I'm going to visit my best friend in the whole world this weekend. Her name is Sage, and she's the coolest.
Sage and I are... different. Like almost polar opposites. The only things we share are a love of Jesus, food, and comedy. Which, as it turns out, is enough. Balance is the key to our friendship, and something that I had to learn over time. Sage processes things emotionally; I process intellectually. Sage is 1000% extroverted PEOPLE ALL THE TIME PLEASE. I am 93% introverted OH MY GOSH YOU'RE SO LOUD LEAVE ME ALONE. It took me a while to stop being annoyed with Sage and realize I had a lot to learn from her. And it took her some time to stop seeing me as a robot. Nine months of being together 24/7 in developing countries, actually. We were pretty determined to not be friends.
Once we decided we would actually be sad to not be around each other, a pretty cool friendship emerged. It only works because we are both all in, and because we don't try to change each other. Here's an example. Sage is a fly by the seat of her pants gal. Planning and organization are not her forte. This can make it tricky to set up phone dates or visits. Even though this occasionally annoys the pants off me (ok most of the time), I know that she really is doing her best and I'm not going to change her. Not only that, but I shouldn't want to change her. Don't get me wrong, I would love the weekly phone call that I have with my friend Kelly to happen with Sage as well. But they are different people: Kelly likes schedules and structure; Sage likes spontaneity.
Because I know Sage, and we have history, I have to trust that if I don't hear from her, it's not necessarily because I did something wrong or that she doesn't care about me. In fact, her husband told me that, besides her parents, I'm the person she texts the most regularly. This was perhaps a sentimental exaggeration to make me feel better, but I'll take it.
Sage has also had to do the same for me. She has had to accept that I communicate obsessively. I used to feel badly about the ratio of blue bubbles to white bubbles on our iMessage feed. She told me that I should bombard her to my heart's content and that she will respond when she can. She also knows that, while I will remember obscure details and stories and moments from her life, I will never be able to remember the names of her friends, so I just call them all "Jen." She knows that I am going to get mad at the end of every phone call because after asking a million questions about my life, she conveniently has to go whenever the conversation turns to her.
Our friendship works because we are willing to do both the give and the take. We are mutually for each other. I'm not going to pretend that it's because we are both great or perfect. Despite our missteps and failings, we both have something to offer each other, and the discomfort of our differences is worth the effort. But it only works because we have both made that decision. Sure, we have had seasons where things are less balanced, but in general, we practice mutuality. Our friendship isn't transactional--it's not about what we can take from each other, but how we can be with and for each other.
This verse from Romans sums up this idea of mutuality pretty well: "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you—that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine" (1:11-12). If Paul, one of the most famous leaders of the early church, was worried about balance in relational giving and receiving, it's a pretty good indication that we should be too. Paul was probably doing all of the things we are told to do before we pour out; he was getting filled by the Spirit and praying and stuff. But even he prioritized receiving encouragement as well as giving it away.
I have gotten the impression from some churchy messages that I am meant to pour out and expect nothing in return. That's a really great way to attract narcissists and get super burnt out. It's not that we should get into co-dependent relationships where we give so much that we lose ourselves, nor should we enter into relationships because of what we can get out of them. Both are forms of transactional friendship. It's more about a natural ebb and flow of encouragement, wanting the best for each other and respecting our limits.