QUESTION: I have a person in my life, a friend, but not a close friend. She’ll make a lunch date and forget, or we’ll make plans to go shopping together and, after waiting awhile, I call and her reply will be, “Oh, was that today? Sorry, I can’t make it.” These are just a couple of instances. Sometimes she does show up, but the times she does are sporadic.
I calendar my plans and I think most people do. I’m feeling disrespected. Should I just give up and not make plans with her?
Dear Frustrated Acquaintance,
At least two things could be going on here. First of all, does she have memory problems, perhaps due to Alzheimer’s or early onset dementia? If so, I would keep at her to do things together; you may be the only person who will tolerate her absent mindedness. The second idea, I’m sorry to say, is that maybe she doesn’t value your friendship as much as you do, and maybe she just agrees to do things with you because she’s “nice” – or doesn’t have the nerve to tell you the truth: that you don’t mean that much to her and that you’re more of a bother than a friend. I hope that second idea is not true, for your sake, but I believe the possibility does need to be raised.
Here is what I would do, although I am no expert and may have some issues myself! But what I would do is try a few more times to make plans with her. If she “forgets” or really does forget, I think I would stop calling her. Again, I’m not an expert, but that’s what I’d do.
If you stop calling and she starts calling you, then perhaps she really does miss you, and perhaps you can re-start your friendship. But if she doesn’t call you – this may sound harsh – you have your answer. If my approach sounds “unchristian,” consider the parable of the prodigal son found in the gospel according to Luke (Luke 15: 11-32). The younger son wants to leave and the father doesn’t try to stop him. Even when the young man is suffering in a foreign country, the father doesn’t go after him. It is only after the son “comes to himself” that he decides to return home and ask his father to let him work as a hired hand. The father is ready to accept him … but the son has to take that first step back toward the father.
Stop calling and then see if she takes that first step. If she doesn’t – well, again, you have your answer.
The Rev. Skip Lindeman
Dear Frustrated Acquaintance,
Your frustration, while certainly understandable, is not an uncommon byproduct of the frenetic lives we lead. We’re all on tight schedules and have little time for anything that falls outside of the rigors of our day, so calendaring time with friends becomes a means to ensure some downtime. We become intolerant of those whose schedules do not mimic ours and are downright miffed when another fails to consider our calendared commitments, not to mention our feelings. This lack of conscientiousness can be brutal on relationships, causing many friendships to fade.
I wonder if consideration, though, might be given to the offense that comes as a result of such actions. We learn in many spiritual disciplines that tolerance is key to harmonious living and that we should cultivate ways to forgive, as much for our own sakes as for the benefit of others. Easier said than done, to be sure, but I wonder if implementing an alternate plan, for example, would make missed dates less impactful. What I’m suggesting is dependent upon your choice to continue pursuing the friendship or agreeing to part company.
Not making dates to meet with this friend would alleviate the problem altogether. On the other hand, agreeing to meet with a contingency plan in place should your friend default might give you the best opportunity to meet and talk with her about your feelings.
Whichever route you choose, there would be great value in sharing your feelings with her in a way that is genuine and addresses your disappointment, not her shortcomings. In this way, you may help her to recognize something that she may elect to change in herself. In addition, this course of action might allow you to mend hurt feelings and take your friendship to a deeper level.
Lucinda Guarino, Leader
YMCA of the Foothills
QUESTION: I have a dear friend who has had a major issue with a close male relative for years. She becomes so angry and furious and often she is angry all day long. Now a health issue has come up that took her to the ER, and doctors can’t find anything wrong after extensive tests including an angiogram. They finally gave up and diagnosed her with broken heart syndrome.
Can these kinds of emotions cause physical distress? Is there anything I can say to her that will help her forgive him?
~ Concerned Friend
Dear Concerned Friend,
It is kind of you to be so concerned for your friend and want to help her. Unfortunately, until your friend recognizes that she will carry those “ill thoughts” of her relative until she can communicate her feelings, forgive the person and move on, nothing will change.
Our emotions can most certainly make us ill. Thoughts are powerful. The way we think – what we let in our consciousness and determine as true – will create our experience. Our thinking becomes the filter through which we view and interpret the world. It is also the catalyst that directs our emotions. Thoughts of anger don’t just happen – we make a determination that some action or someone’s behavior is not correct or to our liking and we experience anger. Some people are able to express how they feel and come to some resolution while others shut down and let the anger fester as it has in the case of your friend. Unresolved feelings have a way of growing exponentially because the next time you see the person there is a carryover from the last encounter that only adds to the anger and pain.
It’s important to remember that no one can make us feel anything that we don’t agree to. If someone pushes our buttons and makes us angry enough to impact our whole day, who suffers? Who’s responsible? Certainly not the person who caused the anger. We are the only thinker in our world. If you believe that someone has the power to rob you of your well being, then it is so. If you believe you can choose not to let someone else’s behavior affect your life, then it is so. Being in charge of our life and emotions doesn’t mean we don’t have difficult moments, but it does mean we realize it’s our choice to claim our own freedom within any circumstance.
So while we may not be able to change a situation we are in, we can change the way we view it. That is where forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness is not as much for the one who has caused us trouble as for ourselves so we can be free from the pain.
In the Bible there is a passage that says, “And it came to pass.” That means circumstances come into our lives so we can learn from them and thereby learn who we are. Your friend has chosen to keep a relationship with the relative that has annoyed her all these years. Isn’t it better to invest the time in support of good relationships instead of in support of troubled ones? In the book “Eternal Echoes,” author John O’Donohue writes, “Your soul always remains faithful to your longing to become who your really are.” Remind your friend to honor herself and continue to pray for a positive resolution.
Rev. Mary Morgan
Dear Concerned Friend,
The kinds of emotions you describe not only cause physical distress but also can contribute to long lasting physical disease and death. The research on the relationship between our emotions and health has provided mounting evidence of this mind/body/spirit interaction that cannot be ignored anymore. It does not seem to matter whether the emotional stance is directed inwardly (stuffed feelings) or outwardly (directed toward another); it creates physical damage to the person who is experiencing these unresolved emotional states.
Everyone has feelings about life experiences but how they are expressed is a matter of conscious attention, which is a learned response developed early in life. In cases like your friend, it comes down to fear, threat, harm and/or survival instincts of flight or fight. Having built on these instinctual responses through issues of right/wrong, good/bad, us/them and personal blame, guilt and/or shame, it manifests as a feeling of personal powerlessness – hence flight or fight.
It is my belief that this encounter with the ER is a wake up call for your friend to find new solutions to her emotional state. There is always time to heal. One has only to believe they deserve it. As Buddha said, “Our heart is like a garden. It can grow. Compassion or fear. Resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?” You might suggest seeing a psychological or spiritual counselor. Prayer is always a way to privately support someone in conflict. There is an Infinite Power available to all if, and when, we are ready to accept It. A spiritual axiom that I rely on is, “What we focus on persists and expands.” It is my belief as a Religious Science practitioner that as I turn away from the appearances of dis-ease, fear or confusion I can find peace, clarity, loving relationships, health and abundance in life. Namaste.
Gary Bates, RScP
Center for Spiritual Living-La Crescenta