Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Discipleship Denied: How Two Pre-menopausal Women Almost Destroyed a Friendship
copyright 2011 by Kathy Robbins
I am a member of what is called a reunion group. This is a form of a prayer group in which six women meet weekly to discuss our spiritual journey for the past week. We are to hold one another accountable for studying and spiritual action. We share our victories and defeats. We laugh and cry together, sometimes at the same time. We generally support one another as we travel throughout this difficult journey called life.
The name of our reunion group is Eagles Wings. I love that name but didn’t get to help to pick it because I am the second to newest member of the group. I have been a part of the group for 1 ½ years, but the original members have been meeting for about ten years. Informally, the group is called “the hens”. This is a name lovingly picked by the husband of one of the hens. But we wear that name proudly.
Each one of us hens shares something each week called “discipleship denied.” This is to represent a time during the week in which although called to follow the teachings of Christ, we failed to do so. This can be either a big or small event. To recognize our failures, we must be self-aware. This is like confession time. Sometimes, confessing our shortcomings is really difficult.
Boy will I have a big one for the hens this week!
See, I took my son to preteen camp. This is a christian camp for preteens. So far so good. Then, I went to pick him up 3 days later. Still, doing good. I was looking forward to seeing a good friend there. She and I both sent our sons, who are close to the same age. She and I have been friends for about 3 ½ years and I love her dearly.
So I walk in and see her standing in a group of people talking. She is very popular and knows a lot of people there. She was a camp counselor there for years. I decided to wait to speak to her. I didn’t want to interrupt her visiting. Finally, she sat down about 2 rows ahead of me. We stood to sing, and she kept turning around looking for someone. I was in her way. She would to look straight at me and then look around me. I knew that she was looking for someone really special. So I stood and waited. About the third time she turned around, I made eye contact with her and she stared at me for a minute and then walked up to me. I hugged her and told her that it was good to see her.
I have to admit, it wasn’t my normal hug. Usually, I would run up to her and give her a big bear hug. But this time, I was a little uncomfortable.
I had realized that although we were what I would call good friends, I am almost always the initiator. I call, I email or I text. Usually, she responds, but it is almost always me that initiates the connection. That makes me wonder if I didn’t make the phone call or write the email, would we be friends at all? Would she care enough about me to call and say, “Hey, I haven’t heard from you. Is everything OK?” So, I was stewing about this a little. In addition to that, I had recently emailed her to ask her to please pray for my family about a difficult situation. She never responded.
So, I wasn’t my normal self. I did hug her, but it wasn’t my normal hug. She picked up on that immediately and said, “Wow, I kind of expected a warmer reception.”
I said, “Really?”
She responded, “Yeah, really.”
I said, “I’m sorry.”
She asked me if I was Ok, to which I answered to the affirmative. I asked her how she was to which she answered that she was well. And then she walked off from me and went back to her seat on the church pew two rows in front of me.
That made my heart drop. We weren’t, after all going to sit together and smilingly admire our two boys. We wouldn’t catch up with each other ,discussing our families, recent activities and mutual friends. No joking and giggling like kids; no, none of that would happen today, because we were busy ignoring each other.
This took me back to about the 6th grade, when we would go to school and get into a tiff with one of our girlfriends, with whom we shared many rites of passage, puberty being one of them. And we would get mad and ignore each other and then out of the corner of our eyes, keep our eye on the person who we were ignoring. Keeping one eye on the other was necessary to see how the other person was responding to the fact that they were being ignored. Boy! I had not done this in a long time! I certainly didn’t expect to be doing it at the age of 48, with another woman of approximately the same age, at a church sponsored function. We were both being so childish!
We ignored each other and I realized that I didn’t have my cell phone. I would just sit and text my oldest son. That would make the ignoring easy. So, I walked out to the car and got my phone. When I returned, her husband was sitting next to her, which I am sure made her ignoring me easier. Then I got a text asking what was up with me and my lack of greeting. Why had I given her the cold shoulder. I answered, “I am sorry. I didn’t realize that I gave you the cold shoulder.” Well, that wasn’t entirely true. I did withhold my affection. Because, well, I was a little hurt. Then, by text, she accused me of treating her like a stranger. Well, that wasn’t exactly true either. Because I don’t hug complete strangers. Again, we were both holding onto our hurts like children. Talking about discipleship denied.
By this time, I was so hurt and confused, that I didn’t even participate in worship. How is that for discipleship denied? I didn’t sing, pay attention or partake in communion. How selfish of me! After what Christ has done for me personally, I was sitting there denying his gift, all because I had gotten my nose out of joint over a hello.
Then, when we were finally released, I went to my son, helped him get his things, and as I went out the door, I patted my friend on the shoulder and said, “Bye Hon”.
At that point, she said goodbye and then almost shouted at me, saying “What is wrong?!”
My answer was, “ nothing, really, nothing at all.” And I went out the door.
The reason that I wasn’t being honest is that although I am sometimes a little bit of a writer, I can prepare my words before they are published. I can backspace, or delete or start completely over if I want. But life isn’t like that. There is not backspace in conversations. And I am not good at calmly expressing my disappointments to others, especially when I know that theirs was an act of omission rather than commission. I have trouble finding the right words. So, I bolt.
I drove the 2 hours home and immediately logged onto facebook. She instant messaged me asking me what was wrong. I told her that I had been uncomfortable and that it made me sad that I didn’t get to see her but once a year. She commented that she knew that it was more than that. I told her that it would be good to hear from her once in a while. I told her that it was good to see her, that I loved her and that I needed to go to bed. She told me that she loved me too.
I was upset that I had obviously damaged an otherwise good relationship. I hoped that I would hear from her again.
The next day, I texted her and told her to have a nice day. No response.
The day after that, a different friend called. He is a pastor. We were discussing business that we share in a particular ministry and began to discuss personal situations a little bit. I shared my story with him, confessing about how immature and childish that we had both been. He counseled me.
He explained that something had recently happened to another friend of his and he had shared with her the subject of a recent sermon. He would also share it with me.
He reminded me that we all have gifts that are given to us by the Holy Spirit.
Romans 12:6-8 says,
We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; If it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
According to this scripture, encouragement is a gift from the Holy Spirit. This is to be used strengthen others. He said that he has this gift and so does his other friend. He said that this explains why she is frequently the initiator. Because she is called to check on people, to encourage them and through this gift, others receive the strength that they need. He said that we need to use these gifts of encouragement freely, without expecting something in return from the other person. We will get our reward from God, in the form of a blessing that we need, and sometimes from others, but not necessarily from the person who we have blessed.
Then he reminded me of the scripture from Matthew 6:5-7:
“But when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. When you pray, go in to your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
My friend told me that this is further evidence and instruction that we are to use our gifts, without expecting reward from others. God will reward us, in his time, in his way, with what we need when we need it. He said not to depend on a specific person for the reward back, because that may not be what that person is called to do. We all have different gifts.
He reminded me of the scripture in Matthew, with the instruction not to use my gifts for the purpose of showing off to anyone, but to freely give of myself in private in the area of the operation of my gifts, for the edification of the body of Christ.
He told me that if my gift is encouragement, which it is, to continue to encourage and exhort without waiting for encouragement in return. If I am called to encourage and love on my friend, to do it, because that is what she needs to be strengthened and that God would bless me in other ways that I need.
Wow. What a word that I needed right then. I knew that I had denied Christ, but I didn’t realize that I had refused to use a gift from him to strengthen someone who needed to be strengthened. She had become used to me operating in the area of this gift. She had come to expect it. And when I withheld it, I hurt her. She told me later that she almost had started crying because of the way that I had greeted her.
Wow. I never knew that I had an impact on anyone to that extent.
I understood that I need to continue to operate in the areas that God assigns. For he will not bestow a gift upon us that he does not expect us to use.
I had a voice teacher years ago who told me repeatedly that if I didn’t use my gifts, I would lose them. For God gives them to us to use in order to strengthen the body of Christ and if we don’t use them for this purpose, then he will take them back and give them to someone who will use them according to God’s purpose.
After speaking with this pastor, I knew what I had to do. I texted my friend, and told her that I was sorry; that I had lost my way , but I had found it again. No reply. So then, I texted her and told her that I would love her whether or not she loved me back. She responded by apologizing for thinking only of her feelings on Sunday and not being there for me when I have needed her and that she loved me.
That was nice to hear. I told her that I did not want to lose her friendship because I loved her like a sister.
Thanks to another member of the body of Christ, who set me straight when I needed it, I guess you could say that my other friend and I were no longer ignoring each other. Actually, we had an “Oprah moment.” Now that is enough to make someone cry. J