Book Review: The Friends We Keep

Title: The Friends We Keep:  A Woman’s Quest for the Soul of Friendship

Author: Sarah Zacharias Davis

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Why are women’s friendships so tricky?

During a particularly painful time in her life, Sarah Zacharias Davis learned how delightful–and wounding–women can be in friendship. She saw how some friendships end badly, others die slow deaths, and how a chance acquaintance can become that enduring friend you need.

The Friends We Keep is Sarah’s thoughtful account of her own story and the stories of other women about navigating friendship. Her revealing discoveries tackle the questions every woman asks:

• Why do we long so for women friends?
• Do we need friends like we need air or food or water?
• What causes cattiness, competition, and co-dependency in too many friendships?
• Why do some friendships last forever and others only a season?
• How do I foster friendship?
• When is it time to let a friend go, and how do I do so?

With heartfelt, intelligent writing, Sarah explores these questions and more with personal stories, cultural references and history, faith, and grace. In the process, she delivers wisdom for navigating the challenges, mysteries, and delights of friendship: why we need friendships with other women, what it means to be safe in relationship, and how to embrace what a friend has to offer, whether meager or generous.

I was eager to read this book when it arrived.  Aside from the absolutely stunning cover (and like most people I do judge a book by its cover), the topic was one that fascinates me.  I read a lot about friends in my on-line communities and I watch friendships around me in my day-to-day life.  I’ve reflected on my friendships, those of my parents, my other friends and their friendships, and I’ve always marveled at how very different we all truly are.  So, when I got the invite to review this book, I jumped at it eagerly.  It was almost like a mini-course in sociology.

Ms. Davis wrote a compelling book full of real-life anecdotes both from her own experience and the experiences of others.  Her observations about what makes and breaks female friendships was hard-hitting and with no holds barred.  I put the book down with a renewed repugnance for gossip, searching my heart for any sign of jealousy, and with a new understanding of what so many women talk of that I have never understood.

We’ve all heard it, and I bet most of us have said it.  “What is this, Jr. High?”  Female relationships have often irritated me, even as a small child.  The cattiness, pettiness, and drama is naturally abhorrent to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten in the middle of that kind of garbage myself.  I’m not immune, but the degree to which so many women seem to live in that kind of world… even crave it… has never made sense to me.  When I’ve found myself on the other side of the curtain after the drama has ceased and the ‘play’ is over, I’ve been disgusted with myself– ashamed.  It makes me want to stick to the few friends that I know don’t play those games so I don’t let myself get sucked into them.  I never understood how or why some women are willing to go through that kind of ordeal repeatedly.  What I consider a nuisance, they consider the worthwhile price of friendship.  After reading this book, I understand it.  My personality is such that I still don’t seek it, but  I do understand it.

The author did an amazing job of illustrating the deep need that most women have for friendships through television and movie examples.  The odd thing is, I’ve seen two or three out of about twenty possible examples.  One, I barely remember, one I did enjoy and appreciated, and one was a brief reference to Little Women and while not the typical story of female friendships, it is a fine example of female relationships which of course, female friendships are.

She touched on best friends, circles of friends, life-long friends, losing friends, unlikely friendships, being betrayed by friends, cultural friendships (her story about ancient Chinese culture and friendships was amazing), and the changes that friendships endure.   I love how transparent she was (funny choice of words considering she’s written a book by that name) about her own failings and successes as a friend.

To be honest, I only had one objection to the book and I think I’m probably in agreement with her at the heart of things.  She wrote about confronting friends, playing the Holy Spirit, and seemed to imply that it’s really not our place to confront friends when they’re making mistakes.  I might agree with that for the most part.  Seriously, I really think too often we take it upon ourselves to meddle in the lives of others.  It makes me think of that poem I’m always quoting and I’m sure people are sick to death of reading, The Fool’s Prayer.  Those lines (yeah, the ones I usually quote… they’re the ones I need to read/hear the most)

“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
“The ill-timed truth we might have kept–
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say–
Who knows how grandly it had rung!

I think she’s right.  We’re often quick to meddle in the heart-strings of our friends.  We have truth that we should speak… but our timing is off.  We have things we should say and don’t… I wholeheartedly agree with her on that… with one caveat.  Scripture is plain.  If our brother is in sin, it is not a loving or appropriate thing to ignore sin.  We don’t try to convict, we don’t try to be judge and jury, but we do, because we love our sisters, point them to the Word and provide that “faithful wound” proving ourselves true friends rather than enemies.  I’m afraid, however, that too often we’re much to eager to prove our faithfulness rather than grieved to be forced to do so– something else she touches on in the book.

So, you see, I do agree with her.  I am just a little cautious about how she worded it, because I am excessively fond of commas and caveats  (only Cathe will understand why I added commas in there, but I did it for my friend.  See, I’m not entirely without heart!).

I cannot stop thinking about her section on gossip.  It’s truly one of the best things I’ve ever read on the topic.  No, she isn’t exhaustive or original.  Nothing she says was new information that overwhelmed me with its brilliance (no offense Ms. Davis).  However, somehow the way she arranged her thoughts into words managed to resonate with me in a way that nothing on the topic ever has.  I see the ugliness of gossip in my own heart and life in areas I’d never seen it before tonight.  It’s amazing how something you truly despise as I do gossip can still be rooted in your own heart.  She showed me the weed and where it was growing in her book.  I’ll always be grateful.

I want to give this book away.  It’s such a great book that I want someone else to be blessed by it.  I just can’t.  I need to read it again.  I need to read it with my Bible open and my heart laid bare before the Lord.  I also need it for reference.  As I said, I don’t understand the deep seated need for so many women to connect on the level that Sarah Davis discusses.  This book helps me understand.  That understanding helps me be a more well-rounded and compassionate person.  Anyone who knows me knows that I could use all the compassion I can get.  So, I’ll have to keep it here, share around the town with my friends here, and swallow the “guilt” I feel for not offering it to one you.  Forgive me?

Oh yeah, buy the book.  I can’t guarantee she won’t say things that don’t rattle your cage a bit, and I did have that one objection, but honestly, I think we need our cages rattled some and as I said, I think we actually agree… I just think she’s not quite as fond of caveats as I am.

Submission~

It’s a dirty word but someone has to say it.  Let’s define it first.

7 dictionary results for: submit
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) – Cite This Source – Share This
sub·mit /səbˈmɪt/ Pronunciation Key – Show Spelled Pronunciation[suhb-mit] Pronunciation Key – Show IPA Pronunciation verb, -mit·ted, -mit·ting.
–verb (used with object)
1. to give over or yield to the power or authority of another (often used reflexively).
2. to subject to some kind of treatment or influence.
3. to present for the approval, consideration, or decision of another or others: to submit a plan; to submit an application.
4. to state or urge with deference; suggest or propose (usually fol. by a clause): I submit that full proof should be required.
–verb (used without object)
5. to yield oneself to the power or authority of another: to submit to a conqueror.
6. to allow oneself to be subjected to some kind of treatment: to submit to chemotherapy.
7. to defer to another’s judgment, opinion, decision, etc.: I submit to your superior judgment.
[Origin: 1325–75; ME submitten < L submittere to lower, reduce, yield, equiv. to sub- sub- + mittere to send]

Notice that it is a voluntary choice?  It’s a deferring?  Notice that it is done by one towards another?  Notice that it cannot be compelled or that would be cooersion?    Submission is often treated like a dirty word because it seems to imply a lording over by one to another.  It seems to indicate that one is beneath another in worth.  Implications, however, are not truth.

I’m sick of the lack of truth surrounding submission.  It isn’t demeaning or ugly.  If it is submission, it’s beautiful.  True submission is voluntary, respectful, and a gift.  It cannot be extorted or it’s coercion.  It cannot be threatened or it’s dominance.

However, most of us know that.  We’ve read it, studied it, and many of us embrace it as somethting the Lord has chosen for our good will and His glory.  This is a good thing!

What I keep seeing, however, is the constant use of it in situations that are not ‘submission’ oriented.

A wife serves her husband his favorite pie after dinner.  That’s not submission unless she didn’t want to do it, requested amnesty from evil pie baking, and her husband made it clear that while he understood her revulsion to pie baking, he’d really like that pie.  Notice husband isn’t demanding the pie, he’s asking her to die to self and bake him the stinkin’ pie.  He’d probably do it himself but his crust breaks teeth and he can’t afford a dental trip.  She thinks pies are bad for you and a waste of time, money, other resources- besides, the crust is hard to get how she likes it but if he really wants her to waste her time this way, she’ll do it.

At this point, it’s still not submission.  At this point, she has decided to either “obey” or acquiesce to his desires.  Until her heart decides to yield to his choice for the dessert of the night, it’s simply not submission.  Submission flows from the heart to the actions.  Obedience can be done with a heart that is cold and rebellious.  Submission can’t

What if she wants pie too?  What if he says, “Oh man, I’d love your blueberry pie!” and she thinks, “Well, I had other plans today, but that sounds good.”  That’s not submission.  Thats agreement.  She agrees that her pie is a great idea for dinner!  There’s no submission here.   She didn’t have to subject her will, willingly, to another. Hers was the same as  his.  There was no yielding!

What if she is sitting around and tired… not really wanting to do anything and remembers that he mentioned he missed her pies.  She doesn’t want to make a pie.  She’d rather read a book.  But, she wants to please her husband, show appreciation for all he does for her, so she bakes him the pie.  She dies to self, yields her will… sounds like submission right?  But she’s yielding her will to herself.  It’s still her idea.  He didn’t ask her to do something specific.  He didn’t indicate in any way that he EXPECTED a pie.  He just mentioned a preference and she decided to honor that preference in how she spent her time.

That’s called service.  It’s not submission.  It’s not submission until you have to choose to forgo your will in deference to the will of another.  It has to be a willing choice to do what you don’t want to do in favor of another.

I fear we’re complicating submission in our desire to be ‘holy as He is holy.’   I fear we’re redefining Biblical terms to fit our methods of applying them.  This is dangerous ground.  Let the principle stand on its own two feet.  Scripture doesn’t need our help to make us ‘more godly.’  Jesus finished that at Calvary.

Dorothy Sayers and Feminism

The first thing Mrs. Sayers asserts is that she is not only not a feminist but she is also strongly opposed to the movement as it was at the time of her speech recorded in this book  (1938).  When questioned by the Women’s Society about this assertion, she said, “… under present conditions, an aggressive feminism might do more harm than good.”  I wonder what she’d say about today’s feminism.

 

Her collection of essays could easily be summed up by stating that a person’s worth or identity should’t be automatically assumed to be understood based upon their gender.  Feminism today is all about elevating women to the highest level of existence merely because they are women.  It is a form of reverse discrimination that makes any attempt to take it seriously ludicrous.  The double standard is often justified by assertions of “historical evidence of double standards for men an women” but that is a weak argument at best.  A history of cruelty toward male children doesn’t mean that we now must be cruel to female children as a balance.

 

Mrs. Sayers argues that sweeping statements such as “A woman is as good as a man” are as meaningful as “a Frenchman is as good as a Kafir.”  As good for what?  This is the material question.  She goes on to demonstrate that one may be better than another at specific tasks but does agree that in the eyes of their Creator, both are equally “good.”

 

She asserts that what we should mean is that women are just as ordinary human beings as men are.  Each individual person his or her own preferences, tastes, and the like.  She isn’t so idealistic as to encourage the wholesale dismissal of all stereotypes.  As repugnant as they can be at the wrong time or when they most definitely do not apply, the fact is, they exist because there is enough substance behind them to create them in the first place.  There wouldn’t be stereotypes about “jolly chubby men” or “tempermental artists” if enough of them didn’t exist to make it seem like a universal truth.  Does that mean there aren’t  irritable men with beer bellies or actresses with ice in their veins?  Well obviously there are both.  However, I must admit, those that I know who are heavily involved in the theater on a regular basis tend to be high strung and tempermental and I know many many more cheerful and jovial chubby men than rotund men who are easily irritated.

 

I love this quote:

 

“What is irritating and unreasonable to assume is that all one’s tastes and preferences have to be conditioned by the class (or sex?) to which one belongs.”