Woohoo! You’ve read all the messages in your inbox.
This has not happened to me in a very very long time. Like maybe not at all in the year 2014. And this is not due to the fact that our email inboxes are perpetually spammed by all manner of event advertisements from extracurricular groups and departmental representatives (Comparative Literature seems to be related to every single event possible on campus and feels the need to send us three emails about each one–though actually I’m interested in about 90% of them and wish I could be on campus to go to them, so I shouldn’t complain XD), but because I am a terrible personal email correspondent. I am pretty good and responding to professors and RSVP-ing for things (especially if they’re food related), but I tend to put off responding to emails from friends and family, usually at least for 2-3 days, oftentimes weeks, or months, and sometimes I just forget and never reply at all. Usually the closer the person is to me, and the longer their email update is (usually this is directly correlated too), the longer they have to wait for a response (unless there is something in the email that shocks or tickles or moves me into clicking Reply right away, or I’m on a break or just procrastinating from some kind of tedious work). This is because I tell myself, well I really care about this person and what they have to say, and I want to put more thought into responding as well as tell them about what’s going on in my life, so I will inevitably have to write a 3 page long essay in response, which will take from 1-2 hours to write, and I simply do not have that kind of time right now so out of respect for our friendship/familial love I will just Mark as unread for the moment and come back to it tomorrow. Unfortunately, ‘tomorrow’ in my personal email world usually means next month. So there are inevitably a lot of emails that I write beginning with the words, “omg I’m so sorry this took me forever to respond to! I’ve just been really busy/forgot ah sorry I still love you please believe me!!” or something along those lines. Sorry if this has happened to you (if you’ve ever tried to keep in touch with me, it probably has).
This morning I planned to do a lot of work. I am always planning to do a lot of work. Instead, however, I ended up reading and responding to an email from a close friend that I had put off even reading for the last 3 days because I knew that I had to read it at a time when I was prepared to give a full response immediately, or else it would end up getting lost (or rather, just turn into a very familiar-looking block of white, ‘unread’–but technically read 3-4 times already–emails at the bottom of my inbox). I only did this because she sent me a FB message wondering if I was alive and I felt bad for putting off caring about someone that I do care so much about. I feel like at the bottom of my heart, that’s what it really is, this laziness and procrastination that I suffer from (and I’m sure I’m not the only one, though my case is perhaps especially dire)–it’s a lack of genuine care for my friends and family, especially when they are making the effort to really share their lives with me even while I’m abroad (or just generally not sitting right next to them). It’s a sort of taking them for granted because oh, they know I care and we’ll still be friends/family no matter how long it takes me to reply to this email, it’s not a big deal! Sure, maybe in the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal, and you might think I’m making a big fuss out of nothing. But I’ve realized that this is something that I really want to change about myself and just the way that I value my relationships.
I responded to at least four other people right after the first one. It did take up the rest of my morning, and my friends might not even be that blessed or happy to hear from me, and they might not respond to me either for while, or ever–but I still think that it matters. And sometimes, for someone to know that someone else hears them, sees them, cares, is praying, even from afar–it really does matter, sometimes a lot; I know that from my own experience. And even if it doesn’t matter particularly to them at any given moment, it’s good practice for me too, to value my friendships as something more than just hanging out when it’s convenient, or even just sharing life when we happen to be thrown together into all the same circumstances.
I’ve often struggled to keep in touch with people because of how many times my family has moved around, and since high school I’ve started to feel like oh it’s not worth it to send so many long letters (back in the day! I actually really love snail mail still) and emails, I’ll just make new friends wherever I go next and that’ll be fine, the old ones will move on soon enough either way… Since coming to college though, and especially now since studying abroad, I have been deeply blessed and challenged and changed by some of the friendships I have made (or rather, that God has graciously thrown across my path and forced me to embrace, as I do not think I really deserved or made great efforts to keep most of them). I have especially been challenged by what it means to ‘keep in touch,’ and surprised to find that this can be difficult for me to do even when I’m not five thousand miles away. Even when it would take me literally less than five minutes to walk up to someone’s door.
Recently this verse has been floating in my mind:
“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24 (ESV)
I’m sure there are many different interpretations of this verse (I looked up a few as well), but for now I just want to stick with the image of the second half. Can I be that friend to my friends? To my sisters? To acquaintances who I may not consider ‘close friends’ yet, but who may be just dying on the inside for someone to be that kind of friend to them? I say this last part not because I think, oh yes, I would be such a great friend and could totally make so-and-so’s life better just by being there for them, though in some cases that might be true, but because coming here to live and study by myself in Paris has put me in that exact situation, of just desperately needing someone to be more than just another one of the ‘many companions,’ to be a true brother or sister who genuinely cares and is willing to send that extra email or text message. And thanks to God’s infinite goodness and grace, I have experienced that care from two wonderful sisters here, as well as through the extraordinary love of my friends back at home (that’s probably you, if you’re reading this) who have not forgotten about me, and in some cases with whom I’m keeping in better touch now than I did when we were living within 5 minutes of one another!
One friend was recently upset by the fact that I didn’t respond to an email, and I was rather defensive about it. While there are lots of things I could say as excuses or point out ways in which my friend was wrong too, I think that ultimately I just need to realize that I can always be a better friend. I pray that God will help me to genuinely care more about other people and that I might learn what it means to be that friend who sticks closer than a brother.