I am visiting my parents in Florida as I write this. I haven’t seen them in over a year, so with a lot of cajoling, I talked my husband into giving up a week of his vacation time to go see his in-laws. We went to church with them Sunday morning, and I expected a “Christmas Sermon”… not that this is a bad thing. Their pastor, however, mentioned some things that I had never thought about before, and at my age I was surprised about being made to THINK about some new things regarding the Christmas story.
He read from Luke and brought up that Mary, mother of Jesus, went to stay with friend and cousin, Elizabeth. This was right after Gabriel told her, “Guess what? You will become pregnant”. In that time a 14 or 15-year-old betrothed virgin couldn’t very well go tell mom, dad, and fiancé that she was pregnant. Women were stoned for that… not that they would have ever believed her “I’m still a virgin” story anyway. So off she went to see Elizabeth. Gabriel told her that Elizabeth, too, was miraculously pregnant – simply in a different way. Elizabeth was far past child-bearing age. Her pregnancy was also a miracle. Perhaps Gabriel was giving a hint… GO SEE HER. The pastor suggested Mary NEEDED a friend and someone who would understand. God knew this. Gabriel knew this. Mary needed someone who was pregnant that shouldn’t/couldn’t be, and someone visited by an angel. She needed a friend who was going through similar challenges.
Do We Need Friends?
I have friends from my childhood. I have friends at work. I have friends at church. But do you know the friends I depend on the most are those who struggle with invisible illness or disabilities? Like Mary seeking out a friend and confidant who was also miraculously pregnant, I have sought and found friends who are “differently abled”, who face each and every day with challenges others simply do not have.
Abraham Maslow was one of the first psychologists to suggest we need relationships; we need FRIENDS. Cherry (2012) writes of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “Relationships such as friendships, romantic attachments, and families help fulfill this need for companionship and acceptance, as does involvement in social, community, or religious groups” (para. 6). Many professionals agree, we need friends.
I have friends that are different than me in personality, beliefs, politics, and culture. Despite these differences, they are my friend. When I’m having a really bad “tilt a whirl” kind of day, falling and bruising, and frankly SICK TO DEATH of having to deal with it all, these friends can sympathize. Yet, the friends I seek out to belly-ache, ask for advice, or beg for prayer even, are those who can EMPATHIZE.
“Empathy is the ability to mutually experience the thoughts, emotions, and direct experience of others. It goes beyond sympathy, which is a feeling of care and understanding for the suffering of others. Both words have similar usage but differ in their emotional meaning” (Difference and Comparison, 2012). My closest friends are those who can empathize. They “get it”.
People with invisible illness or disability often fall into a dangerous, self-imposed isolation. Rubinstein (2012) suggests that there is a difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude is healthy, something most of us do not take the time for, missing out on opportunities to meditate and re-charge. However, isolation is different. It is a negative thing… “We don’t feel better by spending time alone, or if we do, it is only that our anxiety about being around people is quelled” (Rubinstein, 2012, para. 2).
When my progressive hearing loss began to cause significant communication issues, I slowly but surely began to isolate myself. It took an “intervention” of sorts to wake me up to what I was doing. We may isolate from friends and family, all the while trying to convince ourselves that by doing so we help others as well.
“When I move to fast and pass out, it only upsets others, which isn’t fair to them.”
“I hate being trouble to anyone. Best I stay home.”
“My disability makes folks uncomfortable. I’m doing everyone a favor by not participating.”
I know some folks with logical reasons and sound argument for why they do not need friends “post-invisible illness or disability”. Have you ever thought, however, that even if you are better off you are robbing another of the gift of your own friendship? There are others dealing with invisible illness. If you do not make yourself available, you may miss opportunities to empathize and connect with others like yourself. Who better to recognize another with invisible or chronic health concerns, than someone who lives the same?
We need friends. Others need the gift of your own friendship. Make yourself available!
Cherry, Kendra (2012). Hierarchy of Needs: The five levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Retrieved on December 23, 2012, from http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds.htm
Difference and Comparison (2012). Empathy and sympathy. Retrieved on December 23, 2012, from http://www.diffen.com/difference/Empathy_vs_Sympathy.
Rubinstein, Noah (2012). Isolation: Issues treated in therapy. Retrieved December 24, 2012 from http://www.goodtherapy.org/therapy-for-isolation.html