An Honest Look At Christian Friendships
UThis is blog #7 in the Series "Sabbatical Musings". If you would like to keep up with what was previously written in this series, you can follow along by clicking HERE
Disclaimer:Thank you for all of the friends along the way who have fanned my flicker into a flame, who have stuck by me through thick and thin, who have loved me enough to point out areas of sin, who have not given up on me when I was/am not someone who was easy to be around, who have prayed for me more than I will ever know and who have constantly put their arm around me and pointed me to Jesus. I write this hoping that anyone who reads it will have the experience of friendship that I have been shown by many but also to acknowledge that there are those who have not and who feel that resulting emptiness. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I want to take a very honest look at something that I have struggled with to varying degrees my entire Christian walk- the idea that Christian friendships should be different and deeper (if only on the merit of sharing THE most important thing in common, or "common-union" with each other).
When I first got saved, I found Christian friendships to be confusing, a tad bit awkward and sometimes feeling like it was something that I was doing because I should rather than feeling like it met a real need- all while leaving some sort of real need unmet.
It was pretty weird. Often times when I would contemplate "friendship" something empty would surface. But before I knew Jesus, I would never "sit and contemplate the meaning of friendship" yet friendships were rewarding and meeting a real need that all of us have.
Since I am going to be pretty blunt about things that I have observed and things that I have experienced, I want to lay out a few guidelines from the onset:
- I do not have any particular person in mind as I write these things
- I am going to do my best to prioritize "principles" over "personalities"
- It is an area where I still wrestle and I intend to be honest about those wrestlings so that if possible it might help at least 1 person put a finger on their wrestlings
- This is a "musing" not a "message"- in other words, I am not trying to address a problem that I see in my home church or to be arrogant enough to assume that I know how these things play out across the church globally.
- God has given me some amazing friends.
- As Marcie and I grow older together and put some years behind our marriage, our friendship has been the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced this side of my friendship/relationship with Jesus.
Let's start out with a little bit of testimony:
I am a pretty outgoing guy. I don't know if I am an introvert or extrovert or how much those terms actually correlate to actual reality. I took a test once and I came out as an "an extroverted introvert".
But whatever the heck I am, I know that I like to have friends. I have always been on the more social side, but I doubt that makes much of a difference. I have worked with, married and parented folks who wouldn't call themselves "social" but they enjoy having friends too. Suffice it to say that this is not something that falls along personality types.
Around my junior year of high school, I fell in love with the music of the Grateful Dead. I went to see a concert and went to my first Phish concert (its a band. No need to worry about it for the sake of the blog, not that important). The thing that drew me, perhaps more than the music itself, was the sense of community of these concerts. It was like a giant traveling family.
I was not a Christian until several years later so I did not have any kind of developed theology of what a "community" was supposed to be. But I did realize some things pretty early on that were worthy of taking notice of:
- I did not feel judged by these people
- I did not feel awkward or like a square peg in a round hole
- I really appreciated the group communal ideal that no one should go without and those who "had" shared with those who didn't
- I didn't feel like I had to "try" to fit in
- When I was at these concerts, it was the first time that I did not feel like I had to think about if I fit in or if I was accepted. I was able to just "be" and there is a certain comfort level to that.
Another thing that blew my mind about my pre-Christ friendships was how DURABLE they were. These friendships were tested. Many, many, many times. It would be embarrassing to list all of the things that were done by people who were not in their right minds. But, somehow we always bounced back. We always forgave each other. We were still there for each other even if someone did something that you would think would fracture the relationship beyond repair.
In fact, many of these people are still close friends today. Not Facebook friends. Like, real, flesh and blood people kind of friends.
The fact that these friendships still exist is miraculous. We all saw value in each other and that was enough to push us to look past the dumb stuff and move on and reconcile when someone did something foolish or selfish- which was pretty much always.
Things felt weird when I got saved...
I did not have an "on ramp" to salvation. I went from living a very communal lifestyle with a very close group of friends to the church becoming my world.
It was an odd time. I was trying to figure out how to take the free time that I had previously used exclusively for hedonism and self destructive activities and to learn how to fill that time with things that brought me closer to Jesus. There was a lot of time alone with Jesus and my Bible in those days. I also met the woman who would become my wife and we began sharing a lot of time together.
But, I always found it strange that my life was more communal BEFORE I knew Jesus than it was now as a Christian.
It's one of those thoughts that would range from consuming me at times to not being a big deal at other times. But I would often come back to it and I still come back to it at times.
This became increasingly confusing when I began to see that my experience with Christian friendships did not line up with what I saw in the Bible- or even line up with what I experienced in the world.
I am not trying to make it sound like it was all bad. Or even primarily bad. But there have been several things along the way that have left me with a very fragmented view of friendship. One of my biggest goals this summer was to deal with areas of fragmentation because I know that Jesus loves the whole being and Jesus is also making a being whole. But, there was no getting around the fact that some things were very fragmented in terms of friendship compared to what I had seen in Scripture and experienced in the world:
1. Probably the one that blows my mind the most is- there are some people who I have spent YEARS with- years of pouring into, living life with, sharing hurts with, crying with, laughing with, celebrating milestones with- and I have watched those friendships end at times instantly and toxically over things that my worldly friendships were able to withstand with ease.
This one still blows my mind.
I have watched people who were like family walk away- for good- over things that should never terminate a friendship. How valuable was the friendship to begin with if a simple disagreement can fracture it beyond repair? I have probably spent too much time laying awake at night contemplating that question, but I still don't have an answer.
I can say this- Christian friendships are not supposed to be like that.
2. I have watched patterns of passive aggressiveness in Christian friendships that blow my mind. Before knowing Jesus, I did not understand that passive aggressive was even a category. I only knew Aggressive-Aggressive. If something was on my mind, I said it. If someone had something to say to me, come at me, bro.
But I watch this weird dance where CHRISTIANS feel as if they are the offended party so they begin to send passive aggressive shots across the bow as their way of dealing with that offense. I have no further comment on this one other than to say that it is childish and unacceptable.
3. WHERE'S THE GRACE? Grace should mean that someone who has wronged me can ask for a "do-over" and that I will forgive them, show mercy and (unless they are potentially dangerous) reconcile with them.
How on earth did we get to the point where people have so many broken beyond repair Christian friendships? Sometimes even whole churches will split and never talk to each other again.
It does not take the Holy Spirit to live like that. Where are the supernatural bonds of friendship where grace ALWAYS wins?
4. I began to realize that some Christian friendships are little more than someone getting close to you for position. That's probably the weirdest part of being a pastor, at least to me. Before I knew Jesus, I chose to be friends with people who were interesting to me and made me feel at ease around them. I had no concept of getting close to a position rather than a person.
I don't know the number but its in the hundreds of folks who were vying for my time but as soon as I no longer held the position of pastor in their life they were nowhere to be found. Like, ever again.
The beauty of being a traveling nobody back in the day is that the folks who befriended me literally had ZERO options for an ulterior motive. They either liked me for me or they didn't and moved on. I had nothing to offer.
That's what makes this one so weird. I'm still just some nobody. As has been said before, "I'm a nobody trying to tell everybody about a Somebody". So, nothing has changed. But friendships are often a revolving door directly proportional to the proximity to a position. That's strange.
5. The last one is one we've all done: getting together vs TALKING ABOUT getting together. I'm sure that this has to do with the youthful stage in life I was at prior to getting saved and very few commitments that I held, but if I wanted to get together with someone, I did. I didn't talk about wanting to get together. Go back and read that sentence again. That's really odd. I have friends who I have been talking about getting together with going on decades now. Why do we do that? I don't have an answer to why, but I do have an answer about how NOT TO, and I will get into that in a moment.
But first, a confession...
I am guilty of most of these and far more if I kept the list going. I am more prone to some than others. But I am not just writing about things that I have experienced or observed. I am also writing about things that I have done.
I want to spend the remaining space writing about how Christian friendships should (and CAN) be different:
1. Grace. Grace. Grace. Is there a sweeter word in any language? As a Christian saved by grace, my life is governed by grace, so my friendships should be real life opportunities to demonstrate and receive grace. If grace was able to heal the widest chasm and the most broken of relationships between sinful man and the Father, then shouldn't it be able to restore two broken sinners who live in the light of the need of that very same grace?
2. Truth. Jesus was the embodiment of grace and truth (John 1:14). If I feel like there is something causing a rift between me and a friend, shouldn't I share it? If someone has something with me, shouldn't I have the humility and approachability to receive it?
3. Forgiveness- Read Matthew 5. Seriously, give it a good reading. It tells us (Christians) to stop doing all sorts of religious stuff if we have something against our brother or sister or our brother or sister has something against us, but instead to leave that sacrifice at the alter, make things right and then forgive. Matthew 6 then goes on to say that if we do not forgive others then we ourselves are not forgiven. I'll be honest, I do not fully comprehend that verse. But I know that in the VERY LEAST it is saying that we who have been forgiven so much should be forgiving to others. Even in the Lord's prayer we make a petition to the Lord to "forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors"
4. Let your yes be yes and your no be no- This also comes from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:37). Instead of over-extending ourselves or promising a million people that we will do a million things, prayerfully give people a solid yes or no. It's so much better than the "we should really get together sometime" nonsense.
5. Christ does not guilt us into seeing things differently so we should learn from Him (Romans 8:1, Romans 2:4)- one of the worst things to feel in a friendship is guilt. At that point, it is not really a friendship, it is more of an obligation. People aren't looking for more obligations.
6. Shoulder one another's burdens in love (Galatians 6:2)- this is where Christian friendship is really able to distance itself from the world's standards. A brother is born for times of adversity (Proverbs 17:17).
7. Release bitterness (Hebrews 12:15). The bible is clear on this one. If you play around with bitterness, you will become bitter. It will change the way that you see a person. It will eventually change the way that you see people in general.
8. Judge the same way that you would want to be judged (Matthew 7:1)- we all go through seasons where life is hard and it is hard to be the kind of friend that we know we should be. Wouldn't you hate it if someone judged your friendship on the heels of a season where you were unavailable due to a serious illness, caring for a loved one, or any other of a myriad of pressures that we can feel? Then don't judge your friends in that way either. Ask questions instead. You have no idea what might be going on in someone's life until you ask. Ask first before rushing to judgment if you'd like that same courtesy extended to you.
There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24)
This verse is usually brought up with relation to Jesus. Jesus is typically spoken of as the friend who sticks closer than a brother. That's partially true, because He is.
But I don't think that the writer of Proverbs was talking about Jesus in this verse. I think that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of this verse.
I actually think that what the writer of Proverbs was getting at is that people who have received the love of God are set free to love like God does and that is a love that even surpasses natural love between family.
I do believe that the verse is fulfilled in Jesus, Friend of Sinners. I also believe that we are called to and by the power of God's Spirit are able to be the kinds of friends to one another that require a supernatural explanation for the way that we love one another- the ultimate example being the true Friend who sticks closer than a brother, Jesus Christ Friend of Sinners.
*Thank you for all of the friends along the way who have fanned my flicker into a flame, who have stuck by me through thick and thin, who have loved me enough to point out areas of sin, who have not given up on me when I was not someone who was easy to be around, who have prayed for me more than I will ever know and who have constantly put their arm around me and pointed me to Jesus. I write this hoping that anyone who reads it will have the experience of friendship that I have been shown by many but also to acknowledge that there are those who have not and who feel that resulting emptiness. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.