On supporting a friend

I've been thinking this morning about the nature of support, and how we can offer it to our loved ones.

I think this an unfortunately really common thought pattern: in order to offer support, we have to take an active role in another's life. We have to make our loved ones' endeavors our own, we have to literally take part, right? Otherwise, the thinking goes that we're not being supportive.

But if we don't enjoy the thing, if we don't feel that personal pull, if we are personally worn-out, if our hearts are not there, is that actually support at all? Are we sacrificing a part of ourselves, tearing ourselves up inside and giving our loved ones a tattered piece of paper that says “support” that says more about how we hurt than how we love them?

There's a little mental exercise I do often, using my dear friends as foils. It goes like this: instead of asking what they would want me to do (which is colored by my own negative feelings of self), if the tables were turned, what would I want them to do? The answer is clear and rings true: I would rather see them care for themselves, do what makes them happy, and share that with me.

The recipe for good support, then, isn't that I necessarily engage directly with what makes a loved one happy—unless doing so personally brings me joy. The recipe is simply this: that I draw happiness from the fact that they are doing something they love, enjoying something, believing in a thing deep in their heart.

Of course, if we do also legitimately find joy in sharing something with a friend, we do find that shared experiences bring us closer, bring our hearts together. But you can't force hearts together to get that; they need to share a bond of mutual enjoyment. If you aren't into it, don't force yourself—rather, take joy in your loved one's joy and share that instead. That will also bring you closer together, without tearing either of you up in the process.

Consider sharing what you love with those you love, and consider that you don't need to be experiencing it right alongside them to be a good friend. You can just share in their joy. And that, right there, makes you a good friend—and I believe your loved ones would say the same.