I love moving. Really. I do. I love packing because it lets me be as organised and ordered as I like. I love throwing stuff out – less is totally more. I love starting afresh. I love redecorating all my stuff in what feels like someone else’s house. I love exploring new places, and figuring out the most fun way of setting up furniture. I love moving.
It’s probably because I have lived in over 20 houses in my life. Maybe closer to 30. I’ve lost track. Prior to the last four years (in which I have lived in the same two rooms at Moore College) the longest I lived anywhere was maybe two and a half years. Change is stability for me. The idea of living in one house for 20 years freaks me out. Even if I live somewhere for a year I feel the compulsion to rearrange the furniture or the books or the linen cupboard.
But all those little things are manageable. Even the way that moving throws you into new circles of friends is manageable for me. I have practice. But having moved so much means that I know a lot of people. I have circles of friends from school, from old churches, from uni, from Wollongong, from Mexico, from Clovelly, from College, not to mention the complicated family circles I find myself in. You can read a bit about my complicated family here.
Now we all know that it is tricky (read: impossible) to be friends with a zillion people. It’s taken me a long time to learn this. Like most people, when I finished high school we all promised we’d be friends forever. That didn’t happen. By the time we finished uni we’d wised up a little and realised that as our jobs took us away from each other we wouldn’t be able to maintain the level of friendship to which we had become accustomed. Still, we had not perfected the art of leaving well. As we all grew up we noticed that the complexity of life meant that we just wouldn’t have the same frequency or even intensity of contact as that we had enjoyed while studying or working together.
Perhaps it is possible to maintain the frequency or intensity of friendship if you remain in the same geographical space, but my experience tells me that moving can throw a pretty big spanner in some friendships. So I try and keep a handful of close friends from each place I’ve lived. We don’t live in the same city, but we stay in touch via email, text, the occasional phone call, and of course Facebook. I see them every few months, if that. Sometimes it is years between visits. I always miss them and always want to see them, but life does not permit it. I have to be ok with that. So we steal occasional moments for a cuppa, and we do what we can, trying to recognise that we are both doing our best. There’s no pressure to do more than that. For me, this means that (at least theoretically) I am not consistently feeling my inadequacy as a friend, but instead recognising that I’m doing what I can, and what I can do is actually pretty good. This lets us pick up where we left off last time we were together. This I love.
Not every friend is like that. I wonder if you have ever had an experience like this one: someone you are friends with (or used to be) emails you. One of the first things they say to you is ‘have you forgotten me?’ They proceed to ask you how you are, what you’ve been up to, and how your family is. Perhaps like me, you hear none of those questions because it only took one tenth of a second for the guilt to hit after that first comment. You think to yourself that you have been a bad friend, that you should have rung her last week when she popped into your head.
This is not friendship. This is emotional blackmail. It is frustratingly common. And it’s not ok. Everything in me wants to walk away when people do this. This is using people for selfish gain. It is repulsive.
If this picture of emotional blackmail is so repulsive, then what should friendship look like?
A friend loves at all times. Proverbs 17:17.
Love. This is the characteristic marker of friendship. Of course, there are stacks of ways that love is manifested, but I think we can safely rule out emotional blackmail as one of them.
It’s interesting to me that Jesus calls humans beings his friends:
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. John 15:12-13.
He loved us. We know this because he lay down his life. He died. For us. This is no small sacrifice. This is the picture of friendship. But this is not a one way friendship. Jesus tells us that we are his friends if we obey him. Sacrifice and obedience are the characteristics of friendship with God. There is no blackmail here.
I don’t know what to do when you find yourself at the mercy of someone who blackmails you. But you and I can know that this is not how it should be.