Several years ago, I ran into a girlfriend at the pool. While our kids played, she apologized for not having seen me in some months. ”Are you kidding?” I said. ”I’ve been MIA, too. That’s life.” She smiled and said, “It’s so funny you say that. I have to tell you what happened to me this summer.”
Her story was this: her ailing, aging grandmother came to town for a visit. She wanted to see her great-grandsons before life got, well, busy, and her age and frailty didn’t permit her to travel. While she was staying with her granddaughter – my friend – they had a very interesting conversation. My friend (we’ll call her Sadie) shared some of the things she was struggling with, including one very tense situation at church that had taken a lot of her time. The relationship had soured a bit because Sadie was having difficulty managing both her children and her home life while at the same time keeping up with her church friend. Sadie’s friend felt that she was “too busy ” and didn’t prioritize their friendship. Sadie wanted nothing more than to love her friend well, but the demands she felt placed on her were almost too much for her to handle. ”Is something wrong with me, Nana?” she asked. ”How did you do this, when you were my age? How did you juggle it all?” Nana’s expression went from shocked to stubborn. ”I don’t know what to tell you, honey. When I was your age, my husband and my children were my first priority – and that was true for all of my friends, as well. We didn’t have cell phones or e-mail or text messages or Facebook. We didn’t meet for lunch or have girls’ night or meet for playdates. We went to dinner, occasionally, but other than that, I only saw my friends at church. Being friends with someone back then didn’t look a thing like it does now.”
As Sadie shared this, she admitted to me that at first, she was mad. ”I felt a little scolded,” she said. ”I felt like Nana was telling me that the way I’d been doing things was wrong, and that it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see it.” But then, she recognized the truth: Nana wasn’t scolding her. But she was doing things wrong. She hadn’t ever thought of the incessant text messages, e-mails, lunch dates, phone calls, and Facebook messages as anything other than the pursuit of a friend – a true friend who genuinely just wanted to stay connected. And that interpretation inevitably meant that her inability to respond to each and every invitation to connect meant she was the opposite: she was a flop as a friend, someone who didn’t want to be friends at all. But after Nana’s word, Sadie began processing what that connection was costing her in other areas of her life: the areas that she would proclaim and actually believed were the most important, like spending quality time with her husband after work, or helping her oldest child with his homework at night, or bathing the boys before bed.
As women, we are living in a world that looks vastly different from the generation before us. One word to summarize a massive change that’s been made since, say, 1998? Accessibility. We’re 24/7, ’round the clock accessible. In our minds, accessibility is not just a sign of a good friendship, it’s the foundation. There’s an unwritten contract somewhere out there that says we’ll answer every text that comes through, we’ll return every phone call within a few hours’ time (and spend 45 minutes chatting when we do), and make it to every single lunch date (not to mention girls’ night, baby shower, birthday party, spa day…). If you love your girlfriends, you will be there for them. But what does “being there” mean, exactly? And since when did it come at such a high price?
Sadie (who by now it must be obvious is a genius) shared another word of wisdom with me one evening. It came from the book of Psalms, chapter 16 verses 5 and 6:
“Lord, You alone are my portion and my cup; You make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”
“Boothe,” she said, when I was confiding in her about a particular friendship in my life that was causing me quite a bit of anxiety, “God doesn’t say that He’ll give us the tools to set our own boundary lines. He says that they’ve fallen for us. He’s already drawn them up. They’re there. And when we stay within them, and we ask Him to keep anything out that’s not meant to cross them, well, our life shouldn’t be filled with anxiety and stress.” It was a profound, game-changing moment for me. I’d always thought that anxiety and stress when it pertained to friendship was a result of my own sin, my own inability to handle someone else with love and compassion. What I saw now was that, while God obviously calls us to love others and to even sacrifice ourselves in doing that, He doesn’t want us to lose discernment in our relationships and forget the boundary lines He’s placed around us. Every time I go out into the world now, I pray that simple prayer: Lord, let me live within the boundary lines You have drawn for me. Let no word or deed cross those lines, on my side or the world’s, without Your jurisdiction.
Some of the words that I intentionally let Him filter out now include things like, “Where have you been?” or “You take forever to answer a text!” or “Why can’t you ever do lunch?” I don’t want to hurt my friends, and I believe relationships and community are biblical. But if your idea of a good friendship is based on accessibility – or, “being there” for someone – then consider this: the Word says a friend loves at all times. It doesn’t say a friend is always at your beck and call. It doesn’t say a friend will respond immediately when you have a question, or need to vent about some frustration. It doesn’t say a friend will make it to every single event that means something to you. While it certainly feels nice to have someone who does all of that, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re being loved. Love is first of all patient. It doesn’t have a timeline for a response to a trivial issue. Love is kind. It doesn’t need to chat with a girlfriend about how ridiculous someone looked in the carpool line ASAP. Love isn’t envious, it doesn’t brag. It’s not selfish, it doesn’t get angry easily. It doesn’t keep track of how many times you screwed up. And the list goes on. It turns out that love, as defined by the Scriptures, doesn’t look much like “being there” at all. It’s infinitely better, richer, and more fulfilling.
If we don’t learn to live within the boundaries God has drawn up for each of us – and no two look exactly the same – we’ll drown in the abyss of incessant communication with the outside world. We have to stop and unplug. To disconnect. To be okay to be away.
And teach your children to do the same. In the middle of that whole passage about love (in 1 Corinthians 13), Paul makes a rather interesting statement: “When I was a child, I thought like a child… when I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” It seems that love – real, authentic, Christ-defined love – is a sign of maturity. As they grow in stature, let them also grow in wisdom. Let them see you living within the boundary lines God has set for you, and let them see that those boundary lines are in “pleasant places.” After all, as moms, our single greatest charge is to place before our children examples: living, breathing models of what Jesus can do with a broken, jumbled-up life. The best way to find out? Let Him fill the void. Unlike any human friend you’ll ever make, He actually is always there.
Moms, how have you blurred the boundary lines in your friendships? What can you do today to embrace the “pleasant places” of His boundaries?