Having Grace for Your Friends During Life Transitions
Life is filled with swift transition! Graduations, relocations, new jobs, relationships, marriages, children, etc. In just about every season you enter, there's going to be a shift somewhere. And even when it's not happening in your personal life, it's likely happening in the lives of your loved ones.
I'm sure everything I named sounds like exciting and happy occasions, but truth be told--even the most momentous transitions are challenging to navigate psychologically and emotionally. After all, it's a new normal; one you've never practiced or experienced. We literally go in blind to new spaces, experiences, and roles. We don't know what "after" is going to be like; all that we are familiar with is what we are leaving behind. Kind of nerve racking, ain't it? That's why having grace in transitions is so important; having grace for yourself, and having grace for others.
So, picture it...
When I first started dating my husband, Randall, I was very new to the whole serious relationship thing. I had had a boyfriend before, but the last time that happened I was 19--a child. lol So, essentially, this was my first real adult relationship--we were actually courting and established enough to pursue marriage. Now, having such limited experience with being somebody's girlfriend, I was not an expert at balancing that with my pre-existing friendships. I did not know how to do it because I had never done it before. So what did that end up looking like? Me trying MY best, but not doing THE best job. In an effort to be 10 toes down for the man I was going to marry, I thought I was doing the right thing by prioritizing our communication and interaction over talking and interacting with my friends. Looking back, I believe I had the right idea, but the wrong philosophy. Yes, our communication and interaction should've been a priority, but not in such a way that I disregarded the needs and feelings of my OG friends, so long as my boyfriend was happy. I was trying so hard to be the best girlfriend that I wasn't concerned about being the best friend. And it didn't come from a place of malice or "I got my man so I don't need anyone else", but I just was not aware of the best way to navigate the new space (being in a courtship) while occupying the old space (being a full-time, very active and vocal friend). I thought mastering the new role of being a good girlfriend/wife-to-be is what I needed to devote my energy to. I thought I already knew how to be a good friend--I had been doing that my whole life. But what I hadn't been doing my whole life was balancing a serious relationship and co-existing friendships.
Because I didn't think I was doing anything "wrong", I wasn't mindful of how the changes in my life were affecting the people in my life. However, hindsight is 20/20, and I want to park here momentarily to emphasize that changes in your life can and do affect the lives of your friends (as well as your family). If your friend is used to communicating frequently, hanging out all the time, or simply having a certain amount of access to you, when your life transition--be it a new relationship, job, or relocation--causes that to no longer be routine/feasible/a priority, that is just as much a change for them as it is for you. As a result, I encourage you to do your best to be mindful, empathetic, and graceful if they get in their feelings about it. The root of their attitude is the fact that they miss you. Remember that, and do the work to maintain healthy communication along with healthy and practical boundaries. Now, you shouldn't have to babysit your adult friendships to keep the peace, but you should be intentional about watering them.
At the same time...
As you give grace to your friends who are making an adjustment, don't forget to give grace to YOURSELF. When one of my friends expressed how the lapse in my presence made them feel, I sat back and considered the error of my approach to navigating this new space. It was never my intention to act in a way that suggested I no longer needed or valued our friendship, or that I was completely content with a life where we had limited interaction. I blamed myself for how this strained our relationship because although I apologized, made real effort to be more present, and we moved forward, the energy of our friendship never really reverted to its prime. Since we were fine before that, I felt like the root of our issues was my fault. This new reality was a tough pill to swallow at first, especially during the experience of being a bride to be, but at the end of the day, I had to extend myself the same grace I was willing to extend my friends who had a rough time adjusting to having to share their friend. I had to accept that it was okay that I didn't take the perfect approach to navigating an inaugural experience.
Whether you are the friend who is transitioning or the friend with a friend who's transitioning, you, too, deserve grace in unfamiliar spaces. The reality is, transitions will always be a part of life, and surviving these transitions will always be a part of maintaining friendships (if it be the Lord's will). From season to season and space to space, communication, accessibility, and availability will be things that fluctuate. It'll happen when your friend moves, goes to grad school, gets a new job, makes new friends, gets married, and/or has a baby! If you take it personally every time, you'll be in a constant cycle of offense. Also, bear in mind that such monumental transitions can come with their own emotional burden. Your friend might be battling depression, anxiety, or just straight up be overwhelmed which can cause them to retreat. I say this in love: it's not always about you.
In the same token, if every time YOU experience a life transition you are no longer intentional about watering your friendships, you may wake up one day and realize not many stuck around. Now, like I said before, you should not have to babysit adult friendships to sustain them, HOWEVER, being thoughtful goes a long way. Check on your friends and make time for meaningful conversation/quality time even if it can't happen everyday. Don't just reach out when you can, be responsive when they reach out to you--even if it's to say, "Hey girl! I'm a bit tied up right now but I will respond when I get settled. If you don't hear from me by this evening please text me again!" Honey, if you're managing a household, degree program, full-time job, business, children, etc. you will forget and get distracted--but there's grace for that when you communicate!
I hope this blog brings you both peace and perspective. May we all challenge ourselves to be better communicators, empathizers, and stewards of the treasure that friendship is.