A few weeks back I enjoyed the opportunity for some much-needed “girl time” with two friends who are more like sisters to me. The three of us live as far away as distance allows while remaining in the continental US. Unless we stay intentional, we simply will not see each other. My friends and I meet up every two years for a “girl’s getaway” to encourage and refresh each other, and to enjoy an oxytocin surge from much talking and interacting! (1)
We met in the mountains of North Carolina for fellowship and enjoyment of God’s beautiful creation. On our first day together, my friend shared her desire for us to hike up the nearest mountain. She shared how she and her husband made a trek up there the last time they were visiting the area. She commented on how the climb was tough but doable.
The thought of hiking up the big mountain tightened my stomach with dread. I like to be active. I try to exercise when I can. However, this summer has turned into such a whirlwind that I did not make time to work out. (Unless, of course, you consider it exercise to pack, move and unpack a lot of boxes!) Needless to say, I am more out of shape than I prefer. I was reasonably sure I did not have the stamina to climb a 3.5-mile mountain that is 1,500+ feet in elevation.
I shared my mountain-climbing uncertainty with my friends, and then I invited them to make the hike without me. My friends patiently listened to my concerns, then encouraged me to give it a try. “After all,” they declared, “This will be more fun to do together!” My friends then assured me that we would walk at a pace I could manage, and we will rest as I need a breather.
While I still felt unsettled about my abilities to do this climb, I was up for the challenge. I felt grateful to have such special friends who are willing to meet me in my current “out-of-shape” state.
The next morning we began our adventure. We started at a reasonable pace, but I soon needed to slow down as the hills became steep. Some stretches seemed to go on at a steep grade without a break in the incline. These sections felt like we were barely making any progress. My breathing, as well as my legs, became heavy. My friends checked in with me to see how I was doing. They asked if I needed a break, or if it was time to slow down. To preserve my precious oxygen, I gave the universal “thumbs up” sign to indicate I was okay.
My friends continued to encourage me by pointing to a turn in the path where the trail leveled out. As we walked, they shared stories of what God has been doing in their lives, including the ways He has been revealing Himself. With each mile we passed, my friends celebrated our accomplishment. They reminded me to hold on to how much ground we had covered up to that point. At various locations on the trail, we marked our journey with short videos for my sons. In the videos I shared the “hard thing” I was doing, along with updates on the progression of our trek up the mountain.
As we approached the top of the mountain, I reflected on how wonderful it felt to have friends who challenge me to step outside of my comfort zone, while also helping me respect the limits of my capacity. I knew I would not have chosen to do this climb if my friends had not challenged me. I also understood I would not have been able to accomplish the ascent without their encouragement and willingness to meet me where I was, both physically and mentally.
I tearfully expressed my gratitude. We hugged and celebrated the big victory. My friends met me in my weakness. Together, we accomplished our goals. Their presence provided the boost to my capacity that I desperately needed.
My husband and sons were also proud of me for this accomplishment. In my last video to them, I challenged my sons to decide what hard thing they were going to tackle during the weekend I was gone. Once I returned from my trip, I was delighted to hear stories of the “hard things” they chose to try. We celebrated together.
Proverbs 27:9 tells us, “The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.” (NLT) Do you have friends who challenge you to pursue a better version of yourself? I encourage you to reach out to your travel buddies and share your appreciation for their presence in your life. How can you be the type of friend (spouse and parent) who challenges others beyond what is comfortable, while also helping them stay within their capacity?
I have learned from Dr. Jim Wilder that when ladies gather for fellowship and interaction, their bodies release the bonding hormone oxytocin, which makes women feel bonded and more connected. People given oxytocin in research studies report feeling more trusting, more generous and closer to other people. Sorry gentlemen, you do not receive the same response from talking! You can learn more about this when you attend our Thriving Marriage Retreats.