Friday, November 14, 2008

A Realization

You know, I was thinking lately about friendships with girls younger than myself.

I've mentioned that topic a few times before here, but the idea was brought to my mind in a new way this week.

As a part of a good-size homeschooling family, I have been raised very close to my siblings, and been in fellowship with other families that do the same thing. In social interactions, the world around me has always said "segregate by age," but that concept wasn't adopted by my parents, and thus I never thought much about it myself.

Sure, I went to Sunday School classes that were separated according to age, and I was puzzled every once in a while by a mother who inquired to my age and grade, as if that determined whether I was a fit playmate for her daughter. I even learned to ask girls how old they were, first thing, as if they had to say the magic age or I wouldn't associate with them.

But I don't remember ever turning down a friend because she said an age that was younger than my own. I was too busy trying to understand why "the older girls" didn't want me around.

I remember that feeling very well. That feeling of being invisible. Those "older girls" were never once mean to me. They never said cruel words, that I can remember. I can remember them walking away from me, but I don't believe that even that was done on purpose. The reason it was done was the reason I felt hurt; to them, I wasn't there. They really, honestly didn't notice me. Some magic of social law said I was not worth recognizing if I wasn't their age, and they had unconsciously acted upon what they had been taught.

"Something isn't fair!" Though I didn't understand what caused this heartache in me, I sorta declared war on whatever it was that made folks act like that. I purposed in my heart that, when I reached that elusive age, I would give my utmost effort to spotting the younger girls and talking to them.

Looking back on that decision now, I think that it was a good one. Though I am aware of the times I threw caution to the wind, stuck my pug nose in the air, and tried to act like one of the "older girls" I remembered, those times were short-lived and much regretted afterward. In general, I saw younger girls as just as much potential friendship material as girls my own age.

After all, I have sisters! One is close to my age, and there are two little ones. I will admit, there is a difference between my friendships with my older sister and younger sisters. I can't have the same relationship with a person eleven years younger than me as I can have with one two years older than me. Our friendships are different, but they are all very good. I loved being friends with my little sisters! So why shouldn't I want to be friends with other young girls?

Sadly, I've never learned to look at older girls and automatically see friendship possibilities. The idea that "older girls" are looking down their noses at me was almost branded into me at a young age. I need to pray about my preconceived bias, because it hinders me a little bit. You see, not all older girls are like that. I've been pleasantly surprised several times by older girls who are very opening and loving towards me, and each time it happens I nearly melt.

I've seen that look in a younger girl's eyes when I offer friendship to her. She can't believe it, either. Everything in our society has taught her to expect the opposite. Sometimes she refuses my offer. She can hardly believe I'm in earnest.

And you know what?

Sometimes I'm not.

This is the new angle of thought that hit me this past week. I've become so caught up in being the "lady on a white horse," if you will, that I have almost stopped considering my motives.

Is it really fair for me to offer companionship and friendship to a timid young girl out of pity or feelings of "well, it's the right thing to do,"...and then let her think I did it because I really saw something in her that made me want her to like me? Is it fair to enter into a friendship feeling as if I'm being a benefactor? Isn't true friendship more... equal ....than that?

I know it is. Jonathan was likely older than David, as well as richer, higher in the social strata, and held more power, but I challenge anyone to find anything condescending about the way he related to David. They were equals. When Jonathan gave David those princely gifts, I guarantee you there was nothing patronizing or false about it. I don't believe for one minute that Jonathan was just trying to "do the right thing." First Samuel eighteen one says, "...the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul."

I would call that genuine, equal, from-the-heart friendship, given by an older youth to a younger youth. And that was what I was failing to start out with when I was offering friendship to those girls.

I know I can't be close, knit-to-the-heart friends with every young Christian girl on the planet. But if I'm going to offer even a light friendship, it ought to be sincere. It isn't fair to offer anything else.

And those were the thoughts going through my head this week. I felt so ashamed of myself.

Why did I think about that this week? Because I was suddenly slammed with all sorts of memories. ...Memories of the ways my "young" friends have blessed me through the years. They've been true friends to me. They've been loyal to me in a way that even other "my-age" friends haven't been. Because I felt secure, more like an older sister, I had been more of myself with them. There was no flattery, no playing the game of keep-the-friend. They saw some of my nasty self at times.

And they loved me anyway. I am so amazed. They love me anyway.

And I discovered that I love them, too. I know I started some of those friendships with totally the wrong motives, but it was a wonderful feeling to suddenly realize that I had been blessed; God had not allowed me to stay in that same state of mind, but instead had changed my heart without my noticing it.

I love the friends I don't deserve to have! Girls who started out as "mission work" for me have become dear sisters in Christ. When did that happen?

I don't know.

But I sure am thankful for all those dear girls who have given me so much more than I have given them. They gave me true friendship, without asking for anything in return.

I was never the benefactor. I was the one who received. I was the one who was blessed.

Thank you, sisters.


Leah said...

Thank you for writing about this, Amber.
I remember when I was young, looking up to older girls and wishing that they would notice me and if they did, oh how happy I was!
I also wanted to befriend the younger girls when I became an 'older girl' and have done that to some degree, though I think that maybe my motives are not always what they should be either.
One young friend I have is two and a half and I can truly say that we are friends! Age does not have to get in the way.

Love in Christ,

Sandra said...

Amber, I know EXACTLY how you feel. As you know, my family homeschools too, and we weren't apart of any homeschooling group growing up. The only real social setting I had was church, and only ONE other family in the church was homeschooled. Growing up all these years in church, I never once remember having a real friend, because all the girls where either too old for me or too young for me and had totally different interests. I used to cry and think "What's wrong with me?" And my mom would always tell me that it was about our age. I hated hearing that. Through the years I've noticed that the girls in my church that are younger than me are starting to act like their older sisters, and be proud and they look at me, I feel, like I'm undeserving of their time. You can't imagine how Ostracized I feel sometimes. And you can't imagine the damage that it has done to me emotionally and mentally. Always thinking that there's something wrong with me and that must be why they don't like me. I still try to be nice to those people though. But I wanted to thank you Amber. Before I met you, because of what I just explained, I never really had any friends. And I don't know if you feel like I'm too young for you or not, or if you had wrong motives in talking with me and developing a friendship with me or not, but I want you to know that I'm very grateful to you, and very blessed to have you in my life.
I just wanted to tell you this so that you know first-hand that there are people out there that know what you mean when you talk about issues like this.

( : Anna : ) said...

How very true! I have to watch my own self on that at times, making sure I spend time with the younger friends as well as the friends my own age! :) Some of the younger girl that I know are some of the sweetest friends I have!

Jasmine said...

This was a wonderful post, Anna! Thank you very much for directing me to it! It is a funny "coincidence" that the Lord placed this on our hearts at the same time, isn't it?

I'd be honored if you linked to mine. :-)