I often have trouble being a caring friend.
There. I’ve said it. I love my friends so much and get so much out of my relationships with them, but it is just a fact that sometimes I do not come across as caring as I should.
I have friends I have not seen in many months, but I would not hesitate to call if I needed them. I am certain they feel the same way about me. I have friends I talk to every day, going over everything from the mundane to the monumental. With both groups of these friends, I have shared laughter, tears and many, many problems.
They, in turn, share their ups and downs with me. It is during those times when I come face-to-face with that uncertainty about what my role should be.
Here’s the problem: While I love them and am happy to give them a shoulder to cry on, I’m not very good at simply listening and joining in to rail against the world.
Sometimes, all a friend in need wants is a shoulder to cry on. They don’t want advice, answers or attempts at problem-solving. If I can pick up on that early enough, I can rein in my natural tendency to try to “fix it.” If I am helpless to fix it – as in the case of a bad breakup or the death of a loved one – I can put a crying towel on my shoulder and simply be sympathetic and full of empathy.
Even when I am in problem-solving mode, I am sympathetic, but I am also pushing and pulling the unhappy person into action.
I know I am this way because it’s the way I approach my own problems, for the most part. I want to get on with things. I want to find answers and move toward solutions. I have very few pity parties because I just can’t stay in that state of mind for very long.
I think it is my mother’s fault. My mother spent very little time feeling sorry for her lot in life. She forged ahead, grabbing at happiness and making the most out of whatever came her way. Not an overtly religious person, she held tight to Romans 8:28 (“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”)
What she practiced in her own life, she preached and practiced with her children.
She also kept that philosophy with family and friends. Partnering with that mantra of faith, however, was one of her momisms that gave words to her approach to dealing with friends who needed a shoulder to cry on. I heard it many times, and it has evidently become part of how I approach not only my own problems, but problems of friends.
She would say: “For a friend in need, say a prayer and roast a chicken.”
Sherri Gardner Howell, a former features writer and manager at the News Sentinel and publisher at Blount Today, has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.