NOTE: Ironically, I had written a blog post on friendship, but before I could post it, my pastor, Tom Hawkes <– link to his sermons, preached on friendships this past Sunday. It’s better timing than I could have planned, so I had to go back and edit my post, integrating some of his suggestions into my post (thanks, Tom!), as his words are much wiser than my own.
Let’s Be Honest, we all have a screwed up view of friendship. At best, we pursue friends for fun, to keep us entertained, and to enjoy community with others. At worst, we pursue them for self-serving reasons, for assurance that we’re good/better/best where we are. We pursue them because we need attention, and friend’s woes make us feel better about ourselves, and praise from friends gives us justification. We glory in and judge their struggles because at least we aren’t that bad off. Of course, all of this awful friend-ing is under the surface. Our external image has to be different. We encourage them, we give shout outs to them, we moan and groan with them, but we rarely seek their betterment.
Often times when we notice a friend struggling with an issue, problem, or sin, we don’t mention it. Tom Hawkes pointed out, “Especially in the South, we’re taught to be polite and look the other direction” when we see issues. I find this is especially true. Sometimes, I’m afraid I will lose friendships if I tell friends the truth. So many of us are afraid they will get mad at us and then their attention and praise will be gone from our lives. We want to please them, so we tell them exactly what they want to hear: “You are not at fault in the argument with your father-in-law…You did nothing wrong by telling a little white lie to your kid’s teacher about the school project…It’s totally ok to get that angry when someone hurts your feelings…It’s understandable to idealize other people and hope one day to be like them.” I can hear myself echoing all of these things even if I don’t really believe them.
I do have a few friends who tell the truth. One particular lady comes to mind. She tells me when I’m being selfish, when I’m wallowing in self-pity, and when I’m prideful and judgmental. Sometimes she even makes me cry. Yes, cry. And you know what? My relationship with her is founded in Love, and I value her friendship more than many others.
One time, I was sharing with her some discord I had with Tyler (pre-marriage). I was blabbering on about some minor details I was grabbing on to and blowing out of proportion. I was hurt and Tyler needed to know it. He couldn’t be forgiven. He didn’t deserve it, and I needed to make sure he was punished. I remember the moment she stopped my rant. I was sitting in my car about to head in to the gym at Clemson. She kindly and lovingly told me I may be hurt, but my selfish judgment of him was blinding me to my own sin and my own wrongs I’d committed against him. As she explained how cruel I was by thinking I was better, deserved better, and shouldn’t forgive, I felt a sharp pain in my chest. I may have even said, “Oww!” aloud. What she said hurt.
My defenses arose as she spoke, and I wanted to tell her she was completely wrong. But she wasn’t. In fact, she was right on target. I gave myself grace and showed him none.
After ugly crying for a while, I was fine, and we all know how that situation with Tyler turned out. But the point is my friend was honest with me in a hard situation. She stuck with me as I sought forgiveness from Tyler and encouraged me while I forgave Tyler.
This is the kind of friend I want to be. I want friendships rooted in Christ’s love where my primary focus isn’t myself or the other friend, but the life of the Kingdom. How do you know the difference? Tom Hawkes said, “Your relationship is based on what you always talk about in your friendship. If you always talk about your children, then your relationship is based on your children. If you always talk about your problems, then your relationship is based on your problems.” How often do we get together with our friends and just vent about life? Do we really want our relationships to be built on having problems? I don’t in theory. But in reality, I find myself just talking about the negative and being quick to encourage friends to focus on the negative in their own lives.
When I notice others’ faults and struggles, instead of saying anything in love, I just think on it, dwell on it, and probably mention it to Tyler. The danger here is tri-fold.
- I run the risk of pridefully judging my friend and not considering my own sin because I spend so much time considering her issues. This damages me.
- If I dwell on my friend’s issues without saying anything, but continue to talk about it with Tyler, it ultimately becomes gossip. If I say things about a friend that I’m not willing to say to them, then I am guilty of gossiping. This damages my relationship with the friend.
- I don’t consider what is best for my friend. My fear and selfishness prevents me from saying anything, which in turn prevents the friend from changing their habits. While I’m not responsible for my friend’s actions, I can encourage my friend in the right direction. Not saying anything potentially damages my friend.
Love your friends. If you see sin, don’t just sit by and watch it happen. Do something about it! Say something in love. Encourage your friends to grow in truth. I desire this so much, and while I so often fail in this category, I long for deep, rich relationships with my friends. I long to be a friend who truly loves others: who celebrates with them, who grieves with them, who prays with them and for them, who helps illuminate a dark night, who is honest, compassionate, and truthful.
Final NOTE: If you do seek friendships like this, it will be hard. Life is messy, and people are messy. If you call a friend out, remember you will probably also be called out for your own issues. Take loving criticism from friends well (I have a hard time with this, but it’s a process). They may just be thinking of what is best, what you can’t see yourself.
Photo of some of my closest friends. Photo by Alice Keeney Photography