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How I Learned To Be A Friend

suzie.JPG Walk beside me and be my friend ~ Albert Camus

By Ruth Wood

Women need each other. However, knowing how to make a friend, be a friend and keep a friend can be an area of frustration. It was for me.

As a young mother I admired some older ladies in my church; they were such a close-knit group. When someone got sick they brought food, they had fun times on family camping trips, they even canned together. I longed for relationships like that but was uncertain how to go about cultivating them. So I started praying that the Lord would teach me how to be a friend.

And the Lord sent Suzie. Suzie loved people and everyone seemed to love her. We discovered we both liked running and lived in the same neighborhood. She asked me if I would be her running partner, and we started meeting three mornings a week to pound the pavement.

As I got to know her, I noticed how she did friendship. For one thing, she was always the one initiating with me at first. Hmmm, I thought. She seems to have no fear of calling you, no thought that she might be rejected. She seems to assume that you like her and will want to spend time with her. This was in sharp contrast to how I operated—living in fear of rejection. I decided to adopt Suzie’s attitude instead.

I started calling her sometimes. She always responded with enthusiasm. Then I tried initiating with others. I realized that if people say no, it’s not necessarily a rejection of you, they may have other things to do. Okay, you’re rolling your eyes at this “profound” lesson I had to learn—it’s so obvious.

I could see that Suzie initiated more than her friends did with her. This helped me learn to lower my expectations of others. I stopped getting hung up on how much someone reciprocated. People are busy or they may be preoccupied with problems in their life—it doesn’t necessarily mean they wouldn’t enjoy spending time with you if you make the effort. In fact, you may be the bright spot in their day when you call.

Maybe you’re wondering if my new approach turned me into an obnoxious “friend stalker” who forced herself on people. There’s always the swing of the pendulum to worry about when we’re trying to change! But a certain sensitivity came naturally—when a potential friend made no effort with me over time, I placed them in the “nice acquaintance” category and moved on.

Suzie was gorgeous with forget-me-not blue eyes and dark hair, but that was not her secret. I knew attractive gals with few friends and average looking ones who shared Suzie’s outgoing qualities. I concluded that having friends was not about being pretty; it was about sincerely reaching out to others.

I also noticed that Suzie had a wide variety of friends. I had always looked for that soul-mate-friend and in so doing, eliminated a lot of people. This was my main problem. Now I came to see that people are like circles overlapping to different degrees. Why not enjoy what I had in common with someone and be willing to try new things? I decided to give up the quest for a “best friend.” With this new outlook, I found that everyone becomes a potential friend.

Suzie introduced me to other gals who liked to run as well. Some Saturdays we ran five abreast, clogging our neighborhood streets. Soon we started celebrating birthdays and escaped on retreats to indulge in serious girlfriend time. The Lord had gradually answered my prayers for friends.

My favorite memory of Suzie is a weekend trip to Black Butte, a mountain retreat. We were both busy moms at the time, so it was a prized luxury to get away without kids. The sun shone and the sky sparkled a brilliant blue as we set out in my car, classical music playing. When we arrived, we wasted no time getting to the pool. Suzie loved sun tanning. We soaked in the heat and the beauty all around us, basking in our brief freedom from responsibilities. That night we ate dinner at the lodge restaurant to celebrate our birthdays, which were only a few days apart. We laughed and carried on so much the waiter caught wind of our reason for celebrating and surprised us with a free dessert (Suzie is the one on the right in the photo above).

I’m so thankful for this precious memory.

One day Suzie called to say she couldn’t run; she was sick. She canceled our runs for three weeks. When she finally checked herself into the hospital, doctors discovered she had leukemia. She died before the year was out. It was so sad—she was only forty-three. I missed her laugh, her companionship, the way she encouraged me in the Lord.

In losing her I learned that friends are a gift from the Lord, but one we must hold loosely. Because Suzie was a vibrant believer I look forward to seeing her again someday. And this is our hope in times of loss. In the meantime, I cherish my memories and the invaluable lessons Suzie unknowingly taught me about friendship.

©2010 Ruth Wood. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Ruth Wood is the editor of Comfort Cafe magazine. She enjoys teaching and playing the piano, her college studies, and going out to coffee with a friend. She and her husband have been married twenty-eight years, and they have two grown sons and a rambunctious grandcat. She may be reached at ruthywood@gmail.com.