Accountability Partners

Accountability Partners: A relationship established with the purpose of helping one another remain true to the Christian faith in spite of temptations and challenges.

We can walk to Panera Bread from school, so every Tuesday we do. We order bagels, sliced. We fill paper cups with Dr. Pepper again and again until we are buzzing with caffeine, spilling over with laughter.

We are fifteen. Neither of has quite figured out how to do our hair, so we wear our ponytails frizzy, static from the classrooms and the dry winter air and that hasty wardrobe change at second period P.E.

We are “accountability partners,” but mostly we are just best friends. We have to get that out of our systems with lots of talk about boys and classes before we reach for our backpacks, pull out the journals that we made ourselves.

“So, what are you learning?” I ask. This signals the transition to Official Accountability Time, and she opens her journal first to see what she has written over the course of the week. We sit by the tall windows, and behind her, cars slosh past in the lot. I look at her journal upside down. Her cursive is neat along the lines.

What she is mostly learning is about words. She is wearing paths from her Bible’s concordance to the beautiful verses—the ones that satisfy our inner-poets. She is stacking them around her life like a shelter, and I am nodding because I understand just what she means when she says the future is so fuzzy, when she says, “I just don’t know.”

And then graduation. The hats fly, the summer ebbs. We toast one last time our usual table at the usual Panera.

College then. Marriage for me, a semester abroad for her. She decides to go back across the sea for another year. Then another. We are in transition, and our Bibles are lost in all the moving. The beautiful verses are forgotten, replaced with the tinny memory of broken theologies, painful interactions with Christians.

We deal with the pain differently; we shift, ever-so-slightly, away from one another.

Once, when she is home, we meet in Milwaukee. We have chosen Milwaukee not because it is fabulous or even halfway between our homes, but because it has a Panera.

We pick a table near the windows, but the price of bagels has gone up, and neither of us drink Dr. Pepper anymore. Our hair is styled, our makeup regimens have moved from experimental to totally routine. When I try the old method, that old transitional phrase, “What are you learning?” neither of us knows quite what to say.

We know we are learning, always learning, but we can’t pin down what it is that we’re figuring out.  The journal is no longer the right format. “Accountability” is no longer the right format. When I try to force it, we both come up empty.

It is the wrong word, “accountability.” It assumes that she owes me something, that we owe each other: an explanation, a justification. But how can we explain? How can we understand? We are where we are –swaying in the wind, trying to keep our footing when we just don’t know.

We are accountability partners, but mostly we are just best friends. No explanations are necessary. Just grace. Just love. Just a long hug upon seeing one another, the rapid-fire of one-line emails when we’re frustrated or happy or lost in our not knowing.

We can say remember that time…and know exactly. We can bring up the beautiful words we once knew, and help each other find shelter in them again.

It is different, but it is honest. It is not sitting at a table, but it is walking, ever forward, toward the hazy light.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Now that you mention it, that really is a strange phrase! I wonder if it comes out of the sort of systematized meetings that Wesleyans used to have in their holiness clubs? Like formalizing something that perhaps should be a little more informal today? I’m grateful for my accountability partners from back in the day, but I’m really just glad that we’re still friends.

    • Addie Zierman

      “formalizing something that perhaps should be a little more informal today.” Yes. I would absolutely agree with that.

  • Kimberly Hoppe

    It turns out that an accountability partner is just a “holy” way of saying “best friend.” You don’t need an excuse to share your heart. You don’t need an excuse to sit and drink copious amounts of Diet Coke or Dr Pepper or eat stupid amounts of chocolate. To talk for hours and laugh way too loudly. To share the most intimate parts of your heart. The most quiet. The darkest.

    You’re best friends. And that’s what best friends do.

    But when you grow up, you find yourself a little bit lost out on your own. And you find ways to try to make “accountability” work. And you focus so much on the accountability part, that you forget how important the rest of it is. That really, you just miss the person who makes you a more true version of yourself and who, often, knows you better than you know yourself.

    I miss my accountability partner. But mostly, I miss my best friend.

    • Addie Zierman

      Miss you too. Almost wrote about the time with the Matthew Marathon. And the time we laughed so hard that I spit Dr. Pepper all over the floor and we had to sneak away and move to another booth. So many memories.

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  • Rebecca Woolfe

    Wow. I don’t even know you. But you have hit so close to home. And I keep reading blog post after blog post and crying. Reading your words are really healing for me. It’s like I am living this adult life with the memories and influence of the evangelical life, saying all the phrases and the right words…and some of my friends are still there. Explaining deep losses away with Christian sayings that aren’t even in the Bible.

    Somehow, reading your words makes me not so lonely. I find more friendships now with the “liberals” or from the “stumbling blocks” I tried to build so many walls to protect myself from. I guess I am one of them now, too. Now I am just me and that is ok…and now I have dear, honest, real friends- not accountability partners. Now I just pray and ask God for peace (while hearing the screams of a 2 year old!) through long days parenting and potty training- no “quiet times.” Thanks for sharing.

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  • Rick Cruse

    Sorry for commenting on (very) previous posts. It’s simply that I’ve just discovered your blog (via Rachel Evans), and I decided it was best to begin at the beginning. First, let me say I’m delighted to see your reference to Kathleen Norris’ writings. She’s a blessed and challenging breath of fresh air to me.

    Two thoughts come to mind about “accountability,” okay, maybe three. First, and most important, it’s impossible to be “accountable” to someone you don’t have deep trust in, someone you haven’t really done life with. I know this, because I’ve tried. It simply doesn’t work. Next, when you try to manufacture accountability, it’s too easy to lie and get away with it. It becomes one more place to pretend and to perform. Lastly, unless you’re “accountable” to someone in ecclesiastical (pardon the multi-syllabic term) authority who can kick you out of the group/church/whatever (a scary scenario), there’s little legitimate and helpful leverage to encourage change. One can simply return time after time still struggling with the same pesky issue(s).

    Thus, I return to your post: “…mostly we’re just best friends.” I think that’s the only place real change can take place. The other is too artificial. Too easy just to lie.

    • Addie Zierman

      These are some great points, Rick. And I love where you arrived: “I think that’s the only place real change can take place. The other is too artificial. Too easy just to lie.” Yes. Maybe what the church really needs to get better at is friendship.

  • Shannon

    Sorry to comment WAY late…like Rick, I’m working my way through your blog (& loving it). I must say, beyond what I’ve already posted – that your words are so appreciated right now, that your story is a familiar one (personally), and that you have to keep writing ;) – Milwaukee is an awesome place for food :)) Let me know next time you’re in my neck of the wood. I’ll show you around the crazy cool pockets that home great food and coffee :) Blessings!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for the kind words Shannon! So glad that you’re loving the blog. It means a lot. And I will definitely ping you next time I’m in Milwaukee. It’s good to know people. ;-)