Welcome to another stop on the blog tour for A Beautiful Disaster by Marlena Graves. Marlena is a new and dear friend of mine, and a fellow member of the Ink Collective. I was supposed to post a response to the book this week, but like a bad book club member, I didn't finish reading the book in time. And I will tell you that A Beautiful Disaster is not the kind of book you can speed through. It's a gorgeously written and full of wisdom, and it's meant to be read at the pace of sabbath. I will eventually post reviews on GoodReads and Amazon, but for now Marlena's publisher graciously granted me permission to share one of my favorite excerpts (so far). As one for whom friendships are of deep spiritual significance, I just loved this.
Excerpt from A Beautiful Disaster, chapter 4 (“Loved into Resurrection”) by Marlena Graves
Asking for Community and Friendships
My husband, Shawn, and I have moved four times in the fourteen years we’ve been married. It’s not as many times as military families are forced to move, but it’s more often than I’d like. Moving involves packing, sorting, calling the utility companies, returning things borrowed, ﬁnding new doctors and pediatricians—not to mention the pain of saying good-bye to people I love with my innermost being. The most difficult part of moving has been starting all over in a new church community. Whenever I talk to others, most often college students who are in transition (and to myself) about the moving process, I always say, “The ﬁrst year is always the most difficult. Don’t expect to feel at home in the ﬁrst year. The second year is better. And the third year, well, that is when you start feeling more at home.” Whether one is single or married, if one is not moving to a hometown (and sometimes even if one is) the ﬁrst year is rather lonely. Moving makes us feel decontextualized.
It’s hard to explain ourselves—who we are, where we are from, and what sort of affections we have—to new acquaintances. It is hard to communicate the essence of who we are upon ﬁrst meeting another. People are seldom ready to receive us in all our glory and our complexity upon ﬁrst introductions. We are understood and understand others best in context. That is why we slowly, naturally, and with some intention enter into intimate relationships.
One thing to keep in mind when we are searching for a community and our place in it is prayer. In the wilderness, we can’t help but pray. But I’ve learned that it seldom occurs to people to pray for good friendships, the kind of friendship David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi experienced. We need to pray for such intimate friendships.
Since high school, I’ve always prayed for intimate friends. If I meet someone I appreciate and feel that our initial interaction indicates an openness to a friendship, I ask, “Lord, please make a way for me and so-and-so to be friends.” I never force a relationship, but if I believe another person is open to a relationship with me and that she has the capacity to receive me for who I am, I do my part in cultivating the relationship.
After enough interaction and prayer for the blossoming of a new friendship, I make my intentions for friendship known. This is how I developed a friendship with one of my best friends in the world, Sue. She and I worked together on staff at a church. Sue is a tall, willowy, brilliant, reserved Dutch woman. She walks upright with an air of dignity. In addition to her brilliance, she is gifted musically. Needless to say, Sue and I are very different. I am a short, not as willowy, not as brilliant, more out there, half Puerto Rican.
Sue was the worship coordinator. She was in charge of putting together the order of service, which included the liturgy, musicians, liturgists, and those who were to deliver the children’s sermon for the week. She also wrote many portions of the liturgy. Sue’s office was adjacent to mine. One afternoon, I knocked on her door and plopped down on the hard-backed chair. I asked her how she was doing and expressed my gratitude for her ministry in the church.
After a while, I said, “Do you wanna be friends? Let’s be friends! I admire and respect you so much, and I need a good friend.” What I didn’t know was that Sue was mourning the loss of one of her best friends who had just moved out of state. Sue was grateful I initiated a friendship conversation because she too needed a friend and was very open to cultivating a relationship. Since that time, Sue has walked with me through many a wilderness.
Christ’s body is full of beautiful wilderness companions. However, they aren’t always aware of our suffering, so sometimes we have to take the ﬁrst step and ﬂag them down. Pride in the form of embarrassment can lead us to refuse help. Or perhaps fear of being vulnerable (because we’ve been hurt before) leads us to engage in what we think is self-protection but is really self-destruction. We end up refusing the sources of comfort God has made available through his people and then accuse God of forsaking us in the wilderness. Our stubborn refusals to welcome messengers of grace leave us emaciated and in the clutch of death’s grip.
Let’s pray for intimate and nontoxic friendships and keep our eyes peeled for how God will answer those prayers. And if we have to, let’s take the ﬁrst step toward cultivating intimate friendship.
Marlena Graves, A Beautiful Disaster, Brazos Press, a division of Baker Publishing Group, ©2014. Used by permission. http://www.bakerpublishinggroup.com