Several years ago, a stomach virus struck our house, and one evening all of us were sick in such a way that caused both Stephen and me to pass out at separate times, with my fall resulting in a hole in our guest bathroom wall. Charlotte was 8 months old at the time and sick herself, and it was around midnight. As I laid on the floor, I didn’t know what to do and felt helpless in a way I had not felt before. I started thinking about whom I could call, and the list was short. I didn’t have many friends that I was close enough to that I felt I could call them in the middle of the night, so I called my parents. My mom said they would come right away, but since they live an hour away, I needed to call someone close by to help with Charlotte since I wasn’t sure if I was injured or would faint again (fortunately I wasn’t and I didn’t). I decided to call my college roommate who lives in town, and she graciously agreed to come over. She came quickly and tended to Charlotte and helped get her vomit-covered sheets into the wash. I was grateful for her presence and care, but after she left I felt a sadness that my list of people I could call in a crisis was so small. Why didn’t I have more friends?
The short answer is, I wasn’t actively trying to make any. I was hungry for female friendships but was also reluctant to make the first move and reach out to the women at my church, and so even though we had been attending for a year, I hadn’t developed many relationships that went beyond small talk before and after church. I kept hoping someone would invite me out for dinner or coffee, but it never occurred to me that I could be doing the inviting as well. People are busy, and we often assume people already have their “friend group” all set. I certainly assumed no one was really interested in new friendships since it seemed that many of the women close to my age had already been at the church for a few years and knew one another well. So I kept to myself, and though I never would have admitted this out loud, I honestly hoped that new best friends would materialize of their own accord.
As you might have guessed, I didn’t magically wake up one morning with friends. But what I did wake up with one morning is ulcerative colitis. Being sick with that disease, at first not even knowing that it WAS a disease, leveled me in a way that nothing before had. At my disease’s worst, I found myself too weak to do much but shuffle between the bed and the bathroom, so things like home-cooked dinners and clean floors and bedtime stories gave way to naps at all hours of the day.
It was then, when I had lost most ability to function on any kind of useful level, that those magical, make-believe friends I wished for the previous year began to appear. Two women from church showed up in my hospital room, bringing cheer and encouragement. Another one called and offered to “clean something, anything” for me. Another one brought my family dinner and organized others to do the same. Another one let me sob into the phone while she prayed for me. One friend’s husband came to our house after Charlotte was in bed so Stephen could visit with me for a few hours. Almost overnight, I looked around and saw something beautiful: the church in action. Friends in action.
I had prayed that God would bring me friends, had prayed that He would show me how to be a better friend myself. I had even gone so far as to confess my loneliness to a group of women at a prayer group only a month prior to getting sick. Though He answered those prayers in a rather peculiar way by also giving me an autoimmune disease, it was impossible for me to miss the way that crisis in my life became a landmark by which I recognized the faithfulness of God. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy being the recipient of so much help and would have much preferred to be the one extending such help to others. But that is not the role God gave to me at that time, nor is it the role I have found myself in for much of the past year. God has shown me many times over the years how my weakness allows His strength to shine through. He has shown me how my friends, in loving and caring for me, were daily reminders of His promise to love and care for me. What my weakness and need has helped me see is that being vulnerable in community is better than facing life alone.
We all have pain we wish to hide, but when we choose to hide our pain rather than bring it into the light of community, what are we missing? We could very well be missing out on the exact friendships we wish we had.
I hope I never have to call for reinforcements in the middle of the night again, but how thankful I am that if I should, God has grown my list in a way I never expected!