This weekend we had a friend and her son over for dinner. As I worked on a curry veggie soup, she rolled out naan and cooked it in a skillet. The kids all ran around together. Brandon’s mom was in town and she sat at the island chatting with us as we cooked. So did Brandon as he kept an eye on the kiddos. It was a perfect multigenerational, multi-family scene. Then we all sat down to a nice relaxed dinner and conversation. It was soooo nice (despite Lina not eating one bite and Teresa’s bowl ending up on the floor). But later when I was reflecting on the evening, what made it so nice was the feeling that we each, each family, needed the other. I made one thing, she made the other. She asked us for advice and we asked her for advice.
So often, especially after being married with kids, we feel like we have to put the perfect face on when we go out. Even with our friends. And so many times we feel like we’re in this alone, we can’t ask for help because we don’t want to impose on anyone.
But it feels so good to genuinely be of use to another person. We babysat for half an hour for a friend who lives down the street. It was only thirty minutes but she thanked us profusely. It was so great that we could be of service. That someone trusted us enough to think we could help.
Sometimes I see people struggling (and maybe they don’t even realize they’re struggling, maybe they think this is just how life is) and I want so badly to beg them to let us help. Or maybe I can’t help and all I can do is sit there and drink a glass of wine with them while they vent. But I like wine and I like listening. Not because I want to save them. Not because I think I know so much better than them. Not because I think they can’t figure it out. But because I love them and want to be part of their life. What I could offer might just help the tiniest bit but I have found that most times people just need one break, one little moment of relief, one word and everything falls into place. But we have to be open to it for it to do any good.
It reminds me of this scene in the West Wing where Leo helps out Josh:
This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out. A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on. Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.’
Maybe people see us and think the same thing. I’m as guilty as the next person of not wanting to reach out when we are struggling. Usually when we’re struggling, we close up, take ourselves out of the world and buckle down trying to work our way through on our own. How silly. God gave us each other for a reason. Not just to hear about the highlights of each other’s life but to be there for all of it. For the not-so-hard-but-still-a-trial stuff, for the messy stuff, for the gut-wrenchingly difficult stuff. When we feel like we need to pull back from friends, that’s probably the time that we need to lean in to them.
But what I think made this evening so great was that real community doesn’t just take turns saving one another (although if it happens like that its totally fine) but rather walks alongside each other and works through things together. I hadn’t finished cooking the soup when they got here and she hadn’t finished the naan at home so she brought over the dough. And we finished the meal together. That’s what friends are for. That’s what community is for.