Friendships on the Field: Cracks

I took up the violin in sixth grade after playing the piano for many years. My first violin was sturdy; it was finished with a dark stain and shiny, which I liked, because it felt like a Serious Instrument. But the sound was bit…flat. Ordinary. Still, we were only renting it from the local music store, so I wasn’t too attached to it. It was serving its purpose.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

But once I’d been playing for a while, my dad took me to downtown Portland to the music store where he often went to find scores for the community band he directed. After winding through the milk crates full of sheet music, past the records, past the student instruments on display, I couldn’t hide my excitement as the owner took us upstairs to the attic.

The instrument he put into my hands was striated on the back, its light finish on the front more matte than shiny. It had a few deep scratches, and where it was glued together, it was darker, as if dirt and oils had seeped in over the years. It had a label inside, but it didn’t give us much information about where it had come from.

But when I lifted the violin to my shoulder and the first note sang out, my dad and I both smiled. Being a salesman, he didn’t usually give away how much we liked a product in order to have a better negotiating position…but the owner smiled too, because he knew I was in love. I babysat for months to pay off my part of it, and I did so gladly.

Photo by Dominik Scythe on Unsplash

But my beautiful violin had a problem. A defect. A fatal one, really: a crack in the scroll, right where the peg put pressure on the wood the most, every time I tuned it. Over time, it got worse and worse, and I would hold my breath every time I tuned.

This is a blog post about friendship. (No, really, it is.) Because everyone has cracks.

We are not shiny, we’ve got wear and tear. But when the truth is spoken, the Christ in us recognizes the Christ in them regardless.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,”[a] made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NIV

Friendships with people who are aware of their cracks are going to be a bit bumpy from time to time, when you hit a nerve. Friendship with people who are unaware of their cracks entirely, who’ve painted over them, who’ve shoved glue in the fissures and gone blithely on, are going to be like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, complete with boulders that try to crush you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Luke 6:41-42 NIV

On the field, we don’t always get a choice about who we work with. Co-workers may consider you a friend, or they may want a more detached relationship. Either way, you need each other to make the ministry work.

Photo by Joseph Pearson on Unsplash

Affirm what’s yours and what’s not.

You can’t work on someone else’s issues for them. It’s one of the things that I resent most about relationships, actually. I’m sure I could fix you if given the opportunity…not that I’d want you to try to fix me in return. (Oh, hello plank; yes, let’s take that out…)

Their attitudes, their behaviors, their beliefs, their choices and values and desires all belong to them. So let it. Don’t take responsibility for their choices, even if you feel it reflects poorly on you or the organization. Chances are good that people understand that you’re not condoning

Be honest with yourself.

Take a self-inventory. What events from your life have made you the person you are today, for good or for bad? You brought more than physical baggage to the field with you…you brought emotional baggage, too. I know for me, it was abandonment issues. My grandfather left us when I was very young, and then in kindergarten, first and second grade, I formed close friendships with a different kid who moved away.

My small self decided that everyone leaves, and it wasn’t worth the hurt.

Fast forward about twenty years: here I am, arriving on the field, ready to bond with my new co-workers and other expats. About two years after the earthquake when the money ran out, the mass exodus of missionaries started, and all that old hurt about being left behind came back. I’d like to say I didn’t take it out on the people who were leaving, but I know for a fact that I did.

But I didn’t want to continue on that way. It took work to erase that lie. It took work to believe that the hurt was worth it. It took a very intentional decision to choose short friendships, to choose to bond deeply with people who I knew would leave me. But mamas, those friendships sang. Love is one of the few things that lasts into eternity, and you can have as much of it as you dare.

Don’t let your own cracks keep you from deep relationships. You’re not protecting anyone; you’re not even really protecting yourself. Because we all need support, and denying yourself that on the grounds of your own brokenness is setting yourself up to fall. It’s denying the truth that God spoke in the garden of Eden: It’s not good for man to be alone.

Listen to the story of the plank and speck again: take the plank out first, then work on the speck. He doesn’t condemn your care for others: he just wants it to be informed by your own issues. Start there.

Treat others’ faults with care

I tuned my instrument more carefully once I found that flaw. And this is a gift that we can give to others, to treat their issues as gently as we can. This may include (but is not limited to):

  • Keeping their confidence. If it’s said in private, it stays between you. Ask before you share any part of their story, even with your spouse. But I say this with a caveat: if this fault or a weakness means they should not be in children’s or youth ministry, you do have a responsibility to say so. For a case in point of someone who did not do so, see here.
  • Pray for them. Note: not asking for others to pray for them, a bit of gossip-sharing under the guise of spiritual concern…just pray for them yourself.
  • Don’t push on the sore spots unless you have permission. I made a huge mistake last year: I had a dear friend with anxiety. I knew that. But I thought her fears were stupid, and I told her so. It cost me the friendship, and I’m still kicking myself about it. I didn’t have the right to speak to that issue in her life. I knew she was touchy about it, but I was frustrated with her. I crossed her boundary, and she threw me off her property for trespassing, as she should. Respect those “no trespassing” signs.
  • Apologize quickly. Since those signs aren’t always visible, if it’s obvious you stumbled onto an old wound, just apologize, even if you’re not sure what you did wrong. It’s enough to know that it caused them pain.

I love you, mamas. Even on the days when you don’t feel it, you are a force for good in the world. Fixing a healthy snack is good. And filling the water filter. And keeping your spouse’s work shirts clean. And smashing the bathtub cockroaches.

A force. for. good.

Don’t let the cracks stop you.

2 thoughts on “Friendships on the Field: Cracks

  1. Thank you so much for writing this Elizabeth. I especially appreciate the reminder/admonition that confidentiality must be honored, even if something could be a prayer request brought to others, but in reality is gossip. Your caveat about children’s or youth ministry, should be expanded to include anyone with disabilities or dementia and therefore vulnerable for abuse or exploitation. How and to whom this speaking up about concerns should be directed, is likely a huge question in various cultures.

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    • You’re right, Wilma. We have a responsibility to all the vulnerable among us; thanks for sharing that. It may not be possible or worthwhile to report to national authorities, wherever we may be, but we should still do what we can.

      Like

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