Friendship for Grown-Ups
How ironic: the girl who became a TV star on a show about friends didn't have a clue how to make real-life friends of her own.
Not many people can say they lived their most crucial developmental years on the sound stage of a wildly popular TV show. But that's exactly what happened to Facts of Life star Lisa Whelchel. As a child, she learned to guard her heart so tightly to avoid hurt that she found herself unable to form lasting friendships as an adult.
Friendship for Grown-Ups details her experiences of learning to come out of her shell, to trust, risk, and become vulnerable by God's grace—and find meaningful friendships. You'll be captivated by her story and refreshing perspective on life's most precious gift, and will find practical tips for your own friendships along the way.
A few years ago, I was asked to film The Facts of Life reunion movie and was thrilled. I still love all my friends from the show and am often asked about them.
In fact, one of the first questions I am always asked when someone recognizes me is, "Do you still keep in touch with the girls from the show?"
The answer is, "Yes, we do. But we don't see each other often." The situation is probably the same as with your girlfriends from high school and college. You are so close and you think you'll never grow apart, but life marches on and you find yourself heading down diverging paths. Whenever you get back together, though, things seem just like old times.
That's the best way to describe my relationship with the girls on the show, and that is exactly how it felt on the first day of rehearsal for the television reunion movie. The only difference was, instead of us being four girls over in the corner giggling between filming takes, we were grown women giggling in the corner.
One other thing hadn't changed. Have you ever noticed how junior high girls sometimes bond with each other by talking about another girl behind her back? It isn't that they don't like the other girl. Sometimes it's simply that they are bonding with this particular friend at the moment.
Have you also ever noticed that, even after we grow up, we sometimes still act like little girls, especially when we get together with friends? Well, this is what happened on the very first day of rehearsal for the telepic. All of us girls fell right back into sophomoric behavior by forming little cliques and talking about whoever wasn't in the room at the time.
For instance, Kim Fields (who played Tootie) and I would huddle in the corner and I might say, "Oh my goodness, can you believe Mindy did _________" (fill in the blank). Later, I'd be with Mindy (Cohn, who played Natalie) and say, "Well, I don't want to judge, but I heard that Kim . . ." But I didn't stop there. Oh no, I had to take it one step further.
When I got back to the hotel room that night, I called Nancy McKeon (who played Jo) back home in California. Nancy was filming a television series and wasn't able to be in the reunion movie. When she answered the phone, I blurted, "We miss you terribly. Blair is only half the fun without Jo!" Then I jumped right in, "You are not going to believe Kim did this and Mindy said that and on and on." By the end of the conversation, we had had a positive bonding experience by talking negatively about the other girls.
I went to bed that evening but woke up in the night and couldn't get back to sleep. Out of the quiet, I heard the Lord whisper to my heart: You know, Lisa, you don't know why Kim does what you were gossiping about, and you don't have a clue about what Mindy is going through. But I know. And I would appreciate it if you wouldn't talk about my little girls that way.
I felt terrible. I love Kim, Mindy, and Nancy very much. I didn't mean anything bad by the things we were talking about. The truth is that all the talk I was making about them really was more about me—I was feeling extremely insecure that first day of rehearsal. It had been fifteen years since I had done any acting, and I felt so out of shape.
"I feel like a baseball player must feel after not playing in years," I had told my husband that night. "The timing of my swing is off, my throwing arm is weak. I'm striking out and overthrowing first base. I wonder if I still have what it takes?"
Because so much of my identity has been intertwined with performance, I was scared—and out of that fear I was attacking others. I wasn't being a safe person.
Thankfully, in the dark of the night, God brought my issue to light where healing could happen. As I realized my wrongs, I determined to set things right. The first thing I did was call Nancy and confess that I shouldn't have talked about our friends behind their backs. I even apologized for saying some things about her. Thankfully, she wasn't at home, so I only had to leave a message on her voice mail.
For the rest of the month of filming, I was careful to speak only positive things. If someone came up to me and started talking about someone else, I would say, "You know, I've noticed that she does that, but have you seen how much she's grown in other areas?" Or someone might start a conversation with me like, "I can't believe so-and-so would do such-and-such," to which I would reply, "I can't believe it either. I find myself doing the same thing sometimes. I wonder if we'll ever grow up!"
An interesting thing happened. I was soon perceived as a safe person. Over the weeks the cast and crew drew close to me, and we had wonderful conversations and times of bonding. At the end of the month, on the last day of filming, so many people came up to me and said: "Lisa, when you arrive on the set, it is like a rainbow appears." "You just don't carry any baggage with you to work, do you?" "I've been watching you this month. You're different."
Yes, there is a time and place for healing words. What I didn't know until this experience was that sometimes more healing is available to others by the things we don't say than by the things we do say. People are hungry for safe havens. Places where they can be themselves—without judgment, fear of exposure, or betrayal. People hunger for spaces of grace, understanding, acceptance. Safe people know what God was trying to tell me in the middle of the night. Despite what we think we see on the outside, everyone is hurting on the inside. If we have allowed God to come inside our hurting places to bring love and healing, then even if we haven't walked in their shoes to know what they're going through, we can know what it feels like to be hurt and healed.
. . .
At one time or another, and all at the same time, friendship feels scary, hopeful, overwhelming, life-giving, aching, enriching, stretching, and oxymoronically like a deeply satisfying hunger. Relationships can cause us to feel off balance and out of control, which makes it so much easier to give up our clutching for self-sufficiency and to grasp onto the Lord in utter dependence.
So this isn't a book full of answers as much as it is replete with my questions. And yet . . .
There's one answer I don't question: God is much more able to lead you on your personal journey of friendship than I am. You are uniquely you. He knows exactly who you are and what you need and who can best meet your needs. Your process won't look exactly like mine any more than we both have the same basic features but probably look very different. Three things I do know probably for sure: God will lead you very personally and gently, the path won't be anything like you expect, and the walking out of his plan will take longer than anticipated.
And I am here to say it is worth it. For me, the last few years of learning about grown-up friendship have been difficult and painful, but I have so much growth to show for them. My heart has been broken, but that was a severe mercy. Without the brokenness, I couldn't have known my need. Without realizing my need, I wouldn't have risked reaching out to others. Without entering into relationship with others, I would have missed authentic connection. With the vulnerability that comes with honest connection, I learned the importance of identifying safe people. Finding safe people cushioned me with love and courage to face conflict for the things that matter rather than choosing peace at any price. Learning conflict resolution skills made way for intimacy, and intimate friendship created an atmosphere of grace.
Grace, of course, ushered in self-acceptance. Embracing myself helped me believe and receive God's love. Resting in his delight changed me forever.
For years, I tried to get to an understanding of God's grace and love all by myself. But God had a different plan. He created us for relationship—not only with himself but also with others. If God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit need each other, then where in the world did I get the impression that he was impressed with my Lone Ranger exploits?
The truth is I need friends.
There, I said it. That was hard. I don't like needing anything because to need feels dangerous and is dangerous. But the reward is nothing less than the possibility of intimacy with God, yourself, and others. In my opinion, that is the closest thing to Heaven on Earth.
Excerpted from Friendship for Grown-Ups. © 2010 by Lisa Whelchel Cauble. Published in Nashville, Tennessee, by Thomas Nelson. Used with permission. All rights reserved.