In praise of an incomplete friendship

Recently my spiritual director gave me a copy of a magazine in which was an article called “In Praise of Incompletion,”[1] she thought I might find interesting, because she knows of my obsession to finish books that I’m reading. And I did find it interesting.

Ironically, I began this post back on April 16th or 17th and am only now getting to it, but after reading this article, I’m okay with that. As the author Marilyn Chandler McEntyre mentions about how leaving books unread is all right: “One can come back. They’ll be there.” So it is with this post, that maybe tonight as I re-read portions of the article, I saw it in a different light and it was time to write about incompletion through that prism.

Tonight after contemplating a relationship that has been left hanging, in incompletion, if you will, two paragraphs from this article in particular “spoke” to me. The first, in which McEntyre is addressing the fallacy of “I’ve-invested-too-much-to-stop-now,” is this one:

This dubious principle is frequently invoked in ordinary situations of frustration: ‘I’ve invested so much time (in this project, this job, this co-dependent relationship) I can’t afford to give up now.’ Pride is at stake, but not only pride. What is riding on the difficult decision whether to jump ship is also our very investment in the idea of investment: the idea that the effort we expend on projects and relationships is being invested. The metaphor is the problem. Investments are made on hope of return, on certain notions of growth and profit, on a definition of success that entails meeting preconceived and quantifiable goals. It works well enough as a form of economic behavior. But the metaphor falters when people begin to speak about what they’ve invested in their education, what they’ve invested in a friendship, what they’ve invested in their commitment to a job, whether a weekend spent on a project for science or a decade spent behind a desk. [emphasis mine]

The second, after which she discusses a man who quit a “prestigious top-of-the-ladder job after five successful years because he knew he’d given the institution what he had to give and believed he might use his energies to purpose somewhere new,” is this one:

Not everyone could or should organize a life around such a risky five-year-plan model. Certainly real fidelity to one thing can be as invigorating and enlivening as change. The trick is to understand one’s own calling– and not to understand the idea of calling simply in terms of ‘what to do with my life,’ but to ask periodically what is ‘the call of the moment.’ What is this phase or chapter of my life about? Do I renew my commitments, reexamine the terms of those commitments, and come to a new understanding of why I made them? Or alternatively, is it time to to let go of what has ceased to yield forth growth and call forth the best that is in me? Both can be honorable choices. Going doggedly on without ever posing the questions, substituting grim duty for heartfelt assent, is not. There may be a time to say, even about good and important work or institutional commitments, ‘These things have served their purpose, let them be.’ [emphasis again mine]

I think tonight, after wrestling with this relationship with a former friend, I am realizing that it is time to let go and make that last sentence my own. I may have invested nearly two years in this relationship, but now it’s time to let go. The friendship may not be complete, but for now, it’s time to let go, and like not completing this post until tonight, I need to learn to be okay with that.


[1] Marilyn Chandler McEntyre,”In Praise of Incompletion”, Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, 20:4 (July/August 2005) pp. 38-44.

A full copy of the article also can be found here in the alumni magazine of Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., where McEntyre is professor of English.

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