.  How could I be sure that new friendships wouldn’t leave me bruised and confused?

There was a part of me that didn’t know how to get past the expectations I felt people had of me.  In order to continue a friendship, I’d have to get through the questions about why did you leave?  what happened?  Aren’t you happy to be back in the US?  Why are you struggling with faith? All of which require vulnerability {challenging when you are struggling to trust} and energy which we’ve already established I was short on.

There was a part of me that was at a loss on how to build friendships with those who didn’t share the experience of living internationally.  If all I could seem to talk about were crazy experiences of life overseas {even if they felt quite normal to me}, how could someone want to be friends who had no context for those experiences?

There was a part of me that in the midst of grief was incredibly self -centered.  How could I convince myself to see beyond my reality and to care about what was going on around me?

There was in fact a lot going on in those early days that made friendships hard.  But I think the biggest one was this:  there was a part of me that was terribly insecure.  What could I possibly have to contribute as a friend?  Who would actually want to be friends with me?  After all, I sure didn’t feel like I was the funnest person to be around in that season.  Most days I wasn’t sure I wanted to be around me either.

Looking back I can see that in that season, I automatically operated from the presupposition that I wasn’t good friend material.  I looked at others assuming they already had much better friends than me – so why even try.  I assumed that others were doing fine, and any friendship they showed me was just a reflection of their “being nice,” not a mutual give and take relationship.   In three short words, I lacked confidence.  And at the end of the day, this was the biggest barrier for me to begin building new {or reestablishing old} friendships.

Recently, I’ve found myself in the midst of a new season of grief and transition.  As I’ve been reflecting back on the season of grasping for friendships in the midst of re-entry, I realize that two themes have emerged for how I think about friendship a decade later.  They are:

Never Assume.


Just Show Up.

Part of my current season of transitions has involved moving.  Unpacking, I came across a photo taken at a party a couple months after I moved to the US of me and someone I met that night.  She has become one of my closest friends.  A few years later in a scrapbook, I had put the words “hope in transition” under that photo.  It’s true.  This is what friendship can be.  It can seem like a such a struggle to make good friends, but then there are the times when in the midst of the chaos life surprises us.

As I think about this friendship, I realize that a decade later we remain good friends because I had the courage to look past my insecurities and not assume that she didn’t want to be friends with me and because we have consistently persevered in “just showing up” in each other lives.  This year as we are both dealing once again with life transitions, I have been reminded that friendships forged in transition can be some of the deepest.

Living through reentry {and figuring out how to make friends in the process} helped me slowly grow out of some of my assumptions about friendship…

Never Assume.

Never assume that the other person doesn’t want to be friends just because they seem busy.

Never assume that they don’t understand just because they don’t have exactly the same story.

Never assume that someone has other people in their life who are asking the deep questions so they don’t need you to.

Never assume that just because you’ve been hurt in the past it has to be that way in the future.

Never assume that just because someone’s life seems stress free, there is not more going on beneath the surface.

Never assume that just because someone was busy the last time you asked them to dinner, you shouldn’t ask them again.

Never assume that you have nothing to offer someone else.

Never assume that someone doesn’t need encouragement.

Of course there are times that some of these might be true.  People are busy.  Not all friendships are meant to be, but it’s never safe to assume.  Instead I’ve found it helpful to have the courage to wade in a little deeper and test the waters.

In the midst of reentry, often we are dealing with grief {we may not use that word…but it’s still there just under the surface wrecking havoc on our life}.  Grief is one of those weird things that creates distance between you and those around you.  People want to “give you space”  People don’t want to bother you.  People don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything at all.  People assume there are others in your life who are closer to you than they feel like they are so they don’t ask the real questions.  People ask you about it once and then they move on because they assume that you don’t want to talk about it.  And then there are the people who just show up.

And a lot of these things happen in re-entry.  It can create distance in our relationships.  Recently I’ve found myself in a new season of grief, and I have been blessed and reminded by the loving actions of friends who have reminded me just how powerful it can be to…just show up.  Just showing up over the long haul through the mundane and the monumental times of life is what builds friendship.  When we just show up we make a choice…

We choose to take the risk of vulnerability and ask “How are you really doing?” even if we’re not sure what words of comfort to offer in response.

We choose to remember birthdays and buy a cupcake for a coworker.

We choose to ask for help and give others the gift of knowing they are a part of our life.

We choose to just show up at a friend’s house with some cookies.

We choose to listen to someone’s story and acknowledge that it is OK to feel pain.

We choose to say yes to an invitation to coffee with someone even if we don’t know them very well.

We choose to go visit someone in the hospital who’s not doing well even though were not sure what to talk about.

We choose to ask someone we know whose husband died a year ago, “How are you doing with that these day?”

We choose to have people over to our messy house for dinner because it’s better to spend time with them then cleaning.

We choose to go to the neighborhood barbecue even when we aren’t sure who we will know.

We choose to just show up to our faith community consistently week after week even when it seems like just another week.

We choose to send the text to the person we sorta know who is in the midst of transition because there’s no guarantee someone else is saying how are you doing with all this.

We choose to write a blog post about where we are at even when we’re not sure if other’s will connect with it {this one might apply to me right now}.

In short, we show up for life just as we are and choose to be present to those around us.  We refuse to cave to the pressure of “giving people space” because we all can use more love in our life.  As Brene Brown says, “we choose courage over comfort.”  We recognize that the best way to invest in friendships is by giving.

I have to offer a few disclaimers here…

This is not about creating unrealistic expectations for ourselves or for certain seasons of our life.  Sometimes we only have so much energy and so much time.  Sometimes we weren’t meant to be close friends with everyone we meet.  Sometimes we just can’t be all things to all people.  Sometimes we have seasons where friendships are sparse and hard, but it is always worth taking the step to show up when we can.

This is also not an excuse to throw off all social norms and to just do whatever we want.  There is a place for being aware of our surroundings, of what’s appropriate and what’s not.  I’m not talking about invading the privacy of people we barely know, but I wonder if we don’t assume just a little too often that the people in our lives have other friends who are caring for them.

This is not only about showing up only when people are struggling or dealing with really hard stuff.  Much of showing up is just the consistent time and energy it takes to connect, to reach out, to meet for dinner once a month, to say hello every morning over the long haul.  It is about showing up to the mundane things of life when we feel like it and when we don’t.  It’s about show up for the celebrations too.

This does not mean offering platitudes.  This does not mean we feel guilty because there is always more that we can be doing.  This does not mean we push ourselves further than where we are at.  This just means that if we choose not to believe the lie that that person doesn’t need my friendship or they are too busy for me or I have nothing to give – then we may not miss out on the opportunity for connection.  This means we don’t let fear or uncertainty keep us from showing up.

Looking back I can see that the season of reentry has given me a lot of gifts in the area of friendship.  It has given me the gift of letting go of some of my insecurities and of re-framing some of my assumptions, it has given me a little bit of courage to keep showing up in life, and it has given me the gift of some really great friendships who over this last month have shown up for me in really meaningful and helpful ways.

So if for you right now friendships seem hard…my wish is that this will give you a small bit of courage and hope.

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Ruthie formerly served cross culturally in Central America. She had her own rocky reentry back to the USA about eight years ago. She currently lives in the Midwest where she enjoys volunteering with refugee families, shopping international grocery stores, and drinking cups of coffee with friends.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I can’t tell you how much this article meant to me! I found myself sobbing as I read it…SOBBING…and not out of grief or despair, but out of feeling so validated! Thanks for your vulnerability…it has blessed me more than words can say!

  • This is so true of what you shared. I am still in the transition and have not been back yet on making friendships. Certainly by God’s amazing grace we can overcome this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Loved this article! Until I read it, I was super hard on myself for not desiring to have old friendships back again. Or any friendships for that matter! Thank you for your encouragement! I am not a missionary, but a military spouse back from living overseas.

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