I recently heard about an elementary school trend moving across the country. A little boy in Pennsylvania apparently saw other children at his school missing out on fun at recess because they didn’t have anyone to play with. For one reason or another, they sat alone rather than joining in with the other children. Not wanting this to continue, the little boy approached his teacher and together they bought a special bench to be used by those children. “Buddy Benches,” as they’re called, are a safe place for children to sit when they want an invitation to play. Apparently they work phenomenally well, and children never have to sit very long before someone approaches them and welcomes them into their games.
As a mom, this whole concept encouraged my spirit. I would love to think that if my daughter felt lonely or left out, she would have a place to go. Almost more than that, I love the idea that the other children know what it means when someone is on the Buddy Bench. We hear so much about bullying and the bad things happening in our schools that it makes me smile to remember that children, at their core, want to be loved, long for acceptance, and desire to make other people happy.
As a woman, though, I almost want to cry when I think about this. Because if I’m honest, as a woman – a grown woman with a family and a career and so much going on – I would love for a Buddy Bench to be made available to me.
This summer my daughter and I were at Chic-Fil-A for lunch. After she finished eating she went to play in the play area with the swarms of other children whose moms sought refuge from the heat. After twenty minutes or so, my daughter emerged – sweaty and out of breath – with the news that she had made three new friends. Three new friends. In twenty minutes.
I looked at her incredulously and, with a bit of wistful sarcasm, said, “Wow…..I wish I made friends as easily as you do.” I didn’t think anyone else could hear me, but the mom at a nearby table said, “I know, right….?” We made eye contact, smiled a sad kind of smile, and continued gathering our things to go home.
I think if we’re honest, many of us would say we feel the same way. As kids, we made friends relatively easily. As teenagers, we had our established circles of friends, but those circles intertwined and flexed as we grew. As college students, we were forced into community with other young women with similar goals and life experiences, and we connected in deep ways as we fumbled our way into adulthood.
But as young adults – college graduates – new members of the adult work force, things began to change. Our circles of friends of adolescence had largely dissipated, and our communities of deep camaraderie had been forced to break up. We moved to different places – started new careers and, some of us, began families – and we found ourselves, suddenly, in an unfamiliar place. A place of fulfillment, likely, as our dreams began to come true…..but for many of us, I suspect it was also a place of strange and unforeseen loneliness.
And for many of us – and believe me, I’m including myself – we don’t know how to negotiate this new place. Making friends – real, soul-deep, spirit-nurturing, heart-connecting friends – is hard. Some of us don’t know how to do it, and all too often we are disappointed when our efforts lead nowhere. (Or worse, we make a fantastic new friend….and then life takes them away again. That’s another post for another day.)
So this is why I think we need Buddy Benches for adults. Not an actual, literal bench, perhaps, but more the concept put into action. Perhaps more the vulnerability and transparency of a child, that allows us to put ourselves out there and say, “I’m lonely. I need a friend.” And perhaps more of the awareness to look around us and see women who may not say a word, but whose hearts are crying out.
No, we probably won’t see someone sitting on a bench designated for those seeking friendship. And truthfully, we probably won’t be approached by someone boldly requesting our companionship. But if we have eyes to see, I think we’d see women on Buddy Benches all around us.
It’s the woman who sneaks in late and leaves early from the women’s ministry brunch.
It’s the woman who never shows up at all for those activities your church designs specifically for women like her.
It’s the woman in your neighborhood whose kids are in school and who stays at home all day by herself.
It’s the woman with the new baby who is trying to figure out the role of motherhood while trying to look like she knows what she’s doing.
It’s the woman whose kids have all left home and she’s having to reinvent her identity after years of childrearing.
It’s the woman who smiles a big smile when you greet her at church, only to look back down at the floor and make her way to her seat without a word.
It’s the woman who appears to have it all together, and the woman who you think has a million friends.
The truth is, it’s all of us, because who among us does not need another friend? Who among us would say, if asked, that, “Yes, I have all the friends I need, thank you. I don’t need any more meaningful relationships”? Who among us does not know that twinge of loneliness and heartache?
We’ve all been there, and many of us are there now. If we each – with the boldness, transparency, and vulnerability of a child – acknowledged our own need and decided to address the needs around us, we could change a generation. We could. We need only to follow the lead of our children.