I want to be an authentic person.
And I've tried. People say, "How are you?" and I have this silent conversation with myself: "Do I tell them the real answer, or do I say 'Fine. How 'bout you?' "
Please don't misunderstand: some days, I am fine, so I say, "Fine. You doing all right?"
Some days, I might not be fine, but I don't want to tell you about it, so I say, "I'm fine. How are you?"
I might not discuss my not-fine-ness because I don't want to tell anyone about it. Then, I say, "I'm hanging in there."
I might not discuss my not-fine-ness because I haven't put words to it yet. Then, if you're someone I trust and have been real with before, I say, "I'm not sure how I am, but when I figure it out, I'll let you know." Or something like that.
I might not discuss my not-fine-ness because I don't want to bother you, or because I don't think you'll understand, or because I don't trust you. Then, I say (as I keep moving past you), "I'm doing well. Thanks."
My friend Pam calls it being "seamless," this authenticity I'm striving for. She says she wants to be the same Pam that she is at church as she is in the grocery store as she is at work as she is at home. . . . I want that, too. I just feel so needy all the time, and who wants to be friends with a needy person? I've said several times lately, as a word of warning to people coming to my house, "I'm a mess right now." And, to the general population, that's more authentic than I've ever been.
My friend Betsy and I have been contemplating how to be authentic and still have boundaries in friendships. And how we determine which friendships need thicker boundaries than others.
Betsy and I have been friends for 23 years. (Wuh.) When I first met her, I didn't like her. She intimidated me. She seemed to have a lot of friends, and everyone knew her. I'd just arrived on campus, and I didn't know anyone. I don't remember exactly how things changed, but I remember where we were. We were sitting in the doorway of my dorm room spilling our guts to each other. It turns out our not-fine-ness was similar. Achingly familiar, in fact. We ended up walking together, and we asked God to bless our friendship, to build it to last. And He did.
But so did we. Build it, I mean. We started praying together, keeping a prayer journal where we wrote down what we prayed, and later how God answered what we prayed. We didn't know it then, but God was teaching us how to be intimate---with other humans, and with Him. We have laid our hearts bare before one another off and on for the last 23 years. We've been honest when we hurt each other's feelings, we've owned our own crap, and we've forgiven each other. We've been accurate mirrors for each other and sharpening iron for each other. We've kept each other accountable to the things God's told us to do. Over and over.
And we lived in the same city only for the first year-and-a-half of our friendship.
I believed for years that a friendship like Betsy's wasn't possible with someone who lived in the same town as me. You know, the day-to-day drudge of life is often just that--drudgery. And then I met Melisa.
Another God-ordained friendship, yes. We were paired as mentoring partners, we sang together in the praise band, and we generally got along well from the beginning. But early on, we had a conversation that changed the course of our friendship. In one afternoon, with Melisa's honest confession and my accepting her challenge of realness, our friendship went from two nice girls spending time together every once in awhile to two messy girls crying out to the Father to heal us. That afternoon on the playground while our girls played together, we chose---covenanted---to really walk together. I was brave enough to confess my grossness to her because she trusted me with her grossness. (She started it!)
God blesses me so richly through Melisa. I pray better, I lead worship better, I run to Jesus more quickly than I did two years ago. She gave me a local place to be real---and that means messy---and still be accepted. Cherished, even. (Oh, how I miss her.)
I think the difference in a "heart" friend and just a friend is the quality of the walking together.
It's in the diving into, not just overlooking or nicely ignoring so as not to embarrass anyone, the messy-ness of my friend's life. And my friend wading into the neck-deep messy-ness of my life. "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2) (Thanks, Laura.)
It's in the honesty, the owning of my own messy-ness, and willing to pray for my friend's messy-ness. "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." (James 5:16) My friend asking me later, "How's that messy-ness we prayed about?" My calling her when I haven't heard from her.
Maybe it starts by acknowledging the messy-ness in my own self, then appreciating---even celebrating---the messy-ness in someone else. And where our messes are similar, or even familiar, we sludge in there together. I lift up someone else's chin to remind her where to look for Jesus. And I let her lift my chin as well. I take her hand and walk with her as many times as necessary to get all the mess laid at the foot of the Cross.
Thank You, God, for letting me be messy (even though I don't drink beer or smoke cigars). (At least, not yet.) Thank You for giving me Jesus to sort out my messy-ness and teach me to love myself anyway. Thank You for the messy girls You bring into my life. Thank You for teaching us to walk---limp, crawl, hobble, run---together.
I had an English professor in college who had a great answer to The Question ("How are you?" and all its forms). Duque Wilson would reply, "110%." When he was recovering from his heart attack, he'd say, "80%." Slowly, as time passed and he healed, the percentage rebounded to 110%.
I heard someone recently answer The Question with "God is good." Even though the statement is true, and I believe it, if I answered that way I'd feel like I was trying to look or sound spiritual.
Then I would be a lot of things, but not authentic.
How am I right now? I'm fine. Really. (Except I'm up late writing this blog.)
How are you?