I was in a bad mood. I knew it, and I knew why. But instead of dealing with it the way I knew I should (probably going on a walk and listening to a podcast, or journaling and praying to process my feelings), I grouchily laid on the couch, sighed, and pulled out my phone.
I knew better.
We’ve probably almost all been there–scrolling through social media feeds, feeling more discouraged and left out with each swipe, knowing that this addiction to see the next entry is harmful to our hearts yet being unable to put the device down.
And of course, the source of my pain, the thing I was trying to forget, was everywhere my fingers were tapping. I felt almost like a hypocrite, “liking” all of the photos of my friends with a sleeping baby on their chest, or the playgroups in the park, or the latest baby bump update.
Social media’s thorn is the feeling of being left out, and on this day, it wasn’t simply that I was left out of a birthday party or a movie night; I felt left out of life.
I certainly knew it wasn’t my friends’ fault that my husband and I were walking through infertility and had been unable to conceive, but I found myself twisting my personal sadness into a bitterness against those for whom “it had all worked out.” Those with the seemingly perfect stories, the sweet moments of surprise, never knowing the need to calculate and plan and test. And I didn’t want to be happy for them.
You would think it would be easy to live out “rejoice with those who rejoice”; who doesn’t want to experience joy? But when pain is deep and prolonged in your own life, it becomes increasingly more difficult to celebrate with others when you still have unanswered hopes.
When you’re standing up as a bridesmaid for the umpteenth time, no ring on your own finger.
When you’re looking for a new job–again–and eyeing the stability someone else seems to have attained.
Or when your arms and spare bedrooms remain empty while your friends look for bigger houses for their growing family.
I sometimes think it would be easier to slowly distance myself from those happy people, hurting because their joy is a reminder of my own lack. In fact, I sense that expectation from them when they share joyful news with me. It’s coated in an apology of sorts, a hesitation in which they are afraid to cause me pain.
I appreciate their awareness of my own struggle; one of the sweet parts of friendship is feeling known by someone else, into the deeper parts of you. But the question of how to move forward, how to keep investing in this friendship that all of a sudden presents this chasm, is always the follow up to someone’s happy news and approaching life change. Our lives will look different from here, and the question is whether or not I can handle that.
After being confronted with this unspoken question several times, I realized I would need to shift my thinking. Otherwise, I wasn’t sure how to maintain friendships when I–and they–can’t plan for much of what happens next in our lives.
Our seasons of life play out in unpredictable patterns with no scientific bearing of producing specific results if you follow steps one, two, and three. If you are looking at things that way, your thoughts will look something like this: It’s not fair! We went to the same school and took all of the same classes, yet she got into grad school and I didn’t. Or How come he’s up for a promotion while I’ve been working my tail off with no recognition? Or There must be something wrong with me, since I have lost count of how many weddings I have attended but none of my own relationships ever work out.
Friendship can’t be about trying to keep up with each other. At its core, I think friendship should be about being on the same team.
When I see my friend as a teammate of sorts, her joy doesn’t seem like an imposition against me. When someone shares with me that they are rejoicing, my first response doesn’t have to be a comparison to how my life is matching up to theirs. When I hold close to a friend unselfishly, not just thinking about my hopes for my life but their hopes for their life, it becomes less about what I can gain and more about how I can encourage and celebrate because I love them. Just as I want to be known deeply, so do they, and being able to share in their happiness is as important to them as their willingness to share in my grief is to me.
Friendship works best when we are for each other, and that mindset is the key to being able to rejoice with those who rejoice–even if you yourself are not rejoicing in your own life.
This article was originally published on Upwrite Magazine’s website, which is no longer available.