In the second year of our marriage, all the guys in our Young Marrieds/College Student Bible Study got together for a game night. Hey, thought I, I’ll invite the girls over to our apartment that same evening for movies and snacks. I sent out the invite, everyone responded enthusiastically, I spent that day cleaning and baking in prep.
Carl headed out for the game night, and I eagerly anticipated doing one of the things we’d dreamed about when we were engaged and talking about married life – opening our home to others, making it a warm, welcoming place, having it be full of life and laughter. We hadn’t had too many chances to invite people into our home yet; somehow, the folks in the church seemed hard to get to know, despite their often-quoted statement of “plug yourselves in! Find where you fit! Reach out to others!” This, though, reminded me of the Saturday game/movie/pizza nights I’d hosted all through college. This, surely, would start to bring us closer to people.
Five minutes before everyone was supposed to arrive, just as I was starting to hover by the window in case anyone got there early, I got a phone call from our Bible Study leader. Everyone had called her earlier in the day to let her know they weren’t going to be able to make it after all. She couldn’t come either, and she felt so bad about nobody coming that she hadn’t been able to bring herself to call me before. She felt so bad about making me feel bad, in fact, that I had to spend our entire conversation consoling her. When I finally hung up the phone, feeling a bit bemused, I thought that at least Carl and I would have plenty of baked goods and a nice clean apartment for the next few days.
Then I got another phone call, this one from the new girl in church, the college student who had just started coming, the one that I hadn’t even met yet but only communicated with through email, the one I had invited on impulse, thinking she might like a chance to get to know some other students. She was on her way, she said, but she was going to be a little bit late because she’d gotten lost. I told her not to worry – it looked like it was just going to be the two of us, so she wasn’t holding anyone up.
By the time Carl got home that evening, Ash and I had been so busy talking that we’d completely forgotten about watching a movie. She left with the invitation to return for dinner in a couple days, and the promise that we would, in fact, get to watching the movie soon.
In the next four years that we lived in Pennsylvania, Ash became much more than just a friend – she was our little sister. She helped me buy a pregnancy test when I was too scared to go alone. She was actually at our house when I took the test and found out Joy was on her way. She came to us with family troubles, with guy troubles, with her joys and fears, and we likewise shared with her ours. She spent many a night on our couch because she’d stayed too late for us to trust her to stay awake driving home. She used our house and kitchen when she wanted to cook for friends. She and I went skating together, sharing our love for the sport. When she fell in love, it was our house she brought her boyfriend to, for our approval, not her actual family’s.
I’ve lost touch with most of the people from that Bible Study. Some I keep in very casual contact with through FB. But Ash is still one of my dearest friends. I was matron-of-honor in her wedding; Joy was flower girl. Through many moves and life changes we’ve stayed in touch, even if it’s only a few emails a year, and we each have a standing invitation to come to the other’s home if we’re ever in the area, even if a visit isn’t planned.
I am not a fan of the “plug yourself in to a group” mentality. To me, authentic friendship takes time, it takes effort, it takes a few individuals working together to build something meaningful. Even in blogging – when I try just jumping in and commenting on someone’s blog, I most often get no response. But there are one or two bloggers with whom I’ve slowly, over time, with both of us making the effort to get to know each other, gotten to be good friends with. And those relationships are far more meaningful to me than a few scattered comments on (or even from) a hundred different blogs.
Maybe, instead of “plugging in,” giving an image of instant electricity, we should start trying to “build fires” instead – a slow, painstaking process, but one infinitely more satisfying in the end.