The Power of Friendship (When Friendship is a Verb)

The word “friend” is a derivative of the verb “freon,” which means, “To love.” A friend is a person. And a friend is a verb

friendship

Photo Credit: tico_24 via Compfight cc

Two years ago, as my daughter was sprouting up through her fourth year of life, I was helping her put on a pair of jeans, and the waistband strained mightily. I asked her if she would like me to loosen it. She looked at me with puzzlement and asked, “Why?” So I found the stretchy strap inside the waistband and loosened it several notches.  I looked at her and asked, “Better?” This time, she looked at me with awe and she sighed,

“Oh my, that’s a lot of better.”

My daughter didn’t know how uncomfortable her pants were, because she didn’t know how comfortable they could feel. When dis-ease sets in like a slowly dripping faucet, we don’t notice it. We unconsciously adapt to it. This can happen to our pants. But it can also happen to our hearts.

We steadily, quietly get flooded by the almost imperceptible drip-drip of disinterest.

The Power of Disinterest

When a kid meets his dad at the door to share the exciting fact he learned at that day’s science fair, only to be brushed off with a grumble about a long day at work, a drip of disinterest has cheapened his little heart, and he doesn’t even know it.

When a young girl asks her father to look at the tiara she is wearing and instead of beholding her beauty he says, “That’s nice, Cutie,” and then returns his attention to the morning paper, a drip of disinterest has cheapened her little heart, and she doesn’t even know it.

When a little boy clamors for a parent to look at his Lego fortress and the parent absently says, “Just a minute,” while tapping out a message on a smart phone, a drip of disinterest has cheapened his little heart, and he doesn’t even know it.

So, how do I know it?

Because I’m that father. And at some point, most of us have been those kids.

As children, the big people we loved were like gods to us. But the cracked, tender reality is, they weren’t gods. They were human. Even the most attentive of parents succumbs to disinterest. And to be honest, let’s thank God they do: a generation raised with perfect attentiveness would probably be a generation of little dictators—it’s good to be reminded we aren’t the center of the universe every once in a while.

Yet, when moments of disinterest are not adequately balanced by something else, we more quickly and deeply decide our little hearts are cheap, and we don’t even know we’ve decided it.

What does all of this have to do with friendship?

When friendship is a verb, we get a chance to feel worthy again.

The Power of Belief

In the winter of 2011, I made a new friend.

We’d been colleagues for several years, but we’d never really connected beyond casual conversation and the sharing of Bob Dylan albums. One night, though, over dinner, I became a little more transparent than usual about my mess. He didn’t flinch. Over the next few months, our conversations became more frequent and more authentic. Then, one day, he said something powerful to me. I can’t remember the exact wording, but it amounted to this:

I believe in you.

Those four words are powerful because the opposite of disinterest isn’t interest; it’s belief.

When someone believes in us, it awakens something hibernating within us. It makes us a little more aware of the drip-drip of disinterest that has flooded us. We feel the discomfort of it and begin to suspect something better might exist.

We start searching for the stretchy straps on our heart.

We begin to wonder: if my heart isn’t cheap, might it even be worthy?

A year later, I felt worthy enough to start this blog. And later this summer, I’ll partner with the same friend to start Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. Because when friendship is a verb, it loosens us up, gives us a little more room to breathe.

A little more room to be who we are.

The Power of Friendship

It’s easy to treat a friendship like drive-through fast food—we stop in when we’re hungry and when it’s convenient. But it’s time to reclaim the word friend. We need friends who are verbs—friends who don’t drive through us but drive love into us—and we need to be that kind of a friend, as well. In fact, we need to be careful about settling for anything less. Because every one of us is worthy of a friend who can look at us and see us and say to us,

“I believe in you.”

“I think you matter and I think your story matters. It’s all heading somewhere and I want to be a part of it. I want to be there when you discover your center and your purpose, because it is going to be brilliant.”

“Your journey is going to be messy, but I freely choose to get sloppy with you. And then we’ll clean each other off and find a better way. Together.”

“I am a friend, but even more, I want to give you friendship.”

Seeking this kind of friendship— wondering if it even exists, waiting for it patiently, taking risks to nurture it—can be a scary and painful experience. But it does exist. It’s out there. And when it finds you, you’ll realize the only thing scarier than risking it is receiving it. After a lifetime cheapened by the drip-drip of disinterest, it can be hard to believe the people who believe in us. But a verb-friend waits for us to finally believe in ourselves, too. A verb-friend waits for us to accept the worthiness they are pointing to within us.

A verb-friend waits for us to feel, in the words of a little girl, a lot of better.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Note: This post is adapted from an archived post. I resurrected it now, as our family is on the verge of leaving many friends who have believed in us, as a way to say thank you for being more than a person to us. Thank you for being a verb. If you have a friend you believe in and you want to let them know, or a friend who has believed in you that you want to thank, share this post with them. Let them know their story matters.

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Next Post: How to Look Fear in the Face and Say, “I Just Don’t Care.”

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Disclaimer: My writings represent a combination of my own personal opinions and my professional experiences, but they do not reflect professional advice. Interaction with me via the blog does not constitute a professional therapeutic relationship. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor who can dedicate the hours necessary to become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. I do not assume liability for any portion or content of material on the blog and accept no liability for damage or injury resulting from your decision to interact with the website.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • This may be a resurrected post, but you resurrected it on the perfect day for me. Thank You.

    • Joy

      Was perfect for me today as well. I needed it.

  • Eva

    Thank you for delivering this message so simply and clearly.

  • Joy Golliver

    So enjoy the depth of your thinking. Always gives me so much to ponder. Thank you for helping see how life can be when we slow it down.

  • Patricia

    Another winner, Kelly! The simplicity of your text while conveying such an important message is a gift from God. Best wishes for a smooth move, if there is such a thing.

  • Kelly, to use your own word, this was “brilliant!” I LOVED that you used the word friend as a verb, something I’ve not thought of before, but makes so much sense. It reminded me of how I’ve heard (and said to others) that God is also a verb, one who also does for us all that you mentioned a friend does for us and what we can do for others. It makes sense (to me) because God is the ultimate BEST friend that we all can have and our model of the friend we are all called to be. Thank you again and good luck with the move!

  • What an amazing gift to give someone…belief. Thank you for reminding me. Don’t respond to this in writing, save the time for your family and your move.

  • drkellyflanagan

    Thank you everyone for your words of affirmation and encouragement! I usually respond individually to comments, but for the next couple of weeks, while we make this move, I think I’ll take Ardys up on her grace-full suggestion to put my energies into the move, and I’ll just check in with one group reply. Having said that, I can’t resist seconding Jenny’s comment that love, whether in divine or human form, is best understood as a verb instead of a noun. We are starting to realize how much we need our verb-friends to help us make this big transition. As I said over on Facebook, is there anything more loving than a friend who pours their heart into helping you leave them?

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  • Bruce Russell

    Dr. Kelly…Thanks for being you…this richly insightful article is one of several of my favorites…It seems that you can rotate the crystal and look into unseen or unrecognized facets of our existence and then bring those images back to us in words…words that travel straight to my heart…I particularly love learning that comes to me in this way…I am doing all that I can to be that kind of friend to the friends I am creating in my life and as I shine this kind of love into that diamond it seems to come radiating back out of every angle cut into it…again, thanks for being you with aloha…Bruce

  • Bruce Russell

    Dr. Kelly…Thanks for being you…this richly insightful article is one
    of several of my favorites…It seems that you can rotate the crystal
    and look into unseen or unrecognized facets of our existence and then
    bring those images back to us in words…words that travel straight to
    my heart…I particularly love learning that comes to me in this way…I
    am doing all that I can to be that kind of friend to the friends I am
    creating in my life and as I shine this kind of love into that diamond
    it seems to come radiating back out of every angle cut into it…again,
    thanks for being you with aloha…Bruce

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