by Marybeth Davis Baggett
Middle age is often associated with being settled, having matured and now living out the wisdom of experience gained through the first part of life. But for me, the years since I’ve turned forty have afforded me the richest education I’ve so far received—about myself, about the nature of love in action, and, especially, about God’s faithfulness to meet our most human needs.
Much of this education came, ironically, by way of a period of crushing loneliness following the painful loss of a long-term friendship. A close friendship I had for many years collapsed, weakening or severing in its wake any relationships tied, even loosely, to that one—in other words, most of my friendships. It’s a very painful experience to end a friendship, even one that was clearly destructive. Losing a friend, or five, is no less lonely for being necessary.
And it was a very lonely time. Don’t misunderstand: I have a wonderful husband, but as Kurt Vonnegut comically puts it, a spouse is just “not enough people.” It was unfair for me to expect my husband to make up for the lack left by my lost friendship. And, really, there is no substitute for a friend, especially a friend of the same sex whose experiences of life resonate with mine in a way that my husband’s never can.
My family is great; I love my coworkers and acquaintances. But I had lost most of my intimate friendships, which hurt deeply and left a real need unfulfilled. Despite being downplayed a bit in our contemporary culture, friendships are vital, life-giving. As C. S. Lewis explains it in The Four Loves, friendship reveals to us the beauty of mankind as we reflect God’s image—through particular instances of individual, unique selves who engage in friendship with us. Even more, friendship increases that beauty and is an instrument both of creation and revelation. Through this lonely time, I longed for the insight and encouragement offered by a friend who saw me from her own singular perspective; I longed to offer that insight and encouragement to another. During that solitary spell, I craved a friendship in which I could be more fully myself and contribute to the well-being of another, but I had no outlet.
In this way, the friendless stretch I endured taught me more about the value, and marks, of genuine friendship. My husband and I prayed often that God would restore what I had lost, minus unhealthy tendencies. Making friends and building friendships after a certain point is especially difficult, what with the routine and day-to-day demands adulthood brings. But God is gracious. He really is “the one who sees.” Over the last couple years, he has been so good in meeting my emotional need. I am so grateful for the many ways he has answered my prayers—from bringing new friends into my life to deepening previously existing friendships. More amazingly, my friendships now testify George Eliot’s description of the safety and grace of a genuine friend: “one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.” To have someone want the best for you, to know what that looks like, and to live in the reality of it: these are lessons provided by my wandering in the friendless desert.
Coming through that time, fighting to break dysfunctional relational strongholds that kept me in bondage, and waiting patiently on the Lord to heal deeply embedded wounds in me and to allow me to experience truly healthy and life-giving friendships has been well worth the cost.
Today I wanted to pause to recognize these blessings and, perhaps, to encourage others who may currently be in the midst of a difficult time. Keep seeking God’s relief; he will provide it.
Marybeth Davis Baggett is Associate Professor of English at Liberty University. Having earned her Ph.D. in English from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Marybeth’s professional interests include literary theory, contemporary American literature, science fiction, and dystopian literature. She writes and edits for MoralApologetics.com.