Everyone has a story to tell of their personal journey with friendships. I have mine, complete with its ups and downs just like everyone else in the entire world. I am sure that even women in Timbuktu and Honolulu have had trouble with their friendships at one point or another. Friends bring comfort and joy during life’s trials and blessings. The ones within the body of Christ are exceptionally sweet because there is such a depth when Christ is the center and the goal. Though I have experienced that exceptional sweetness in my own life, there have also been times when I’ve felt like I have been on the outside looking in a store window displaying something I desperately want, but don’t have. It can appear that those around me have the blessing of real, mutual, thriving friendship, but what about me??? Either there’s no one around, or I don’t have the opportunity to spend time with the ones I know who would be a blessing.
I am currently walking a couple of my children through some tough parts of friendship, encouraging them not to give up because all relationships take work. It is a mess worth working through and growing through. As we dialogue, I keep coming back to the only thing that I can work on is me and my own heart. It really is true that if I want good friendships, I have to first be a good friend. To do that takes time, intentionality, and perseverance. If I sit on my bum waiting for others to reach out to me and fulfill my needs, that appears needy and draining to those around me (who wants to be sucked into a black hole?). If my thoughts go to evaluating someone else, I will create a record of wrongs which will dishonor God and bless no one, especially not me. I can evaluate myself because I can figure out what’s going on in my heart since I think my own thoughts and conjure up my own motives. As I focus on loving people for who they are, thinking the best of them, and overlooking offenses (perceived or real), gratefulness and affection will grow. I can look to Christ for the strength that forgiveness and love require. When I am aware of His patience and mercy to me, it fills my heart to do the same for others. Seventy times seven!
I cannot insist that people show me love in particular ways or at particular times. I can purpose to be there for others in ways that show my love and care for them. The trick is to persevere when it “feels” like my actions are not reciprocated, like I am pouring myself out on a one-way-street. Here’s where the Gospel has specific application that can bring great freedom–love as shown in the Gospel isn’t about someone deserving it, it’s quite the opposite. I don’t deserve to be loved by a friend any more than they deserve to be loved by me, but the greatest of all feelings in friendship is when you know that about yourself and yet your friend still chooses to love you anyway. Amazing! All the more profound is that Christ still loves me despite who I am and what I have done to Him. AMAAAAAAZING!!!!!! He’s my friend! That encourages me in the messiness and the goodness of earthly friendships.
Here’s a wonderful message from the 2012 NEXT conference on friendship within the church by Pastor Kevin DeYoung. I recommend you give it a listen: it is full of truth, humor, and will certainly humble you as you seek to grow in becoming a better, more biblical friend!