Growing good friends

I see it happening, the unfolding of a girl's heart towards the warmth and light of community. And then, just as the petals are in full flower, I watch what seems nearly inevitable: petals pulled back in tightly onto themselves, hardened to protect against the pelting that comes.

I am the mother of four girls. Those girls, whose ages span 12 years, are best friends to one another. They know each other inside and out. They inspire and exasperate one another. They hold each other accountable to a family standard, a biblical standard, an impossible standard. And they grant each other grace when one falls short, because truly, we all fall short. They are inextricably bound. By God's grace, they have each other. Come what may, in this group, they are in. In this group, they are promised a forever bond. In this group, they genuinely do want the best for one another.

That's a good thing, because friendship beyond the walls of our home has for them what it has had for every girl who has gone before them. Girls can be mean. Girls can hurl stones with an accuracy that takes one's breath away. Girls can break one another's hearts. Whether 9 or 19, it hurts to be the one who feels like she is sitting on the outside. Yet, every woman I know nods in recognition when they see it happen to their daughters. The outside. Been there, done that.

Even though it hurts to watch the sadness that comes with being on the outside, I pray that the time they spend there makes them better at drawing the new circles, better at defining what the inside will look like as they grow. I pray for them friends who fortify the circle from within with the full armor of God. So, as the circles are redrawn, we spend lots of time talking about how to be a good friend, how to grow into being what God desires of a woman in community.

My sweet girls, remember this: the time outside that hurts so much is time He will use if you let Him. God brings great good out of betrayals. Joseph didn't stay lost and forgotten at the bottom of the well. He rose out of the depths and let himself be used to save a nation. Jesus allowed himself to be betrayed by a friend so that you will never truly stand alone on the outside. He's there with you.

Truth is, dear ones, you cannot change another human being. You cannot craft someone into a faithful friend. Unless, of course, that someone is you. In the hurt of betrayal of being cast out, resolve only one thing: that you will be a better friend to someone else because you know the ache you're feeling now.

Be a friend who is the safe place for a girl to unburden her heart. Comfort and console, but never be afraid to speak the truth in love, to ask her to open wide her eyes and to see for herself that she is created in the image of God. Be compassionate and kind and unwavering in your belief in her good.

As you sit there feeling left out, let the feeling settle deep into your bones. Don't forget the way it hurts. Now, resolve today to be the girl who only speaks life. Forget about defending yourself against whatever is twisting in the wind. It serves no purpose to shout into the bitter storm. Lift your chin and only speak words that make souls better, that bring them closer to God. Remember how you sat there in the studio, quite literally outside the circle, and their whispers burned your heart and stung your eyes? Don't ever be the girl that whispers. Speak aloud and only speak life.

Don't give up on community, my girls. Don't let the growing pains that come with the human experience make you bitter. Let them make you better. The friends of tomorrow will be blessed by the pain of today.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016

@elizabethfoss