If the words would come, I would tell you about friendship and advice, and how I recently changed my perspective.
You see, a few years ago I received advice from friends who knew me well and cared for me deeply. Their words were accurate and true, but there were layers I was sorting through that even they did not understand.
The experience made me realize how very little I know about those I love the most. No matter how clearly I can see the path of another, there is always the possibility that what I share will not actually be right for them. It might be accurate and true, but it might not be the right time, or the right lesson, or the right path for them.
Who knows why we sometimes take the paths we do? Only God. And sometimes ourselves.
This lesson made me hesitant to offer advice. After all, what do I know? The lesson I learned was to keep my mouth shut. The lesson I think I was supposed to learn was an appreciation of complexity.
Even when others share perspectives that are true, there are still different ways to implement their advice. Even if I am not going to take action on their suggestions right away, I have found that hearing my friends’ thoughts gives me a deeper understanding of my situation, and sometimes myself. Sometimes I need to hear a lot of different perspectives and consider them alongside my own before I can fully grasp what is the right thing for me right here and now. The answer is not to stop the advice; the answer is to hold the advice in its proper context.
This is some of what I would share, in a much more eloquent way, if the words would come.
Ironically, I once gave advice to a friend who repeated it back to me tonight: just write something. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
So that’s what I’m doing. I give my apologies to you, dear reader, for having to wade through the result of my own advice.
Here is the other thing I learned recently. It’s easy to be very hard on myself in comparison to others. Why am I not more…fill in the blank. I suspect I’m not alone in this. But those qualities in others that threaten to condemn us are actually an opportunity to strengthen a part of ourselves.
When I watch my most determined friend set her mind and then take off after something, I can learn a little something about determination. Perhaps I can do that, too, in my own way.
When I am amazed at my friend who rehashes a recent soirée by rattling off the names of so-and so’s second cousin’s best friends as though she has known them for years, I can learn to be more intentional in my connections. Perhaps I can do that, too, in my own way.
When I talk at length with my friend who splices apart social complexities the way some people slice through cake, I can learn to be more analytical in my thinking. I can do that, too, in my own way.
I love the complexities of my friends. Their differences, their strengths, and their weaknesses. I hope they never stop sharing their perspectives with me.
Janet Beagle, Ph.D. serves as director of graduate programs for Purdue University’s College of Engineering and is a writer, a Bible study teacher, and a student of God’s word. In her spare time, she likes to eat other people’s cooking and hike with her dog, Marly, who recently passed away but is not forgotten. Read more of Janet’s Christian reflections at www.mustardpatch.org.