We have a neighbor across the street from us who has become our friend. When we stand at our kitchen sink, we can see into her living room, if her front door is open. I sometimes see her sitting at her dining room table in the late evening, working puzzles, one after the other.
One day, we went over to visit with her, and I sat down at the dining room table with her to work on a puzzle. She explained she was working on some pieces she had found in a paper bag. There was no picture, so she had no idea what she was creating, nor did she know if all the pieces were there. I laughed but started trying to put some pieces together, without much success. After about 15 minutes, she declared we should give up. I reluctantly submitted while we moved to the living room to talk. I understood her frustration and feeling that it was hopeless, yet, in a twisted sort of irony (for me, who does not like puzzle-working), I wanted to keep trying to work it. Though, I knew it could be missing half the pieces, my heart was troubled just walking away from it, never to know what the picture might have been, or whether only a few pieces weren’t there. I’m just that way, I suppose, unable to leave a “story” unfinished.
I’ve come to realize that not all people see the need to pursue finishing the picture, whether in puzzle-working, watching a movie, reading a book, or in life’s puzzle. One of my closest friends is this way, and it’s troubled me some, leaving me confused at times. I’ve questioned whether there was something wrong with me, or was there something wrong with her? Of course, neither answer is yes. We are simply different personalities, and God works in us differently. This is all part of our individual puzzles that God fits together, eventually making us all one, just as He is One with the Spirit and the Son.
We need friends of all types, and our friends need us. I dearly love my friend who is content not to question and dig deep. God has used her in my life, as He does so many of my friends. Yet, it may always boggle my mind how she can just leave the questions unanswered. I desire to learn from her and hope she can learn from me, as well.
What would we do without friends? Next to family, they are a huge force in all our lives; sometimes, they influence us more strongly than our families, for the good or the not so good. Our relationships with friends comprise many pieces of our life puzzles.
My first memories of friendship are of those who lived near me or who went to church with me. These friends were mostly by default because they were there, not because I chose to be friends with them. Those who lived near me were my playmates, and eventually, we went to school together. At church, my friends were those who went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School with me. These friendships are where some of my first memories of hurt feelings originate. The old adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words never hurt me” is just not true.
I can still recall some of the hurtful words said to me by those friends in my neighborhood, being made fun of because of my weight, boys picking on me and my brother standing up for me (they were quite scared of him). Yet, these were supposedly my friends. Hmm… how they shaped some of my puzzle pieces…
One of my best memories of those early years, and friendship, was my brother’s best friend, who also became my friend. He actually was my first crush, when I was 5! Through the years, he proved to be a friend who was more like a brother, and I don’t think I could’ve survived growing up without him (or, at least, I think I would’ve needed even more counseling in my life had he not been a part of my growing up years).
So many friends have come in and out of my life over the course of time. I’m thankful that some have become closer than family to me. I’m sad that some have betrayed me and turned their backs on our friendship. I’m delighted when I become reacquainted with an old friend and we’re able to “pick up where we left off” with each other. However, unlike my family experiences, I learned early on that friends are not always to be trusted, nor can you always count on friends. My emotional wounds from friends were evident to me even when I was young, whereas, with my family, I didn’t realize my emotional hurts from them until I was grown and could step back and look at the memories from a more objective viewpoint.
As a result of learning early that friends will sometimes hurt you, I became reserved with my emotions towards my friends. I had more surface friendships and was scared to share too deeply with those in my life. This was a formational part of my life puzzle, some of which I regret, yet, some of which could not be avoided. It’s a sad, but true, part of life, that we are going to be wounded, often by those we think are the closest to us.
I have a few friends with whom I am still in touch that I have known since kindergarten. What a joy it was to see them at my 20th high school reunion a few years ago! Even though we never really spend time together, we sometimes e-mail or comment on each other’s Facebook profiles. Renewing these friendships has seemed to restore a part of myself I’d forgotten existed. Whenever I see one of them in person, my heart leaps and feels at home.
A couple years ago, my dear Uncle passed away. I anticipated attending his memorial service, knowing it would be a celebration of his life and that I would be reunited with family I hadn’t seen in years. Surprisingly, one of the highlights of my day was seeing an old friend, one I hadn’t even thought of for quite a while.
He was a boy who had gone to church with me when we were very young, but he and I attended different elementary schools. When we entered Jr. High School, our grade schools both fed into the same Jr. High, so we were in school together for the rest of our teen years. Here was a friend that was connected through church and school memories, and what an incredible joy to talk with him a few moments, to know he shared in my grief of losing my Uncle because my Uncle had impacted his life, as well.
It all took me back to a part of my life puzzle that has been completed for years, a part I hadn’t been considering for some time. I was able to see God’s handiwork in a new way, to appreciate that part of my life with renewed thankfulness and understanding as to how God has fit it all together. Have you had that experience of seeing a friend from another time in your life, and you know that you know them, but you just can’t place them? Then, a light goes off in your head and you remember them, and suddenly it all fits together. That’s what it was like when I saw my friend at the memorial service, to a degree, and pieces of my life made more sense in that moment.
I have been blessed to have great friends at all different stages, and locations, of my life. There are those I don’t talk with regularly but whenever we meet, it’s like we were never apart. Some with whom I share email jokes and inspirational stories, who send me their prayer requests and with whom I can share mine. Still , there are those that are an active part of my life, who call, email, visit, text, Facebook, do whatever it takes to keep in touch and to share life together, no matter the distance. Finally, there have been a few friends who were only in my life for a season. It’s these friends that I don’t quite understand how their puzzle pieces fit into my life, at times.
Those who were in my life, but now are no longer, be it from time, changes in life, distance, or a choice made by one of us, seem to almost haunt me with a lingering doubt and uncertainty as to God’s intentions or purposes for the heartache that is left when someone disappears from our day to day existence. I’m thankful for Facebook, that has allowed me to reconnect with some of these friends, just to know they are there, and I have a means to contact them if I feel compelled to do so. There are a few, though, about whom I do not have this assurance; I don’t know how to reach them, or they have made themselves unreachable to me. I lack peace in these past relationships, and I don’t understand God’s purposes in this.
I’m reminded of those hard to place puzzle pieces that you sometimes come across, or those spots in a puzzle where it seems that none of the pieces fit. When I’m working a puzzle, I have to just leave those sections alone and go back to work on an area that does go together. I figure I can come back to those unworkable pieces later on, when the rest of the picture is taking on more form, and that then it will make more sense as to what piece needs to go there.
For those friendships that have left me without closure, without peace, I must lean into trusting God in a way that demands me to let it all go, to take off my hands and leave it in His. I don’t always follow through on this; I pick it back up and question and worry. Yet, whenever this happens, I realize that I’m only hurting myself more, that He is the one who will make sense of it all, in His time.
There’s a wonderful Amy Grant song that crosses my mind regularly when I’m confronted with these unresolved friendship pieces of my life puzzle. Her song says:
Why, why, why? Does it go this way?
Why, why, why…and all I can say…
Is somewhere down the road,
There’ll be answers to the question;
Somewhere down the road,
Though we cannot see it now;
Somewhere down the road,
You will find
Reaching for you,
And they will hold the answers,
At the end of the road.
Yes, friends impact our lives in mighty ways, and God uses them to shape our life puzzles. Understanding how He can use all of them to make our lives into something beautiful is paramount to our allowing Him to shape and create us into the people He intended for us to be from the start. Part of that process includes blessings and is easier for us to embrace. There will also be woundings in our experiences that God will use for His purposes, even though He isn’t the source of those wounds.