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!

1 comment:

  1. I'm really enjoying reading these posts. It's comforting to know that I am not the only one who has been a less than stellar friend, nor am I the only one who has had less than stellar friends. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of what God gives you on the topic of friendship.


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