Grace in Friendships

graceDear friends, if God loved us that much we also should love each other. (1 John 4:11)

Ponder It.

  • What is the common ground you share with various friends in your life?
  • What do you value in friendships?
  • How can your friendships benefit from God’s grace?

Receive It. Grace guides our friendships…when we invite God to fill our friendships with his grace. The problem is our focus in friendships is often not about God’s grace but about other factors such as sharing fun times together, being able to relate to one another, finding convenient times and opportunities to get together, feeling affirmed by one another, and so on. It’s not that any of these are bad reasons in and of themselves. However, we limit our friendships when these reasons become the foundation of and ongoing reasons for the friendship. Each of these is limiting, because we will eventually have a not-so-fun experience with a friend or begin to define fun in different ways. We’ll struggle to relate to one another because we grow and change through various life stages. Our schedules will change, and we’ll have difficulty connecting. Instead of affirming each other, we’ll offend, ignore, or hurt each other. Of course, relationships are going to grow and change, and our core friendships of one season of life will likely differ from another season. That’s okay. God wants to weave our lives throughout others’ lives, and when we stubbornly tie a knot where one isn’t intended to be tied, we can create issues that hold us and others back. What God’s grace provides for our friendships is foundation, guidelines, and space. When God’s grace surrounds our friendships, we aren’t limited by what we prefer, think, and assume. We live by God’s standards, which are not only full of truth but also trustworthy, forgiving, generous, courageous, and consistent. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotions—both positive and negative—of friendships. God’s grace gives us the reality check we need. When we trust God to replace our limited perspectives with his sovereign perspective, we respond in his grace instead of our own strength and assumptions.

Live It. When you consider grace in friendships, who comes to mind? Whether it’s someone you need to give thanks to for their grace or someone you need to extend grace to, reach out and make contact today.

Someone Is Asking About You

im-fine-quote-2You need people in your life that pursue and invest in you. Someone who asks how you are. Someone who sees that you aren’t fine even though you say you are. Someone who wants you to tell her something, anything, because she knows that if you aren’t telling her anything, you’re probably not telling anyone.

 

It’s not easy to develop relationships that are vulnerable enough to know the quirks and warning signs while being steeped with the trust it takes to confront, listen, and patiently pursue until someone is ready to talk. Sometimes that person is someone in our own home, but more often, it’s someone outside of it with just enough distance that they can be there even when those relationships are under stress. And that’s one of the reasons it’s difficult to find that someone. It requires a sacrifice of time to develop. We don’t instantly trust people. We can’t share our life story in one setting. There will always be a few gaps here and there, but people who invest well in our lives connect some dots to find threads woven together to make us who we are.

I have watched young women struggle to find that one lifelong friend who understands them and is fiercely loyal and authentic. But I find the same struggle among women of all ages. Sometimes it’s because of their own expectations of what that friend should be (and not be). They want many boxes ticked off their list without realized the other person is growing and learning, too. We develop friendships through a pursuit of trust, grace, forgiveness, and honesty.

Friendships come and go over time, but it helps when we look forward with an expectation of longevity. We can’t have it all at once. In fact, we can’t ever have it all. There’s always room for growth, and we have to be willing to engage, not just because we need someone but because they need us, too. We need each other to invite authenticity and allow accountability.

We need to ask each other how we are and be willing to answer honestly.

There’s One In Every Group

Have you seen the Southwest Airlines commercial about the solidarity in a group when one member, Fenwick, faces pending attack and probable death?

 

As men in the group stand up for him with the bold statements of “I am Fenwick,” I want to stand up and cheer: “Yes! Stand up for each other! Band together!” And then, another man in the group ruins it all.

There’s one in every group.

I’m a “group” person. I coordinate small groups at church, and I encourage people to build healthy friendships. I know the value of finding people who will stand up with you (and also be honest with you when it’s time to sit down or move on).

But groups are messy. Relationships are messy. Over and over again, I see people shy away from groups because they don’t want the mess. They usually state other reasons; often they claim to be too busy. But when I have a conversation and listen to past experiences and concerns, whether they can admit it in words or not, they are apprehensive. They don’t want to be annoyed, inconvenienced, or vulnerable.

Life is messy enough. Why open ourselves up to people who are immature and messy?

We’re immature and messy, too. By someone’s standards. We might not see it, but each of us can be annoying. But we’re also worth the risk. We’re in need of others, whether we want to be in need or not. Connections help us grow. They also challenge us. In fact, being challenged through our connections is often what spurs us to grow. That means it’s sometimes the connections with people who seem very different from us that impact our lives the most.

We might claim to be Fenwick when we feel a strong connection with others, but we also speak out in bad timing, stay silent in bad timing, and become “that one” among others. Be patient, gracious, and available.

Relationship That Outlast

friendshipRelationships get richer when they outlast their original purpose.

We often begin relationships with a common goal in mind, whether it’s at work, school, ministry, or committee. But even after we’ve moved beyond the original situation, some relationships stick. Their purpose deepens from something external to the personal commitment to each other. We know longer have to get together and connect but we want to get together and connect.

I’ve met many people as I’ve traveled around the country and even to other parts of the world. Some relationships stayed in the confines of the original event or purpose. I still appreciate and respect the people I met, but I didn’t partner with them beyond a specific situation or season. But there are others who lasted well beyond the original intention. We got to know each other and began to partner in new ways, learning from each other, investing in each other’s lives, caring and encouraging for one another.

And those relationships that last are rich.

I am grateful. I am blessed.

When We Don’t Like Our Friends

right-or-wrongLook, my eyes have seen all this; my ears have heard and understood it.
Everything you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.
Yet I prefer to speak to the Almighty and argue my case before God.
But you coat the truth with lies; you are all worthless doctors.
If only you would shut up and let that be your wisdom! (Job 13:1-5)

Sometimes our friends say things we don’t like. (Sometimes other people do, too, but it’s easier to dismiss people we’re not close to.) We value friendship, but we don’t always like the truth that comes with it. Sometimes, our friends are flat out wrong or their motivation to “help” us is misguided. But sometimes, they give us a dose of truth, and while it might be intended to be loving, it feels anything but.

We lash out. We defend ourselves. We attack the very ones we feel attacked by, no matter what their intentions were in the first place.

When we don’t like what friends say, we sometimes turn on them. But is there a hint of truth in what they’re saying? What damage will we do to the friendship with our lashing out, and is it worth the cost? Do we play the blame game and walk away, claiming with friends like these, who needs enemies? Do we put on the coat of self-righteousness, claiming our perspective is the truthful one, as if only one of us can have truth on our side?

What if we took a deep breath and maybe even a time out before we responded?

The next verse in Job says, “Hear now my argument, and listen to my defense.” (Job 13:6) Isn’t that the main issue? We want to be listened to, heard. We want to be able to express ourselves in real ways. It’s difficult, because it makes us vulnerable, but vulnerability is a small price to pay compared to being unknown and misunderstood.

When we don’t like what our friends have to say, we can respond with humility and trust that God knows us well, just as He knows our friends well–better than we can possibly know each other. We can trust Him. After all, it’s not as much about the verdict of who is right and who is wrong; it’s trusting God to be right and knowing we can be right together when we seek and follow Him well…together.

“We” Had a Tragedy

community 2I read or heard it multiple times after the news of the tragedy that struck a family and change their lives forever. But they didn’t stand alone. I didn’t hear people talk about what happened to “them,” but that “we” had a tragedy, encompassing the entire community. Sure, not everyone was personally changed, and most certainly no one was affected the way the family was (and is), but the response reminded me of the burden community bears for one another. When we live united, as one, we feel the pain of others. We experience hurt alongside them. It isn’t the same as theirs, but we still feel it. Our hearts break, grieve, and hurt.

The same can be said about the celebrations and successes. We enjoy them together with fervor.

We savor and we endure forever. That’s what sharing life entails. The good and the bad, the heights and depths, the elating and crushing news. Our lives change together. It’s not always pleasant, but sometimes it is. And sometimes we experience some of the sweetest moments of closeness because of the struggles.

Live well together, no matter where you are, what you’re going through, and who is beside you.

The Trust of Companionship

12407209_790916824388193_18117472_nHis armor-bearer responded, “Do what is in your heart. You choose. I’m right here with you whatever you decide.”

“All right,” Jonathan replied, “we’ll cross over to the men and then let them see us. If they say, ‘Wait until we reach you,’ then we will stay where we are and not go up to them. But if they say, ‘Come on up,’ then we’ll go up, because the Lord has handed them over to us—that will be our sign.”

They let themselves be seen by the Philistine garrison, and the Philistines said, “Look, the Hebrews are coming out of the holes where they’ve been hiding!” The men of the garrison called to Jonathan and his armor-bearer. “Come on up, and we’ll teach you a lesson!” they said.

“Follow me,” Jonathan told his armor-bearer, “for the Lord has handed them over to Israel.” (1 Samuel 14:7-12)

Having trust is important, affirming, and challenging. Jonathan’s armor-bearer supported him and committed to stand by his side, trusting that “what is in (Jonathan’s) heart” would be trustworthy. We don’t follow people because we simply want to be by their side, as if we get some sort of affirmation or recognition out of being someone’s sidekick. We remind them to follow God’s leading. We trust we can follow them well, because they are following well. Ultimately, God is the trustworthy one.

He gifts us companionship, teamwork, and trust. He gifts us relationships. We simply have to follow Him into and through them. Each day and each relationship is full of choices.