Friends

friendship is unnecessary

This is the first entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

Friendship is quite a strange thing if you really take some time to think about it. It doesn’t really make sense, two people feeling drawn to each other and wanting to be in a relationship that doesn’t necessarily seem to serve a purpose on paper. Familial relationships we’re born into, and they nurture us until we’re ready to go out into the world on our own. Networking relationships exist because we get something out of them, and sexual relationships exist for the purpose of procreation. Of course, that’s oversimplifying all of those types of relationships to the extreme, but it still gets the point across.

Friendship doesn’t really seem to have a point because while it can sometimes take on certain aspects of those other kinds of relationships, it also stands independently from them by definition. We have friendships simply by virtue of wanting to have a relationship with another person, not because we might get something out of it, not because we were born into those relationships by default, not because we found someone physically attractive, but because those are the relationships that we’ve chosen. Friendships are born when one person sees something that creates a longing to know and be known by another person and that person does likewise. It’s a connection that bursts to life like a spark or one that organically sprouts over time, but no matter how it develops, it can’t be forced and must be chosen, something that makes friendship so mystical and sacred.

We have friendships simply by virtue of wanting to have a relationship with another person, no strings attached.

These things might seem rudimentary at best, because most people could likely tell you the reasons why they’re friends with the people in their lives, but that’s after those bonds have already been formed. What drew you to those people in the first place? Why did these specific people catch your attention out of all the others in the world before you really knew them? Do you even remember when or how you met some of your friends? And even if you have answers to some of those questions, how can we explain the friendships we have with people who seem to be the polar opposites of us, people that wouldn’t picture ourselves with in our wildest imaginations? How does friendship break barriers of difference when, for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t even seem to have a purpose?

I don’t know, but perhaps that’s part of the reason that friendship is so beautiful. C.S. Lewis wrote about friendship on the same level as love, saying, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival. - C.S. Lewis

I think he’s right. Friendship is completely unnecessary. It doesn’t keep us alive. It doesn’t provide us with any inherent advantages in life. It doesn’t solve any of our problems, and sometimes it might even create some, but friendship gives depth to our existences. It injects color into the black and white routine of simply inhaling and exhaling and adds more rhythm to the monotonous drum of our solitary heartbeats, punctuating the otherwise repetitive pace of our lived narratives. While we might only be trudging along our path with the bare necessities of food, water, and shelter, friendships and other relationships transform our mere surviving into thriving, filling out our flat profiles with dimension until our empty mannequin shells really come to life.

That’s the wonder of friendship. It’s unnecessary, superfluous. It doesn’t serve any purpose, and yet it simultaneously defines our being, giving us purpose and a reason to continue being at all. Though it doesn’t contribute to our survival, it is part of the reason that we choose to live. Perhaps that paradox doesn’t seem to make sense, but then again neither does friendship. It’s a human enigma that continues to amaze, fueling the lives that it is concurrently comprised of and creating more of its own kind using itself as the medium.

Though it doesn't contribute to our survival [friendship], it is part of the reason that we choose to live.

Friendship is a mystery locked within the human condition that is both fully understood and fully rational while at the same time fully incomprehensible and fully nonsensical, but that’s where the beauty of friendship lies. It defines itself, making the unnecessary necessary, creating love from where there was once nothing.

That’s another thing about friendship. It doesn’t necessarily abide by any rules and it isn’t always bounded by time or proximity. If I think about my friendships, my deepest and closest ones aren’t the ones that I’ve had the longest or the ones that have been most convenient or the ones in which we’ve had the most in common. They’re the ones that were difficult, the ones that we struggled through and the ones that we hurt in the midst of together. But friendship doesn’t even necessarily define itself that way either. Sometimes it just forms and you don’t really have a good reason for why it did.

One of my friends, Clara, and I often forget how long we’ve actually been friends, because the real duration is always much shorter than it feels like. Clara and I have only known each other for a little over two years, but it feels like it’s been much longer than that. Sometimes, we try to rationalize it because of all the stuff that’s been packed into those two years, but even that doesn’t always square everything up, because it still sort of felt like we had known each other for a long time the second time we ever saw each other, and it appeared that way to everyone else too.

I met Clara coincidentally about four months before we would actually become friends when my best friend and I took a day trip to Duluth to see one of her friends that she hadn’t seen in a while. Clara happened to be her friend’s best friend (so literally a friend of a friend of a friend), and we met while she was working in an art studio because Clara is cool like that. The four of us spent some time together the rest of that day, but Clara and I probably knew each other for a grand total of three or four hours over two days before I saw her again that fall when she started at Bethel.

The funny thing about mine and Clara’s friendship is that it just sort of happened, and it still doesn’t make much sense to this day. She and I don’t have an awful lot in common. She loves science, specifically botany, specifically hydroponic plants (which I didn’t even knew existed until she told me about them), and I was quite satisfied with myself when I finished general biology as my last science class ever for the rest of my life during the spring semester of my junior year in high school. She loves the outdoors, forests, lakes, and cliffs, and I like to look at those things, or perhaps pictures of those things, but it would take a very specific kind of mood for me to want to go hiking or be outside in the real outdoors for fun. Despite those differences and many others, it still felt like a reunion with an old friend when I saw her again come August, and other people assumed it was so. Little did they know that we were essentially two strangers embracing during Welcome Week.

Like I said, that’s the crazy thing about friendship. It knows no bounds and respects no barriers. It defines itself and creates bonds out of nothing even when two people might seem to be completely incompatible on paper. That’s part of the magic of friendship.

Friendship knows no bounds and respects no barriers.

In our world and our society, friendship seems to get a bad rap sometimes for being a lesser sort of relationship when compared to familial relationships or marriage relationships, but perhaps if we took a moment to slow down and reflect on how astonishing friendship really is we’d be able to reclaim some of its sanctity because it’s a very beautiful and very underrated thing.

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, friendship in a world obsessed with sex and marriage, and reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media if there are any other aspects of friendship I should write about!

bethel is my church for now

In the past month (since I wrote my last blog post; yeah, it’s been sort of a long time), I’ve gotten the chance to catch up with a lot of friends and talk with them about Spain and about life and just talk in general. Something that's come up frequently has been what my current church situation is like since I originally started my church fast back in June of last year. And to be honest, I’m still not completely sure how to answer that question, but I think that I’m calling Bethel my church for the time being. That might sound a little strange (or maybe it doesn’t *shrugs*), but let me explain. Over the course of several conversations, I’ve explained why I’ve been on a church fast to begin with and what exactly I’d be looking for when I do get around to church searching again. As I mentioned in my last post, I don’t necessarily need a church that validates every single belief that I hold or one that completely agrees with me on every little thing, because that’s probably not a realistic expectation. To me, that’s less of a problem and more a sign of the extensive richness of the faith that we believe in. It’s also the reason why I can never understand why people say that the Bible and Christianity are black and white or how some churches or pastors or writers can so staunchly believe that they have it all figured out and they must be right. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Why else would we have so many different interpretations of the Bible and what Christian lives are supposed to look like? While I do believe in absolute truth, I think that people need to start admitting that living as a Christian is complicated and messy and so much more so than many people make it out to be. So that would be the first thing I’m looking for in a church. They don’t need to agree with me on every little thing, but I would like to find a community that’s a little more open and little more understanding of that complexity that comes with faith.

The main thing that I feel like I’ve been looking for is the reason why I’ve decided that Bethel is going to be my church for the time being: I feel a sense and a level of acceptance and respect here that I don’t think I’ve quite found anywhere else. Even though Bethel’s official position disagrees with me on matters of intersections between faith and sexuality, that’s not the way I’m treated here, and a lot of the time I’m able to forget that their policy even says that. And I think that’s what I’m looking for. Bethel doesn’t agree with me, but they don’t treat me like an outsider. My friends don’t. My professors don’t. And a lot of the staff in student life don’t. I’m treated just like any other member of this community. I can participate fully, and I can even hold leadership positions that I feel like many churches would deny me if I was out to them. They treat me just like any other student goes here, and I don’t feel like I have some sticker on my forehead denoting me as sexually deviant or a broken Christian or anything else that I’ve been called by churches in the past.

Now, that’s great, and I’m glad that I have this safe place, but I think it’s a little sad that I even have to write a blog post like this. I don’t think it’s right for churches to treat LGBT+ people like they’re extra sinful or extra broken because of who they are. As the old quote goes, the church is supposed to be like a hospital for sinners not a country club for saints. If that’s the case, I can’t fathom why influential supposedly Christian figures like Franklin Graham think it’s even remotely okay to say toxic things like “LGBT children are of the enemy.” That’s straight up wrong, inflammatory, poisonous, and not loving in the slightest. Churches are supposed to be safe places where people can let their guard down, rather than being another warzone where people feel like they need to defend who they are as people in order to be accepted and loved.

To get back to the original purpose of this post, all of that is why I consider Bethel to be my church right now. It’s a Christian community of support where I can continue to learn and grow and be supported regardless of who I am and I’m thankful for that. It’s true that this situation probably isn’t ideal, and chapel isn’t quite the same thing as actually going to church, but for now it’s going to have to be enough. I still don’t feel like I’m ready to step back into a church building yet, but I’m hoping my final semester here will help me get there.

So, to everyone who’s in my life right now, thank you. Thank you for not treating me any differently. Thank you for letting me be me. Thank you for not looking at me any differently than anyone else who you might come across on campus or in life. And thank you for being a safe place.

I’m not really sure when I’ll end up going back to the church as an institution, but I do know that when I do, I’ll be ready to be there and not leave again. Until then, I’m thankful for this community and this place and hoping that I’ll be able to go back sooner rather than later.

the suicide letter i never wrote

I've debated for a few days now about whether or not I was going to write this post, even before I wrote my last one. Is this reaching too far? Are people going to think that this is just to get attention? Is this even the right thing to do? After thinking for a long time, I decided that this post was indeed necessary for several reasons. It's not pretty, but it's reality. And people need to hear these kinds of things. But most of all, I think that this post needs to exist, because depression and suicidal thoughts are still so invisible. As I wrote in my last post, most people are pretty good at hiding their emotions if they want to, and in a lot of cases, you would never know that someone is contemplating ending their own life. Most people would never have pegged me as someone to have been suicidal, but I was.

That's why this post needed to be written. It might be uncomfortable for some. In fact, I know that it's going to be uncomfortable for some. So, this is your disclaimer. These are not easy things to read; these are dark things, but they are things that need to be said. 

And finally, this post is necessary, because I want to tell anyone who might be reading that if you are in a place like I'm about to describe or if you ever find yourself in a place like the one I'm about to describe, I'm here for you. I understand. You're not alone. Don't forget that. This world is better with you in it. Don't buy the lie that you're better off gone. You are loved. And remember that if things aren't okay yet, then it's not over, so if you're even thinking about questioning that, please talk to me. Your life is worth living to the very end. It's worth it. I promise you it's worth it.

So, this is the suicide letter I never wrote:

Dear Someone,

It’s been a long time. We haven’t talked in quite a while, and I sincerely hope you’re well. It’s been, what, six years after all, and a lot of things have changed since then. I’m graduating college next semester, I’ve adventured around the world, I’ve learned another language, I’ve had boyfriends break up with me, and I’ve even had friends die, so I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t even know what this is about.

This letter is something that I’ve been meaning to write for a long time, and I think I’ve finally decided exactly how I want to say everything that I’ve been holding in for so long. And as a result of how long it’s been, it doesn’t really matter to me if you respond to this at all, as long as you read the whole thing because this is something I need to do to finally lay this chapter to rest. This is your copy of the suicide letter I never wrote. I’m going to be blunt. You played a large role in that.

Did you know that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US? Did you know someone dies by suicide in the US every 13 minutes? That’s a lot of people. And most of the time, it doesn’t look like it does in the movies.

Sometimes it’s a million little things that build up. It’s the teasing. It’s the joking. It’s when you know they’re laughing about you. And it’s when your friends don’t do anything about it. It’s when they tell you to man up or not to take everything so seriously. It’s when you start to feel like a joke, so then you wonder if anyone would miss you if you just disappeared. And then you start thinking about just how you’d do it.

You think about the knives in the kitchen drawer. You look up with veins you’d have to cut and how long it would take. But that might be too messy. So you wonder, what about pills? But you want it to be fast and you definitely don’t want to get sick in the process and risk it not working. What about car exhaust with the garage door closed? You’ve seen that in crime shows before. What about just a plastic bag? Those are the kinds of things that start running through your mind when it all starts to reach its boiling point.

But obviously I’m still here.

Still, that doesn’t mean that everything just goes away because you couldn’t do it. The depression stays. And then the anxiety attacks start. After all, if he was like that, why not everyone else? You start waiting for people to betray you, to drop you just like he did, to just all of a sudden be done with you. And then there goes your ability to trust people, especially other guys, because you’d never want to relive that all over again. You even start to wonder if your complaints and concerns are “valid enough” to be entertained. That’s how most people who’ve reached that point feel, you know. You feel like you should’ve just toughened up a little more. You wonder why it hurts so much, why it matters so much. And then you start to wonder why it was even such a big deal in the first place.

But those are lies. It was a big deal, because the places you’ve been are darker than any you could have ever imagined, and the demons continue to haunt you even after you’ve stepped into the light. They return to torment you in every moment of darkness, every moment of fear. And every time they come, you fight like bloody hell to cast them out again, because you know that if you beat them once, you can do it again this time and the next time and the time after that.

That’s what it looks like, or rather, what it doesn’t look like. Because all of it is unseen. The battles, the wounds, the scars, they’re all invisible, just like the would-be blood on your hands and the hands of others. That’s what it looks like.

That’s what the last six years have looked like.

Actions have consequences and these are the results of yours. So, I don’t care if you say you didn’t know or you didn’t mean to. You don’t get that privilege. You never get to tell the bruised and battered, the survivors, that you didn’t hurt them. Because it’s not about you or your pride or your feelings. It’s about theirs, their struggles, their tears, their pain, not yours. It’s about their life.

And that’s why letters like these are necessary even if they might seem to be the epitome of selfishness. Because letters like these are the result of lives made into hell. Because the survivors don’t get to just graduate high school and move on with their lives. The survivors don’t get to forget about everything that happened in blissful ignorance. No, it continues to follow them everywhere and some remnant of it may continue to follow them for the rest of their lives.

So, yes, perhaps letters like these are a little selfish, but that’s irrelevant and anyone who’s gone through the same things will without hesitation say that they don’t give a damn. Because sometimes letters like these are what it takes to fully heal, to close a chapter of life so riddled with darkness and pain, to finally be able to tell those responsible what kind of part they had in all of it. So, if letters like these are what’s necessary, if letters like these are what survivors, what I need to purge the rest of the darkness, then so be it. Because all I want to do is get rid of the last of the shards of this that are still lodged deep inside me, so I can finally leave that behind.

So at the end of the day and at the end of this difficult letter, I want you to know that I’ve forgiven you, that I’ve forgiven you for all of it. It was absolute agony what happened. I reached a point of feeling like life was no longer worth living, but I’m better from having been goaded to that place. I’m stronger. I’m kinder. I’m wiser. And I’m a survivor.

So, I’m not thanking you for what happened, because I descended into hell and back, but it didn’t destroy me. It didn’t break me. It made me strong. Because sometimes you need the darkness to be able to see the light.

Regards.

here now (survival + renewal)

Today’s post is coming at ya in honor of both Thanksgiving drawing near (stateside anyway) and the fact that we’ve officially passed the 20 day mark in the countdown to our departure from Spain (cue the ugly tears here). This post will probably also be a bit longer than some of the more recent ones, just as a disclaimer. #themoreyouknow For the books, we’ll be departing from Madrid on Friday, December 11, so we really only have 19 days left in Spain, since that last travel day doesn’t really count. It’s really quite soon, and it’s hard to believe that we’ve already spent close to 3 months living in a completely different country, in a different language, with families that were strangers to us not too long ago. So, everyone back home, prepare yourselves. We’ll be back to terrorize you with endless stories, suitcases full of European clothes, and flubbed uses of English in no time.

But anyway, for the majority of this post, I wanted to write about some of the things that I’ve been reflecting on as Thanksgiving approaches, namely: survival + renewal as the title of this post suggests. And what those things mean may surprise some people, because while I like to think of myself as an open book, these aren’t the things that immediately bubble to the surface.

So let me start here:

When I first left to come to Spain, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had just come off of an incredibly difficult summer of having to face a lot of demons from the past. I was all sorts of bitter, angry, and most of all, exhausted. I was ready for rest, and I kept praying that Spain Term would give me that. After all, I was taking the bare minimum number of classes and was going basically for the heck of it, since my Spanish minor was already done. Little did I know that over the next 90ish days I would not only get the rest that I needed, but also go about tackling each and every skeleton that was left in my closet, some of which were trivial things that just needed to be finished off and some which were a great deal bigger.

The biggest thing I want to focus on and something that a lot of people might not know about me is that I’ve been suicidal twice in my life. The first time was towards the end of middle school and the beginning of high school, largely provoked by one specific person, but also by others, that I won’t name here. And the second time was just earlier this year when I was struggling to reconcile who I was with the various futures before me. That’s vague, but those are long stories for other blog posts. Regardless, I’ve tended to pride myself on the fact that you would never know about this part of my life if I didn’t tell you, but the fact of the matter is that over the course of this semester, I’ve learned that those periods of darkness have weighed more heavily on me than I thought. They’ve caused fights and arguments with people that I love as a result of my inability to fully deal with them, and they’ve affected the way that I see the world and the way that I see other people. I’ve slowly chipped away that the darkness from these events, but I think that being 3,000 miles away from home finally gave me the space that I needed to take a hard look at them and put them to rest for good.

Living in another country, in another language, away from friends and family allowed me to take a step back from things that I had held close for so long. I was in a new place, in a new time, and for the most part, no one knew who I was or the things that I had gone through in the past. And I think that sense of being a blank slate this semester really magnified the extent to which some of these things continued to affect my life. I realized that I was still subconsciously trying to impress someone that had thrown me away a long time ago, and I realized that the defense mechanisms that I created in that space were still active in relationships that no longer called for them. But I think the biggest blatant call out that I received the whole semester was when we had to write our (sort of) final paper for one of our classes. The paper was supposed to consist of a letter written to the one person that, in our opinion, has influenced our life the most. It was then that I realized the magnitude of the impact that some of these things had on me, because as much as I wanted that letter to be written to one of my parents, or one of my siblings, or to my best friend, it couldn’t. And I ended up writing the letter to that guy from high school who pushed me to the brink of suicide the first time, describing everything that happened and the impact that it had. It took me four days to write that letter, a lot of them just staring at my computer screen or my notebook trying to figure out what to write.

And again I realized the kind of mentality that all of those years had left me with. I was constantly questioning what I was going to write, because after so many years of having it diminished or invalidated or not taken seriously, I felt like I had to defend my right to my pain, and if my argument didn’t hold up in that twisted court, my case would be thrown out. I had to force myself out of that mentality and tell myself that at this point, it was okay to say that it was his fault for doing it, my teachers’ fault for implying that I should just toughen up, my friends’ fault for seeing it and not doing anything, that it was anyone’s fault but mine. And something else I learned while writing that letter, something so fundamental, but at the same time something that I had to be told, is that with real pain, no one has the right to tell you that they didn’t hurt you.

After having turned in that paper, I edited the letter a little and actually sent it to the person it was addressed to, for my own healing and my own closure surrounding it. I haven’t gotten any response of substance, but that doesn’t even matter to me at this point. To me at least, I’ve discovered that just putting things out there matters more to me than how people choose to respond a lot of the time. Like, having finally told this guy everything that I wanted to say was more important than how he responded. Or telling this other boy that I liked him was more important than whether or not he felt the same way (he didn’t, in case you were wondering). Or any other example like that.

And, thus, we’ve caught up to the present, where I’m feeling a strange blend of restlessness and peace, peace because after six years, every demon from my past that has haunted me has finally been laid to rest, and restlessness because my mind just doesn’t even know what to do with the blank slate that it’s been given. There aren’t any dark secrets left to hide. There isn’t any more bitterness to swallow. There’s nothing left unsaid. There aren’t any more what ifs. The only thing left is a new chapter of life at a time when the possibilities for what’s ahead are nearly limitless.

And as Thanksgiving rolls around in the US, I’m thankful for this, and continuing to grow more and more thankful for the difficult times that cause us to grow the most. They might not be fun, and they might stretch us to the point of breaking, but those hard times always refine us more than we know at the time.

So, here’s to metaphorical fresh starts, to survival, renewal + being thankful.

finding rest in the desert (literally)

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Sometimes I think about the way that God works things out and wonder why keep insisting on worrying and not trusting Him. But then I also remember that we’re human and that’s what we tend to do. We tend to get all nervous about things that God already told us would be just fine. Funny how that happens so often. This is something that I’ve been thinking about the past week and a half or so, because I was definitely worrying about a lot of little things before I left to come to Spain. I was worried that I would forget to pack things. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand when people spoke to me in Spanish. I was worried that people wouldn’t understand when I tried to speak to them in Spanish. I was worried that I wouldn’t like or wouldn’t get along with my host family.  I was worried that this semester would be too hectic for me coming off of a period in life where I just burned myself out on school. I was worried that fall break would be stressful and difficult to plan. I was worried about this. I was worried about that. I was worried about a lot of things that I ended up not needing to worry about that much.

Sure, I definitely forgot to bring some things that I wish I had remembered. And yeah, sometimes communicating in another language is a struggle, but we’re at the beginning of our fourth week here in Segovia and God has literally worked out literally every little thing that I had worried about prior to coming here. Unlike us humans, He tends to be kinda amazing like that.

So along those lines, I want to talk a little about how God has been providing rest for me in a time where I really need it. As I’ve already talked about a lot before, I came into this fall semester abroad off of a crazy summer in every respect, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, all of it. I hated the summer linguistics program I was at, and while I absolutely loved getting to go back to Welcome Week at Bethel before leaving, especially because of all the people that pour into you there, it was still another thing that completely drained me up until literally less than 12 hours before I left (holla at getting 20 hours of sleep over 4 days; that was fun). So, needless to say, I was rolling into Segovia on empty and I really didn’t have the energy in any capacity for really much of anything.

With that as the backdrop, it’s been completely insane to see how God has just provided, rest and everything else, in the past three weeks. Our small (and sassy) group is wonderful, and I’m so glad that I get to do Spain Term with these crazy people. Not only that, but all of the little problems that have come up over the course of the past three weeks have all been resolved quickly as well, which I’m infinitely thankful for (ugh transcripts, travel plans, etc.).

I’ve had time to be with people, and I’ve had time to be by myself. I’ve had time to hang out with my host mom, and I’ve had time to hang out with God. I’ve had time to do homework, and I’ve had time to shop and wander around Segovia trying to get lost (I failed, which is awesome in and of itself). I’ve had time to think about things that I want to write, and I’ve had time to take a lot of really fun photos. Basically, I’ve had enough time to do almost everything, which is such a new and freeing sensation that I’m loving about being here.

In addition, I think that any trace of homesickness has finally passed (at least for right now). Every morning I wake up excited about what the day holds. I’m excited to walk through the Segovian streets and find new bakeries and cafes to try (or return to the same ones that I already love), and this feeling that I’m not going to have enough time to do everything I want to do is already creeping up on me, which I definitely didn’t expect. I almost expected to be longing for home at this point, but I just feel ready for everything that Spain and Europe are going to throw at me. And I think I’ve definitely reached a point where if I had to go home right now, I don’t think I’d be quite ready yet!

So here’s to starting to feel at home in Segovia, to feeling rested (even if I might’ve stayed up until 2am doing homework last night and gotten up at 8:30am today), to having wonderful friends, to having lots of artsy photos, to improving Spanish, but most of all to the One who is able to provide rest in unexpected places like the literal desert of Segovia (the official climate IS arid btw).

9.22.15.