I’ve watched a lot of West Wing this spring and summer. One of my favorite moments in the series occurs between two of the key characters – Josh and Leo. Josh is the deputy chief of staff to the President and Leo is the chief of staff. Leo is a recovering alcoholic and in this episode, Josh is starting to deal with some post-traumatic stress disorder. Josh approaches Leo to thank him for insisting he needed help. Leo uses a metaphor for Josh, including a ditch on the side of the road. Leo speaks of a man being stuck in this ditch, a doctor passes this man in the ditch and offers a man a stethoscope, a priest passes the man in the ditch and says he’ll pray for him, but the man’s friend jumps into the ditch with him. The man says to the friend, what are you doing in here, now we’re both stuck, and the friend replies, “I’ve been here before, I know the way out.”
At one of my last bible studies this past year, all the seniors received the chance to share one piece of advice for the rest of the group. Four days earlier I gave a well-prepared and thought out talk during a Cru meeting on freedom. However, this night, 24 hours after a break-up, I hadn’t really even thought about what I wanted to share with the group. Others had bullet points, I sat in front, and through tears, I vulnerably shared something about making good friends and trying to love people well, in all areas of your life, and especially in your sorority or fraternity.
I’ve struggled with friendships all my life. I place high expectations on myself, and then apply them to others. I look to people for my worth and happiness, which leaves me very unsatisfied. Throughout college, I knew I had a lot of people in my life, but until the end of my senior year and this summer, I never realized just how many were great friends.
Great friends lend you hammers to break things when necessary. Great friends drive you home after you drink an entire bottle of wine. Great friends let you eat their leftovers. Great friends let you cry even when they don’t quite understand why you’re crying. Great friends jump in the ditch with you, to remind you that you’re not alone, and to show you the way out.
Immediately after I did not receive the job I had anticipated receiving, my sister called me and said, “I just want you to know that you’re not alone.” Suffering can be so isolating. I felt like I had nothing to offer others, and was so tempted to withdraw so that I wouldn’t feel guilty taking from them. How easy we believe the lie that healing must be done alone. Yes, some of the wrestling through things with God must be done alone, but a lot of the time, community fosters healing. Friends can listen. Friends can speak truth. Friends can pray.
During a season of transition, I resisted the urge to keep people at an arms length, and instead invited them into the yuckiness that was (and still kinda is) my life. I wondered out loud about God’s goodness. I confessed feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty and depression. It was as if God gave me people to help carry my burden.
I’m learning that friends that stick around during suffering seasons get very excited for you in seasons of abundance. I think some of my closest friends are more excited about my job offer and my move to Indianapolis than I am. They mourned with me when I was mourning and here they are rejoicing with me while I rejoice. These friends jumped right into the ditch with me, and have helped me navigate my way out. That’s what community does. It doesn’t shy away from the painful stuff; it dives right into it, and reminds us of Jesus in the midst of it.