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Recently, my 9-year-old encountered a snag with her schoolmates over something trivial.
The object of contention was a New England Patriots pencil, which her friends playfully hid from her when she got up to throw something away in the classroom. (Please don’t judge. It was a pencil Margaret received in a birthday party goody bag long ago and, because there’s a football player on it, it’s among her favorites.) The teacher got involved, the pencil showed up, and all ended well.
But Margaret was quite disturbed when we recounted the episode at home that evening.
“… But those were my best friends,” she said, despairingly.
“My besties,” she stressed, as if I’d better understand if she used cool kid talk.
We talked about how that’s a very special label to put on friends, especially in the third grade. Then we discussed how last year, in second grade, completely different kiddos were her “best” friends.
Our conversation that night caused me to reflect on my adolescence, and think back on my various best friends over the years. I explained to Margaret that I, too, had multiple best friends. My first one was invisible. (True story.)
I think we can all go back and remember particular neighborhood or schoolyard playmates who we considered our closest pals. Then, as we got older, those friendships evolved, and new ones formed. We met new friends in the workplace, at church, and all over.
I talked with Margaret about how I’ve learned, over the years, that our hearts have room for many friends. And I explained that we don’t necessarily need to rank them in any certain order, or categorize them as “best.”
We discussed how we’d encounter friends who help us to keep life light and make us laugh, even though the depths of the friendship don’t run very deep. And we also talked about how, if we’re lucky, some earthly friends will be the kind we can call in the middle of the night, when life has thrown us a curve ball and we need someone in our darkest hours. Those kinds of friends seem to grow roots and become planted in our hearts. No matter how much time goes by, or what distance separates you, their friendship remains constant.
At that point, Margaret stopped me to tell me that her classmate’s mom has 450 friends on Facebook.
“Her heart must feel very full,” she said.
As I tucked her in that night, I read my daughter the following lines from the Gospel of John.
Jesus said: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you” (Jn 15:15-16).
I said that we have many earthly friends who make our hearts content, but God is truly the best friend of all, because he chose us, even when we were seemingly “unfriendable.”
When I shut off Margaret’s lamp, I asked her to remember that her heart, fashioned like God’s, is a big place. It’s not only to be limited to best friends or like-minded buddies, but it has room for those who think differently than us and sometimes even choose unwisely and hurt us.
“My heart is a big place,” she repeated, and then drifted off.