Friends, Frenemies, & Fertility
I celebrated my birthday last week. On a ski hill sandwiched between friends and family in the shade of a towering pine, we noshed on canapes and deviled eggs, pasta salad and chips and guac as our local symphony teamed up with horns and electric guitars to perform the music of Chicago. It was 80 plus degrees and sunny and the smell of sweat commingled with fresh cut grass and ozone. I can't be sure, but I may have gone sans deodorant thanks to my a.m. birthday mammogram in which I wiped away Schmidt's Lavender+Sage sweat shield and forgot to reapply.
Hugging my daughter after arriving home that night, she announced, "Mom, you smell like french fries." A moment of panic ensued as I counted the number of well-wishers I had pulled in close for birthday hugs and selfies (ussys?) in the past five hours. Would my faux pas earn me a new nickname like Stinky Sarah? Would longtime friends write me off as a nutter?
For a variety of reasons, friendship has been on my mind this summer. Perhaps it has to do with the necessary taking stock that happens around mid-life. We suddenly recognize our waning time and become selfish about with whom we share the remaining sand in our hourglass. We rid our hearts of clutter to invest solely in the people who will freely give and receive joy.
True friends are the ones who see past our brokenness-- our bad hair days, bad choices, and B.O.--to call forth our beauty. When a lifequake like infertility smashes our faith to rubble, a true friend continues to speak hope.
The wisest teacher that ever lived said this about friends: Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:13 NIV)
Friendship is the continuous laying down of the self for the benefit of another. When fertile friends are already consumed with motherhood's laying down of self, choosing to enter an infertile friend's pain is no small gift.
But what characterizes this rare laying down of self? What are the attributes of a true friend not only during infertility, but in every life stage?
1. She listens
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak... James 1:19
What listening looks like:
A friend listens with her entire being, eyes trained on you, shoulders squared in a stance that says, "I'm all yours and I'm in no hurry." During infertility, she will ask about your treatment plan and progress, your recent miscarriage and your relationship with your husband. She does not offer snap judgments or pat answers; she knows that your need to be heard right now far exceeds your need for advice.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
2. She encourages
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. 1 Thess. 5:11
What encouraging looks like:
A friend reminds you about your truest self, the one with hopes and dreams outside of becoming a mother. She will pray for you. She will ask how your Couch to 5K training is going. She will nudge you to enter your latest essay in that writing contest she told you about. She will rave about how awesome your calves look in those new Dior slingbacks. Which brings me to the next quality of a true friend.
Photo by Katie Treadway on Unsplash
3. She is confident in herself and not competing with you
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Philippians 2:3
What being confident looks like:
A friend is confident in her own beauty, her own God-given gifts, and does not view someone else's blessings as something to be vied for. In light of infertility, does this attribute seem silly? After all, who would be jealous of the girl who can't seem to get pregnant? Truthfully, a woman who pits herself in a rivalry against you might desire your pre-pregnancy body, your pre-motherhood surplus of "me" time, or the perceived attention you receive during the rollercoaster ride of infertility. A jealous woman sees life as a race that she must finish first, a confident one knows that simply running at her own pace will garner the best reward.
In a nutshell, a competitor notices your snappy new highlights, but says nothing out of selfish ambition, a confident friend compliments your fresh look and begs for your stylist's phone number.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
4. She sets aside time for your friendship
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
What setting aside time looks like:
As you will learn one day soon, motherhood is all consuming. Still, a friend sets aside baby-free time for afternoon Latte Macchiatos and girls' nights out. Even as a mom, she values your friendship and relies on you for fresh perspective and sound advice as she astutely offers the same. In a culture where everything is about speed and convenience, slowing down and offering up our most precious commodity of time is, perhaps, the most sincere mark of a lasting friendship.
Photo by Brandon Morgan on Unsplash
5. She has a cheerful heart
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. Proverbs 17:22
What a cheerful heart looks like:
One of my favorite versions of this Proverb comes from The Message translation, which states: A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.
The Living Bible says a broken spirit makes one sick.
Has a so-called friendship ever made you feel dried up, bone-tired, or sick? Me too. Friends who trudge through life routinely sporting RBF have somehow missed the memo that God is good and life overflows with blessings. Warning: During infertility, such "friends" can sap your limited supply of strength. Perhaps worse is the frenemy who greets you with a hug one moment and a cold shoulder the next. Game playing has no place in a godly friendship.
Urban Dictionary defines "frenemy" as the type of friend whose words or actions bring you down. When you have to ask yourself if the person is your friend or enemy, she is your frenemy.
In contrast, a friend with a cheerful heart is good medicine. Think of her as ibuprofen for the soul. She reduces inflammation and pain and makes you feel instantly better about yourself. When you see this friend, you think, "Why don't we get together more often? That was so much fun!"
Proverbs 18:24 in the Message Bible states, Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.
Your assignment this week is to identify a true friend in your circle and give her a call (not a text). If you can't identify one, it's time to invest in a new relationship, one that offers mutual support and encouragement. Schedule time for shopping, wine, coffee, or kayaking. Then, take the time to tell her what her friendship means to you. You can thank me later.