Today’s action from Love Life Live Advent is to think about someone you care about, and then write to them in a Christmas card to express what they mean to you.
Over the last three years I think I can count the number of Christmas cards that I have actually written and posted on the fingers of one hand. I have always blamed this on the fact that I am ordained, and Advent is a very busy time. Every year I decide that because Christmas is busy, I’ll write to people in January and it will be more meaningful. And then January is busy too.
Since this year I am actually not working in parish ministry, and I still haven’t got round to even buying any Christmas cards, I think it’s probably nothing to do with me being ordained, it’s just me.
But I am going to try harder, because this summer I got a card from a very good friend which I shall treasure for ever. It was a farewell card given to me when we left the UK, and it was a simply wonderful, affirming, heartfelt letter that speaks of a friendship that will not only survive a year without seeing each other, but will enable us to pick up right where we left off when we return next year.
Because I know how much it means to receive such a letter, I really will write some letters myself this time round. It might not be today, or even tomorrow, and they might not quite arrive in time for Christmas, but when they do get written, they’ll be things I’ve meant to say for a long time, and I’ll mean them with all my heart.
As a vicar I meet new people all the time, and largely I’m required to be friendly to them. It’s sort of expected. I have no problem with this, in fact, I think it’s great that people see me and their immediate assumption is that I’m probably generally benevolent.
The tricky bit is that I’d like to be more than generally benevolent. I suppose I’m trying to tease out the difference between being friendly (which might include saying hello, exchanging the time of day, smiling, holding the door open for someone, engaging in small talk, etc) and being a friend to someone (which opens a whole other can of worms).
To offer yourself as a friend to someone is to take the risk that that person may turn out to have quite substantial needs, or may really need to talk about something that is bothering them… It is to offer your time, your emotional engagement, your energy. And, if it a real friendship develops, it also means that you, too, may need to ask for help, to share a burden than you have been carrying – and some people find that very hard to do. Any relationship involves a certain vulnerability and that can feel like a big risk to take.
Friendships are places where joys and sorrows, hopes, fears and dreams can be shared. And ‘being friendly’ can lead to an investment which is demanding and rewarding. I suppose for me, the question remains how much of the time I really do have the personal, emotional, spiritual and physical energy to move from general benevolence to something more.