For hundreds of years, in the rural villages of Jiangyong in Hunan Province of China, there existed a secret language among women, known as Nushu. In her book, When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams explains “ These whispered writings were passed on from mother to daughter and the closest of friends, ‘sworn sisters.’” (p. 156-157) Nushu was the way that woman shared their souls. A Nushu saying is telling:
“ Beside a well, one won’t thirst; beside a sister, one won’t despair.”
Last week, I was walking with one of my “sister friends.” We were spilling out all of what is going on in our lives, and my friend turned to me and she said “Man, without good friends, we’d all need counseling!” As human beings, but even more so for women, there is something about sharing our stories and burdens with one another that enables us to not only cope, but also rise above our circumstances. Something sacred happens when two women share a journey together.
In the book of Ruth, we find a such a friendship. In the first chapter, there is a passage of scripture that has been used as wedding vows, yet was actually a promise made between two female friends. After both women find themselves widowed, Naomi tells her daughter-in-law, Ruth, to go home to her family, for she has nothing left to give her. But Ruth refuses, and she promises what one would promise to a spouse. She says:
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Ruth’s name means friend, something Naomi greatly needed, and yet it was in this friendship that Ruth found her place in History in the lineage of Jesus.
It is in our female friendships that we share some of our most intimate struggles, grievances, and victories–yet our friendships are also our key way of dealing with our stress. A UCLA Study of Friendship Among Women, explains scientifically what we know intuitively: that when under stress, we as women don’t always experience the “flight or fight” response. That actually, one of our first inclinations is to gather with other women. The study goes on to say that when we do this, a calming effect occurs.
Those of us who have had a friend hold our hand during heartache or listen to our numerous “vent sessions,” know this calming effect well. Yet for some reason, when things get crazy in life, it can be easy to let those friendships fall to the wayside. We can get so caught up with work and family–or get so overwhelmed by the stressors of our life–that we forget the importance of picking up the phone for some girl time.
Just over a year ago, I called my mom and I shared with her that I was struggling with some things in my life, and like mom’s often do, she had some important advice. She said, “do you have any of your girl friends that you can talk to and pray about this with?” I have an incredibly supportive husband–but by the sound of my voice, my mom knew–I also needed the support of my friends. I needed some girl time, and I had to be intentional about making it an-as-regular-as-possible part of my life. And the times I do this well, are incredible blessings.
Amidst our increasingly busy schedules, how can we seek to make time for one another?
How can we make “coffee dates” or “girl’s nights” happen?
If we are in a friendship “dry-spell,” what would it look like for us to seek out new friendships? (Perhaps with a woman who has been on the fringes of our circle of friends?)