The Friendship Factor

Right before we left residential college, our spouses group enjoyed an away day with a guest speaker; a lovely lady who had been married to a Vicar for a long, long time and had come to share her anecdotal wisdom. Whilst useful in parts, the main thing that stuck with me about this interview, however, was how very lonely this poor woman appeared to be. She’d married young, to a man who was already ordained, and had thus never had the chance to meet other spouses and form friendships with people in the same position as her. She’d then moved around with her husband to different areas, and had only ever really made formal friendships with parishioners- people under the leadership of her husband. I asked who she would speak to, then, if she ever had an issue at home? To which, after much deliberation, Old Mrs Vicarage replied:

“Probably my GP.”

… A doctor?!

A doctor.

I found myself lost for words…

Until later, of course, when I joined my fellow spouses in externally processing the whole topic on the way home; during which we all agreed that times had changed and that, as we’d very fortunately found each other, there was no way that any of us would ever find ourselves in the unfortunate position of having no one to talk to in a time of crisis except, God forbid, our GP.


Forgive me for being melodramatic, now, but…

Last week I had a bit of an attack, for want of a better word, and, to be honest… I didn’t really know where to go with it. There was no event, no drama, no particular thing to draw attention to; but I was down. Really, really down. My hellish hormones had dragged my mood and energy through the floor again; my anxiety was up, my Spirit was down; my mind was racing, but my body did not want to get out of bed. There was nothing “wrong”, exactly, but all was not right. What’s more, the admittedly ridiculous thoughts that troubled me, (as you may have read last week), very much related to ministry and moving and other such things not so easily communicated in a text message.

So. Feeling the urgent need to actually speak to someone, I scrolled down my phone. And honestly? For all of the many wonderful, wise and willing people in my life, I was at a complete loss at who to call. And that’s not a criticism or cry for help to anyone, by the way! But it is an observation; and one that I’m only beginning to reflect on now. For in that moment, that precise moment when I felt the walls cave in a little bit, I realised that:

A) I spend the vast majority of my real-life, face-to-face time with parishioners. People we minister with and to. People I like and love and am probably way more open with than Old Mrs Vicarage would recommend; but still people who fall very much into the “don’t tell them anything yet!” category of red-taped, CofE, BS.

B) I spend a very large percentage of my remaining contact time- phone, text etc– keeping in touch with friends who actually need me. Sound conceited? Probably is… let me rephrase. In the limited time I have to offer, outside of family and ministry, I tend to prioritise contact with people who have really big stuff going on. Which is good and right and important, of course… until, that is, you’re just feeling a little bit rubbish and need somewhere to flesh it out.

At which point, in my imagination at least, reaching out to those most-frequently-contacted friends, goes a little bit like this:

Hi, how are you?

Ok thanks. How are you?

A bit off to be honest. I’ll go into more detail later but basically my nose is itchy. Could you pray?

Yes of course! I mean my whole family just got slaughtered by the Russian Mafia and I’m currently hiding in a bathroom cupboard because I’m pretty sure they can hear me wheazing and smell that I’ve shat myself…. but of course! I’m ALWAYS here for you if you need me, hun!!! #hugs

I mean… you just can’t quite bring yourself to do it can you?!

And yet… because so much of your friendship time and energy goes into, say, Spiritual Warfare with the Russian Mafia, you haven’t really spoken to anyone else about anything real in such a long time that you can’t just suddenly offload onto them either.

Besides which… if we’re honest… “offloading” isn’t really what you’re after anyway, is it? That’s just basic information sharing. If you’re really anything like me, you don’t really just want to talk about your itchy nose now, do you? You want to dissect the capillaries, compare the hairs, philosophise about the power and direction of the breath passing through each nostril and dig as deeply as you can into the nasal canal; preferably with someone as equally enthralled by noses as you are. You want to discuss scratching methods, at length, and share hopeful stories about others who have gone on to sneeze before you!

No. If you’re anything like me, I’m afraid the lingering memory of those smug next-door-but-one residential college friendships has basically spoiled you for the rest of your adulting, parenting, ministerial life!

And so you pace. I paced.

I mean, I could talk to Husband; but as he already finds himself stuck between one complex rock and another pastoral hard place, that seems a little unfair! And I should talk to God; but as my rollercoaster prayer life is part of the problem, I need a little help to see sense.

And so I scroll, and categorise, and basically sum up:

She’s too busy; got enough on her plate; too much going on; too many other mates! Too far away; can’t answer the phone; haven’t seen in too long; in the wrong time zone!

And so instead, if you’re anything like me, you close WhatsApp and open WordPress… which, save for the comments of solidarity, is perhaps a teensy little bit as sad as having to talk to your GP?!

But hey.

Life goes on and I’m not sure if this is to do with being a Clergy Spouse, or a parent of small children, or just a grown-up who’s moved too much in general; but I realised through all of this how very little time I give these days to friendships that simply bring me joy.

(Point in hand: a few weeks ago I went to visit an old friend who’d just come home from a hospitalised emergency. We’ve been twenty minutes away for two years, and it was the first time I’d seen her house. It was also the first time I’d chosen to spend a rare child-free hour drinking tea, eating cake and catching up.

Now… I know we’re all busy, but it does seem such a shame to think that it took a medical emergency for me to make time for this friend. And it took her to be in need for me to drop the To Do List and stop and chat.)

I just wonder … is there something a little bit unhealthy about that?!

And so here’s a resolution, if you like: to text someone, or better call someone, who is very probably fine. To invite, to chat, to meet up soon… and to actually arrange a time!

Sounds healthy to me. Enjoy! Xxx

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