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.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
Connect with Kelly
Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.