I love it when children teach me something.
Our church held it’s first ever “Spring Fling” festival on Saturday, with a kid’s zone and face painting. There were local artisans, a twirling demonstration and live music. There were also food trucks, which is very sophisticated for Watkinsville, and my friend Susan and I were getting lunch for our kids. This wasn’t a formal plan: it was just lunchtime and our kids tend to move as a pack and miracle of miracles, there was food right there! She asked me to get a drink for her son as I stood in one line and she ordered pizza in another. We decided that trying Korean crinkle fries was a good idea. As she went to stand in line at the Korean barbecue truck, I said, “Maybe I’ll try a chicken taco, too. Thanks! I’ll pay you back.” As we sat under the trees, her son Peter said, “Well, you might not need to worry about that: you got my drink and we’re all sharing our lunches. That’s just what best friends do.”
He was absolutely right; that is what best friends do. Sometimes, as an adult, I get fixated on trying to keep things even in friendships. I want to be sure I drive carpool, bring food, chaperone, arrange playdates and pull my weight as much as the other moms. Since it’s pretty impossible that I can do this for all four kids, I often end up feeling indebted to my friends and apologetic that I can’t be in seven places at one time.
Here’s the thing about true friendship: it isn’t a burden.
My dad grew up in the Quaker church, which is actually formally called the “Religious Society of Friends.” They draw their name and practices from the scripture verse in John where Jesus says, “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Their emphasis on listening for God and their social justice platforms have definitely shaped me. I also find comfort in Jesus welcoming us as friends because friendship takes time and energy and love. Friendship is holy.
Katie has been gone from her public school for five weeks now and her friends miss her. Her sweet teacher had the resource class write her letters and Elizabeth brought them home. They were fantastic. Some were funny: “Have you seen any turtles yet?” and “No one is playing football since you aren’t here.” Some were sweet: “Your sister misses you!” and “Please come back.”
One was so pure and true that it made me teary. One of her best friends wrote, “Nothing is better without you.”
If there is a better definition of friendship out there, I haven’t heard it yet. “Nothing is better without you” sums up the joy of friendship. These children’s words remind me that friends make everything sweeter and richer.
As I watch my teenagers navigate friendships, I am reminded of the unrealistic expectations that our culture gives young adults about relationships. They feel pressured to have thousands of friends on Instagram, keep up their Snapchat streaks with half of their classmates and be constantly available to everyone. Their authentic selves can easily get lost in the curating of their digital lives. Even for adults, it’s easy to get swept up in these surface friendships, but I tell my kids that having a few great friends who know your heart is so much more rewarding than knowing a lot of people just a little bit. It’s important to have a tribe, such as all the drama kids or the cross country team, but having a few people who love us, no matter what, is like manna from heaven. These true friendships sustain us and teach us about grace.
At the church festival, there was something sacramental and holy about sharing orange Fanta and crinkle fries with green sauce with our friends under the trees. That time mattered. Jesus wasn’t messing around when he called his disciples his friends; it was an incredible honor. It meant that “nothing was better without them.” It meant that sharing a meal was just what best friends do.