Friday, July 22, 2011

The Uncommon Friend, Part 5: Getting to Know You

You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.       - Ann Landers

My junior year of college I lived with some other girls.   It was actually my second year living in the house, and some of the roommates had moved on and others took their place. These girls were wonderful, beautiful women of God who gave their lives to ministry, but I knew how it went. You would walk in, say a quick hello to anyone you saw in the common area, and then you would go to your room in solitary. That’s the way it always had been, at least for me. In fact, in my two years at Ohio State, I had yet to make a really good friend that actually cared about getting to know me. One day a transfer student moved in. I’d heard some rumors about her and as a result, brushed off the idea of making a new friend. I had just returned from one of my first dates with George and she came in my room and asked me how it went. “Fine,” I replied, suspicious of what she wanted. “So how long have you been dating?” she asked. “Um, like a week, or something,” I said, curtly. Clearly not getting my hint that I wanted to be left alone, she continued asking questions. “How did you meet? How did he ask you out? Where did you go on your first date? What do you like about him?....” Once I had answered all of her questions, she left my room and I thought, “What was THAT?! Doesn’t she know that you aren’t supposed to actually CARE about your roommates?” The next night was the same thing, but a new topic. “So where did you grow up? What school did you go to? What activities did you do? Who were your best friends? Do you have any siblings? Where do they live?” Eventually, I realized that this was my fate. This girl was bound and determined to learn every single thing about me. It took some time but eventually I took down my wall and this girl became my best friend, was the maid of honor at my wedding just 18 months later and even stood in the delivery room when Jonathan was born. I’m convinced we never would have become friends if she had not shown interest in learning about me and been willing to take the time to get to know me.  I’ve met others who are great at this, but this girl truly honed this into an incredible gift that God uses in great ways!

I’m not so good at this. When we first met, I can guarantee you that I forgot your name immediately because I was too busy figuring out how I could sneak in something about me into what you were telling me. “You are from California? I was born in Monterey and its one of my dreams to go back and visit someday!” Yes, this can be used as a way to form a bond with someone, but I take it to a much more self-centered level!

If I do find a way to tame my tongue and ask only other-centered questions, I rarely remember the answers people give. Have you ever had someone remember something you once told them that even you thought was insignificant? Its such a testament to that person and it always makes you think well of them, doesn’t it?  I’ve started taking notes after playdates, events, and good conversations.  I’m sure there are more technologically advanced ways of doing this, but I have an accordion file and an index card for all the women in my life. On it, I write wedding dates, names of husband, kids, dogs, sisters, etc.  I write their prayer requests, struggles, favorite foods/candies (in case a care package is ever necessary), key facts, background facts, even inside jokes between us.

One of my favorite things to do to get to know people is to gather people together and ask each other questions out of the book, “IF: The Book of Questions.” It forces people to share information about themselves and it gives everyone a laugh, too. People LOVE to talk about themselves, so give them the opportunity!  Here are some good questions you can ask a new friend, or even an old friend or spouse. There answers might surprise you!

  Who was your favorite celebrity as a child?

  What type of pets do you have?

  What is your favorite color?

  What is most memorable about your high school years?

  What word describes you best?

  What is your greatest accomplishment?

  What drives you every day?

  What is your favorite food?

  Where do you want to retire?

  What is your business goal this year?

  Where do you like to vacation?

  Who do you admire?

  What is your mission?

  If you were invisible, where would you go?

  What traits in others are you attracted to?

  What is the kindest thing anyone has done for you?

  How do you want to be remembered?

  What would you do with a million dollars?

  If you were on an island, who would you want to be with? Why?

  You have a 10 minute speech to give at a high school, what is it about?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Uncommon Friend Part 4: Making Yourself Open to New Friendships

I pray that you have great existing friendships.  Maybe you have had the same group of friends since grade school, or since you first started attending your church 10 years ago. I have some great friends I have grown up with and I look forward to sharing some ideas on how to better those relationships in the future. Today, though, I would like to start with the importance of being willing to make new friends. This is a personal one for me, so give me a second to get up on my soapbox.

I have moved 14 times in my 31 years. I moved many times when I was younger, the hardest transition being  in 7th grade. I had some great friends in Fairfax, Virginia. I feel so blessed because I have recently connected with some of those friends (Jenny, Sandi, and Lynn) through Facebook. When I moved to Beavercreek, Ohio, it took a full year to really recreate friendships. My sister, Kim, and I used to talk about how awful it was to not have anyone to hang out with at school. Fortunately, my good friend, Bethany took a chance on me. She started inviting me to sleepovers, football games, and such. Eventually, her friends became my friends and they still hold a big piece of my heart.  Bethany had a hospitable heart. When we hear the word “hospitality” we think of things we can do, like having a quaint guest room, with nice shampoos in a basket in the bathroom, and lasagna baking in the oven. We think of dropping off a plate of cookies to the new neighbors or offering a far-off and hypothetical invitation for them to use our pool  “someday.”And these things are great, as long as you actually invite the overnight guest, deliver the cookies, and put a date for the pool party on the calendar. But hospitality is so much more than that. I read an interesting book called “Radical Hospitality.” It was written by writer Lonni Collins Pratt and Benedictine monk, Father Daniel Homan. It shares the 1500 year old Rule of St. Benedict that "all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ" and it spoke of opening your heart to strangers just as we are to open our heart to Jesus Christ. Father Homan tells many stories of people who came to his monastery in search of physical shelter, yet the real longing in their heart was for relationship—the kind of relationship that didn’t sway with the breeze. This is not something that women today readily offer to people they have just met.

Since getting married nine years ago, George and I have moved 7, yes, 7 times. We have met many individuals, many couples, many groups of friends, many church congregations in cities and states throughout the country. Most of the people I have met have offered a friendly smile and chance to get just close enough to peer into their lives, but not be a part of their lives. I have been to church small groups where no one even bothers to ask our names. Women’s events where I have sat alone while the “popular” group laughs and laughs, completely oblivious to anyone else on the outskirts. I spoke of this clique-mentality in an earlier post. It is a strategy for self-preservation and security and I can’t blame them for it. On occasion I catch myself being part of an inner group, without thought to anyone who might feel left out and uncared for at any given event. It is natural to seek participation in a tight knit group, but as Christians, we are called to rise above it and reach out to others. Even if we are trying to do what is good, we must consider what is best in God’s eyes. One of my best friends from graduate school was going through a really hard time and she was moving to the same town as another good friend who had lived there a long time and had established friendships and connections. I called that friend, told her about the situation, and she called my just-moved friend and asked her to lunch. After that, I didn’t hear anything more so I asked my established friend what ended up happening. She said something that we all think, but few would be honest enough to say. “I was happy to go out to lunch with her that once, but I have a lot of other existing friendships that I want to pour into.” I couldn’t get mad at her, but it made me heart hurt for my friend going through the hard time. Of course we would rather commune with friends we already know. There is no awkwardness. There is no effort required. And it is a GOOD THING to laugh with friends, tell old jokes, and just sit in the comfort and peace of loving others and being loved in return. However, we must also have times where we place ourselves in uncomfortable situations and risk awkward silences, clashing personalities, and differing perspectives on life, politics, and religion if we are to do the best thing, which is to minister to others and show them God’s love. Yes, Jesus spent a lot of time with his disciples, dining with them and traveling with them. Yet there were many times when Jesus chose to go hang out with the judgmental Pharisees and religious folk, the hated tax collectors, the undignified prostitutes. I doubt it was ever comfortable for him, but it was what he was called to do.

It is a rare blessing when someone takes the risk to get to know you and let you know them. When I first moved to New Braunfels, TX in May 2005, I immediately started looking for a church. Honestly, Southern Baptist churches had scared me since childhood and that’s all this town had (I have since completely reversed my stance, and I have absolutely LOVED the two s.b. churches we have been members of since then.) I went to the Young Life Alumni page on the Young Life website to see if there was anyone in town who could give me some suggestions. I came across the name Becca Hill. I emailed her, not expecting much back. That day, she emailed me with excitement that jumped through the computer screen. She told me all about the town, invited me to her church, invited me to a bible study that was a close group of friends that she had been a part of for years, and then she invited me out for coffee! I could have been (and maybe I actually am) the weirdest, most disagreeable, clingiest, or most backstabbing person ever. She was willing to take the risk.

The Practicals

As promised, here are some very practical things we can do to open our hearts to new people. Disclaimer: I don’t pretend to be the perfect person, or friend. Some of these things I have done, some I have witnessed others do for me or others.

1. Invite someone out to lunch. There is a huge difference between inviting someone out to a group outing, and someone out individually. An invitation to a group outing says, “please come have fun with us.” An invitation to an individual lunch says, “I really want to get to know you, and I’m willing to sacrifice time and money to do that.”

2. Next time you are at a party, wedding, or church gathering and you find yourself laughing with a group of friends, take a moment and look around. Who is standing by themselves?

3. When someone does move in to the neighborhood, or town, bring them the cookies, but then ask what their immediate needs are. We moved to Jackson, TN on the day that Ohio State was playing in the NCAA Basketball Championship. Our wonderful neighbors, Robin and Paul, knew we didn’t have cable, or even a tv, so they invited us over to watch the game and ordered in some good ole Tennessee barbecue. When we moved to Toledo, I was 34 weeks pregnant and hours away from family. At church we reconnected with an old acquaintance, Libby, and within minutes she offered to watch our toddler and preschooler in the event of labor.

4. If you really aren’t comfortable getting to know someone new by yourself, enroll a friend to help. If you and one other friend walk around the mall or park with the new girl, as long as you make efforts to include her in the conversation, she will already feel like she is part of something. When I moved to Greenville, SC, I went out to a movie with best friends, Nicole and Jerushah. I remember at one point they were laughing about some inside joke and just as I was about to feel that left out feeling, Jerushah turned to me and informed me that Nicole had just found out she was pregnant and they were laughing about all the surprises that brings. I was honored that they would include me on such a secret.

5. Intentionally commit social faux pas. How weird would it be for the new people in the neighborhood to be the ones knocking on door to introduce themselves? It’s not right. The established should welcome the non-established, but that just doesn’t always happen. Take the initiative. Host your own housewarming party. Invite yourself to the existing small group at church. Talk to people at the grocery store (you southerners will laugh because this is completely normal, while my fellow northerners just broke into a sweat!). When you have a good conversation at the playground and have that thought, “we could be good friends,” set up another playground meeting to ensure that happens. I had an instant connection with my friend, Kristen, but I was insecure about asking her to hang out since I was new in town. We met again 6 months later and became great friends, but now I live ten hours away so time together is rare. I wish I had that extra 6 months and laugh with her and learn from her, but I am so grateful that God gave me a second chance to form a friendship with her.

6. Don’t give up at the first sign of resistance. My friend, Jen, approached me the first day of 8th grade in gym class and introduced herself to me. I was so angry at my parents for making me move that summer that I was really short with her and didn’t give her much in return for her friendliness. She proceeded to go to her friends at the lunch table (who would later become my best friends, one year later) and said, “Don’t talk to the new girl. She’s a jerk.” We laugh now, but boy, that year would have been so much easier if she had kept trying and I made those friends that much sooner.

Please share some other ideas. In my extremely idealistic mind, I would love to turn all of this into a book some day! So email me feedback and your experiences so I can include it!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A Friend’s Rejection, by Boyd Bailey

From Boyd Bailey, Wisdom Hunters Devotional

If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising  himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like  myself, my companion, my close friend with whom I once enjoyed sweet  fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God. Psalm  55:12-14

The worst kind of rejection may be the rejection of a friend. You expect it from an enemy, but not from a friend. It doesn’t make sense that someone you communed with around Christ would come back and crush you with rejection. Rejection integrated with religious pretense is rough. It challenges our trust in people in general, and our faith in God in particular. With an open foe you can see it coming. But with a pretend friend it takes you by surprise. You feel ambushed by unauthentic living. One day you are laughing together around life’s little peculiarities, and the next day you are dazed by the anger of an unstable man. It is haunting and humbling at the same time. You don’t know whether to lash back, or to languish in disillusionment. Friendly betrayal is frightening.

Reproaches from those we have been intimate with cut to the quick. They know our strengths and our weaknesses. They know where we are vulnerable. They know how to exploit our struggles and take advantage of our good will. It is as if you have been emotionally naked with someone, and now you feel embarrassed because of his or her indiscretions. What happened to the person you once knew? How could you have been so deceived? It may have been a decade of deceit embedded in your marriage vows. It may have been financial fraud and embezzlement over a long period of time. It may be a hidden addiction that has all the while hijacked your relationship for their credibility.

Our Lord Jesus, of course, had one for whom he trusted to the point of managing the money. He was close to Christ in proximity, but far away in faith. For Judas, it was all about the cash. Money motivated him in the beginning, and money was his downfall in the end. Money-motivated men may be pleasant on the outside, but they are full of themselves on the inside. They set you up for their own selfish purposes. We see it so clearly after the fact. But in the beginning, we can be easily deceived. Therefore, really get to know someone before you heavily invest. In time, they can be trusted.

Avoid the temptation to reject those who have rejected you. This is our natural response. However, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, our right response is to forgive their failings, regardless of how radical their behavior. We are all candidates for sin, even gross sin. Without God’s grace and the accountability of a committed community of believers, we are deceivers with the best of them. The worst deceivers have been the most deceived. Paul stated well our role toward those trapped in sin: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). Yes, rejection by a trusted friend is fiendish and false-hearted. However, we are called to be forgiving and pure-hearted. Do not stoop to their standards that are sub par to your Savior’s. By God’s grace, rise above rejection.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Uncommon Friend: Part 3

His Reasons for Friendship
There are several reasons that God created friendship. We find this evidence through verses, stories, and examples in the Bible. God has also built an innate desire for friendships within us. It is why we try so hard to be liked, why we have birthday parties, why there are 77.5 million domesticated dogs in the U.S., and why loneliness is a leading cause of depression. Some people in our lives can be categorized under more than one of these reasons, while others might meet a specific need in our life.
The most obvious reason for friendship is the practical aspect. When Mary finds out that she is pregnant with Jesus, as an unmarried teenager, she spends three months in the company of her older cousin, Elizabeth, who is carrying John the Baptist in her womb. Elizabeth was able to help her with the pregnancy as well as the emotions of her situation. Mary’s fiancĂ©-turned-husband could not have helped her with that.  When Jesus was traveling with the disciples, he stopped by his friends’ house, and Martha cooked the hungry travelers a meal. Friends help friends move furniture. They babysit each other’s children. They let you borrow their baby swing. They go with you to try on wedding dresses. They bring you soup and medicine when you are sick. They teach you important things you need to know. It still makes laugh how, after I had been married for a year, I got a call late one night. It was my closest friend calling me for instructions and advice from a hotel bathroom, on her wedding night, minutes before she went out to see her new husband. Very practical friendship, indeed!
What often draws us towards new people is that they share common interests, common experiences, or common goals. Yet when they come from a different background or different culture than you, it introduces alternative perspectives through which to view life. This is another reason the Lord desires us to have friendships. In Acts 8:27, Phillip met an Ethiopian eunich. In their brief encounter, Phillip was able to help the man decipher Old Testament Scripture to reveal that Jesus was the messiah he was waiting for. Two people from two different cultures, and one was able to show the other something he didn’t see. At my church, there is a group of younger ladies who are relentless in their faith. They share a passion for the local and worldwide justice ministry that specifically targets human trafficking and the sex trade. Hearing about their mission trips and their work in the Toledo area has opened my eyes to a dark world that has been hidden for a long time, and suddenly has hope.
Arguably the most important reason God created friendship is so that we might have people around us that lead us to Him. There are many examples of this in the Bible. Whenever people were healed during Jesus’ ministry on earth, had demons removed from their bodies, or even just encountered him at a well, they would leave to find their friends to tell them all about him. One of my favorite stories of friendship is in Luke 5:17-26. One day when Jesus is teaching in a house that is packed full of people, some friends put their paralyzed friend on a mat and carry him to the house to be healed. When they see that they cannot get in, they climb onto the roof, dig a hole and lower their friend down to Jesus.  Verse 20 says, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven’” (italics mine) and then he healed him physically as well. My dear friend, Bethany, did this for me. When I was paralyzed from sadness and loneliness, she carried me to the foot of the cross, by listening to my problems, showing me her faith, inviting me to Young Life, inviting me to church, etc. Fourteen years later, she is still leading me to God, by encouraging me to fix my eyes of Jesus. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
God also uses friends to remind us who we are and whose we are. I’m not sure who said it but I love this quote: “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” Have you ever been hit so hard by a wave that you don’t know which way is up?  Sometimes in life, we encounter those waves and it shakes the very core of ourselves, or at least who we believe ourselves to be. Last summer I was hit by one of those waves. I was desperate for someone to remind me who I am and validate my worth as a person. I reached out to my best friends since high school. It was humbling. The same girls who sat with me when my first boyfriend broke up with me, the girls who visited me in college when I had no other friends,  the girls who stood at my side, sang, and read scripture at my wedding , were the same girls that I had stopped actively pursuing as friends. I had not been a good friend to any of them for a long time. Yet their words were so gentle and full of grace, forgiveness, love and truth.  Paul does this in his letters to the churches in the region. He continually reminds them of their identity in Christ, and spurs them on to a God-honoring life.   
God also chose to give us friends for security. We, especially women, go to incredible links to feel secure and safe. It is the sole reason behind cliques, both the elementary school ones and the ones in our churches. I have seen the view from inside and the outside of the clique. In fact, there was a big joke in my junior high that no one could get in or out of my clique except though death. People thought we were jerks for not inviting people to our sleepovers and such, and I can see why. I still feel the sting of rejection when I realize I was not invited somewhere. However, what the other girls didn’t realize was that as long as the boundaries of our group were secure, I was safe. I could share my secrets without fear they would be spread around school. I could be open about my crushes, because if the boy rejected me, I knew I wouldn’t be laughed at. At 14 I was unable to make the decision to put myself out there and take the risk of opening up to someone new.
Do you remember in 10th and 11th grade when you started talking about college? In our very rough draft plans, my friends and I grouped ourselves in twos and threes.  The idea of moving somewhere far away where we knew no one was terrifying. As the time arrived for more solid decisions to be made, we had to decide for ourselves. I was the only one of my friends going to Ohio State. I didn’t know my roommate so my sense of security was challenged, especially when she ended up being very disagreeable!  Even then, I clung to the people I knew around campus. The first week I met up with two high school friends,  Daniel, an African American, and Grant, an Asian American. I remember joking about how we looked like a campus brochure on diversity!
We crave the security we find in good friendships. I attended a Women of Faith conference in April. Dr. Henry Cloud shared a fascinating study with us. This is from his book, The Law of Happiness:
One of my favorite studies is one in which researchers put monkeys in a high-stress situation and measure the stress hormones in the monkeys’ brains. After the baseline measurement was made, scientist changed none of the stress (loud noises, lights, and so forth) and did only one thing differently: they put another money in the cage. When they measured the stress hormones again, these were reduced by about half. Just because the monkey had a buddy in there with him!
We can get through just about anything if we have people by our side. Consider the following examples from the bible. In Luke 9, Jesus sends out the disciples in pairs to preach the gospel. In Luke 10, he sends out even more disciples--still in pairs. The apostles kept this up during the early church (Acts. 13:2, 15:27, 39-40). It was dangerous. It was scary. I can’t imagine walking door to door sharing the gospel in my neighborhood, and these people have been hearing about Christianity their whole lives. Jesus even said, “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves…”  It is important to note that they did not derive their power from this. Jesus “gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick” (Luke 9:2). Rather, he sent them together for support and encouragement.
 Two are better than one,
because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,
two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Eccl 4:9-12
There are times when circumstances pile against us and we just need to know we aren’t alone. This sentiment has been displayed in so many popular songs over the years and it warms our heart to hear someone’s promise to stay with us. My favorite is Rascal Flatts’, “I Won’t Let Go.” We wish someone was singing that to us and we would sing it in return!
 Of course, that gets more difficult if the challenging time is a result of our own sin. Walter Winchell said, “A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.” Jesus made a point to be that person in the gospels. Remember the adulterous woman from John 8? She was a pawn by the officials trying to catch Jesus breaking the law, so they (most likely) arranged to catch her in the act of adultery, brought her into the public square, barely dressed, to be stoned to death. She was completely alone. Then Jesus, without condemning her or condoning her sin, stood by her side and challenged everyone else to look at their own sin before casting their stones at her. What a savior. What a friend. I can only pray that my friends find security in me.

"Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh?" he whispered.
"Yes, Piglet?"
"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. "I just wanted to be sure of you."

Finally, God gives us friends for comic relief. He knew what trials each of our days would bring us and he knew we needed someone to laugh with. Now I can proudly say that I am a good friend when someone is struggling in life. You know the saying, “Misery loves company”? Well, I twist it around and say, “I love miserable company.” Seriously speaking, my spiritual gifts are more useful when people fall on hard times. It is easier for me to talk about the deepest of hurts and sorrow than it is for me to talk about the latest shoe trend. Yet, even I long to just laugh with friends. I love this quote from Winnie the Pooh,  "It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?” This makes me miss my friend, Kristen from Tennessee. First, I laugh out loud whenever she calls because even though she is the only person I regularly chat with south of the Mason-Dixon line,  she feels the need to say “This is Kristen from Tennessee” in an accent thicker than Paula Deen’s! But I always enjoy going out to lunch or dinner with her when I visit. The laughter goes on and on.
Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 3:4, noted that there is a time for everything, “a time to weep, and a time to laugh.” In Proverbs 17:22, we read that “a cheerful heart is good medicine.” We know that God has a sense of humor. If you don’t believe me, google a picture of an anteater, or read about the time God made a donkey talk to Balaam in Numbers 22:28. It makes sense that God would design us to laugh and find joy with the friends he places in our lives.
In June 2002, I got a severe urinary tract infection. George took me to the hospital in the middle of the night and I cried like a baby because of the pain. A year later I was visiting my best friend and had the same thing happen. As we sat in the ER, I was in just as much pain, but I laughed the whole time. We even had people walk past us in head-to-toe protective coverings, like in the movie Outbreak (this was during the SARS scare) and we still laughed and laughed. During my labor with William, the same friend called me during my contractions. My nurse came running in to check my vitals because at the nurse’s station my laughter was making it look like I was having seizures instead of regular contractions! God blesses us with friends we can find joy with, even when all hope seems lost.
Please feel free to email me or leave a comment with other reasons God provides friends!! I’d love to hear how you have been blessed! Also, check back soon! I’m going to start with the very practical advice on how to become the friend we want to have, but not be!

The Uncommon Friend: Part 2

The Difference between Family and Friends

It is a curious thought. Why did God create us to have friends? It is obvious that our God is a relational God.  Think back to Genesis. God created Adam and established his desire for relationship between God and man. Then he created Eve, and established the marital relationship between man and woman. Then through the birth of Cain and Abel, the first family relationships began (isn’t it comforting to know families have been dysfunctional from the start!) From that point, hundreds of years go by, and family relationships are the only ones mentioned. Of course, to build an entire human race from one couple, everyone was family (Insert inappropriate joke about whatever state you choose). The first time any kind of partnership is mentioned is between Abram and Lot, his nephew. Military alliances, sibling pairings, servant/master relationships are mentioned, but it isn’t until Genesis 41 that we see the first non-familial friendship strike up. Our first biblical example of friendship is between Pharaoh and Joseph, a man sold into slavery by his brothers. In Genesis 41:51, we learn that Joseph’s family was so bad that he named his firstborn a name that specifically meant how much trouble his family was! God knew that the families in which He placed us were not enough to mold us into the people He wants us to be.  For most of us, our families, aside from occasional disagreements and personality differences, provide a great deal of love and support. For some, you may have found your best friend in a mom, a sister, or a brother. Yet God still desires friendship for us beyond the boundaries of our homes and he has great purpose for it in our lives.
The biggest difference between family and friends is the choice factor. Family is a forced relationship. Except for extreme cases, you will be in relationship with your family members for a lifetime—good or bad. I’ll never forget going with my husband’s grandfather to a nursing home several years ago to visit his very elderly sister. There was so much joy between the two siblings, even after years of not seeing each other and after dementia had taken its toll. On the other hand, we have all seen the families that seem to walk out of a movie. Yes, there are Cousin Eddies, Bart Simpsons, and Michael Lohans everywhere and we are obligated to attend holiday dinners, weddings, funerals, and family reunions with them.
 Even in our marriages, our spouse cannot solely provide us with all the experiences and support we will need to live a Godly life, where we aim to follow God’s will. After nine years of marriage, I can honestly say that my husband is my best friend, although that has not always been the case. He has been there for me and with me through all the good and bad in my life since I was 20 years old and he has been ever faithful.  The truth is that he is one man, with one personality, one set of traits, one history of knowledge gained, one lifetime of experiences, and one testimony of God’s grace. In order for us to make wise decisions, walk the righteous path, and love people the way we should, we need to have a wealth of resources that includes the knowledge, experiences, testimonies, successes, failures, and admirable characteristics traits of many people. Also, with divorce so common, it’s easy to forget that marriage is supposed to last a lifetime. If I have a bad day, week, or year, I know that George will still be there for me. He is legally, financially, and spiritually obligated to maintain a relationship with me until death do us part.
Friends are different. You get to choose your friendships. You get to choose how many friends you have, what type of friends you have, and even how long your friendships last.  With so much freedom, it is important that we take some time to consider our own beliefs on friendship, what our culture dictates our friendships be like, and what the bible says about friendship. Unfortunately, there is great conflict between these in our everyday lives, leading to undue stress and at times, loneliness. By examining God’s reasons for friendship, we can refocus our own desires and expectations for our current and future friendships. We will see very practical ways that we can build relationships with those around us, all while allowing ourselves to be molded into who God purposed us to be.
To be continued….