Relocating is different from moving. This was one of the first things my husband, daughter, and I learned when transplanting ourselves, our stuff, and our lives from one mid-western city to another. Sure, both involve packing (and unpacking), finding a new place to store the Crock Pot, and identifying a good route for walking the dog. But relocation, because it involves moving across the country rather than just across the street, involves a much bigger transition. Starting over in a new community, new schools, and new jobs, involves transitioning one’s whole life. For this reason it is an entirely different enterprise and poses unique challenges. One challenge I had not fully anticipated was making new friends.
I am lucky to have a lot of old friends. Of course, now that I’m in middle age, many of them would prefer I instead refer to them as “long-standing friends.” These people know me intimately. They understand not only what matters to me, but also how I’ve grown. Insights they’ve shared with me have informed the choices I’ve made and influenced the person I’ve become. These friends remind me that I can make new friends and give me the confidence to believe I am worthy of having them.
But no matter how old a person is, initiating and developing a new friendship can be difficult. The only way to gain the benefits of connection is to risk rejection. The “ask” of friendship is humbling. We become beggars knocking at the door of another. We wonder, “Will you be my friend?” We think, “Will they like me? What if they don’t?” And contemplate, “What would that mean?” I doubt we outgrow this insecurity. I know I haven’t. Because entering into relationship involves intimacy with another, it requires a willingness to engage in something beyond our control.
Understandably, we humans like control. It works for us. It leads to a life that is stable, safer, and undeniably more comfortable. But comfort is different from joy. Joy is profound, deep, and lasting. Yet joy comes with a “hitch.” It can only be realized when we are open to that which is beyond ourselves. It requires a recognition of our own worthiness and an open self-gift to someone or something else. Put simply, joy requires the willingness to be vulnerable.
It is this vulnerability to which C.S. Lewis refers in The Four Loves,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” (121)
Anyone who has known the joy of a true friendship understands that it is worth making one’s-self vulnerable. This self-gift is rewarded with blessings that far exceed the risks undertaken. Yet, it all begins with an assent to relationship, an act of faith. We must be willing to trust that our friend’s response to our invitation indicates their friendship. We will never have proof of it. We might ask ourselves, “Does he or she really like me?” He or she may respond with words and actions that make us think so. But we can never know for certain; we have to accept it on faith.
We are called to the same vulnerability in our friendship with God, but with one major difference: we never have to wonder if God loves us back, or if God wants to be in relationship with us. God our Creator always desires authentic and intimate friendship with us, his beloved creatures. More than that, God desires communion with us, which is beyond any human idea of friendship or love that we have. God can’t help but love us unconditionally, because “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16). All we have to do is open ourselves up to receive this divine love, accept it with the faith that comes from knowing and believing that God is the love he offers us (as his Son Jesus proved in his Incarnation, Death, and Resurrection), and then share God’s love with other people in open, honest, vulnerable, loving friendship.
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