I’m taking a deep breath and am going to be real with you. This is a hard topic for me.
Over the course of a failed marriage, church falling outs, parenting issues, career changes and a whole gamut of unexpected life obstacles, I’ve tasted the joy and healing of healthy friendships – I’ve equally swallowed the searing sting of painful ones.
This blog comes from both a painful and joyful place.
But before I offer you words of wisdom in the friendship department, let me set the stage for my perspective.
I am a former pastor. I’ve listened to countless stories of people’s hurts in this area. I’ve written a book on forgiveness.
I’ve been through divorce. I’ve been kicked out of a church. I’ve experienced abuse. I’ve been gossiped about, betrayed – I’ve been judged, outcasted, un-friended, etc. simply because I took a stand for what I believed or because I made a personal decision they didn’t approve of/agree with. During some of the most painful parts of my life “friends” walked out or gave me the worst treatment of all: silence.
On the flipside, I’ve felt the love of the most incredible friends who stood right beside me (some for over 20 years) through my successes and failures. I’ve also been amazed at the people I least expected, who showed up on my front door with dinner or with a listening ear when my life felt like it was crumbling.
When life gets hard, I’ve learned to pay attention. Pain and heartache are some of life’s greatest teachers.
So, I know a thing or two about what friendship is.
Inside of church, I was taught what defined a good “Christian friend”.
The list was pretty simple:
- They hold you accountable and aren’t afraid to call you out on your sin stuff
- They love Jesus more than they love you (meaning if they feel you are going against what God would want, they have no problem cutting you off and being loyal to God instead of you)
- They don’t gossip (unless it’s in the context of prayer. Talking about me in the sense of prayer is something I have to be okay with)
- They know the Bible – and you talk about it – a lot.
(Anna rant: And, we wonder why Christians seem to be fake and struggle with vulnerability?? OF COURSE THEY ARE FAKE. THEY HAVE TO BE. Rant complete.)
Over the years I eventually threw out that list out and worked out a new definition of friendship – real, honest friendship that shows up when life gets hard. Really, really hard. The kind of friend I want when everything is falling apart.
I heard a quote the other day that I absolutely fell in love with. It said, “friends are simply two people not playing God”
I LOVED THAT.
In essence, real friends do not believe it is their job to “fix” eachother, “convict” eachother or whatever. That isn’t our job description and it never was.
Our job is to love.
Love means this: I accept you and I embrace you just as you are. It is not my job or desire to try to change you.
But, ANNA! God doesn’t love like that! He loves us too much to leave us the way we are and we have to love people the same! And I also want someone to love me enough to correct me!!
If you are looking to people to constantly check with for approval or for correction, you have positioned them in a place they were never designed to be.
Humans cannot be God. They cannot be the Holy Spirit. And they never will be. A good friend will sit with you and gently direct you towards hearing God’s voice on your own and will champion whatever that voice says to you.
And, when you feel like you just want to love someone enough to try and change them, remember they don’t need you to be God. They need Jesus. That’s it.
LOVE IS NOT A TOOL TO CHANGE PEOPLE.
IT NEVER HAS BEEN.
IT NEVER WILL BE.
THE GOAL OF THE GOSPEL IS NOT TO CHANGE PEOPLE.
I feel I may be ruffling feathers. But before you throw me out, hear me on how I landed here.
There is a beautiful story in scripture (John 20:19-23) that describes Jesus’ encounter with his “friends” (ie: disciples). He had just re-appeared to them after being dead for three days, after the crucifixion.
And remember the context: his friends had left him in his time of need, rejected him and completely forgotten what he had told them. If there was ever a time for Jesus to call out his friends on their perceived bad decisions, THIS WAS THE TIME.
What stands out in this story (and what I love) is what he said and what he didn’t say.
His first words to them were: peace be with you.
Notice what he didn’t say.
He didn’t say:
Ummm, hello??? Where were you on FRIDAY WHEN I WAS LITERALLY BEING KILLED?
Why are you hiding in here? Why aren’t you out there telling people to get saved???
Did you not listen to a SINGLE WORD I SAID TO YOU? I told you a MILLION times I would RISE ON THE THIRD DAY! Repent for your failures so that we can have a restored relationship.
No. No. No. No.
In this moment, Jesus didn’t shame. He didn’t condemn. He didn’t correct. He didn’t “fix” his friends into being better followers of him, or to be better ambassadors of his message.
Peace be with you.
He wanted them to be at peace.
Even in their mistakes.
Even in their failures.
He then did something we rarely do: He exposed his wounded parts; he invited them to come close to touch and feel them.
This was in part to show them it was really him, but I also see a beautiful moment of vulnerability. Instead of exposing their brokenness, he exposed his own. He exposed the human parts of him that were still healing. And then, in the perfect moment, he spoke to them about forgiveness.
His focus was to:
- Bring peace to his friends
- Be vulnerable with them
- Extend forgiveness
He did not:
- Shame/condemn them
- Correct their behavior
- Expose their failures
CAN I JUST SAY – THIS IS WHY I’M OBSESSED WITH HIM??
In our greatest moments of failure or shame, this is the response we long for from our friends.
This is where we feel the most loved and the most safe.
Can you imagine what a difference our churches would experience if instead of frantically trying to fix and save each other, we simply embraced this??
Jesus was about freedom inside of our messes. Grace without limitations. And the beauty of being loved and chosen when we don’t deserve it.
It’s easy to condemn.
It’s brave to extend grace.
It’s easy to shame.
It’s brave to listen with an intent to understand.
I don’t know how we’ve gotten so far from this message…regardless, I’ve resettled there.
Through all of life’s valleys and mountaintops, this is now my definition of a brave, holy friendship:
- They are not afraid to sit with me in my pain, grief or failure until I find my way out
- They do not try to fix or correct me – they trust God to do that
- They protect/cover the areas I am vulnerable in
- They guard my story
- They are vulnerable with me and I am safe to be vulnerable with them without fear of judgment or shame
When you are hurting, this is the kind of friend you want and need.
And, when you extend this kind of friendship to others, you are crafting something sacred; people may just feel a little bit like they encountered Jesus after being with you.
Love bravely. Love fiercely.