I believe that God’s ways of reaching out to us, His people, are entirely dependent on our willingness to hear Him. While He does not speak to us the way we want him to, he speaks to us in a way that will allow us to actually hear Him. For me, the way God speaks into my life is mostly through my friends.
Last Thursday, I was not having a particularly bad day, it was just one that was…slow, and somewhat boring. I had done some homework, eaten lunch, listened to a podcast, and written a few pages. For some reason or another, I decided to call Connor, one of my good friends. Connor and I hang out a ton, and have for the last six years. About two and a half years ago, Connor invited himself to come to church with me, and got saved shortly after. Connor and I, however, are not as close as I am with several other friends, for a variety of reasons. He is a bit more reserved, a bit less emotional than many of my friends, which is fine, but can make personal conversations difficult to start. All this to say, he’s normally not the person I call when I’m feeling down.
Anyway, after a bit of catching up, he told me that one of the reasons I have lost friends over the past three years is because I am constantly looking at reasons not to hang out with people. At first, I didn’t listen, (surprise, surprise). There’s no way I, of all people, push people away. I’ve always had friends and I like to think of myself as a nice guy.
I tried to defend my reasons for not being better friends with one specific person from our church, then another, but by the fourth or fifth specific example my friend gave of me of me rejecting people, I ran out of excuses. He was right. I push people away.
Connor and I typically don’t call each other out on stuff like this. For all the crap we give each other, we are quite tolerant of — and perhaps we feed into — each other’s faults. Normally, I would be angry with Connor for being so blunt. I would attribute his actions to him being sad, or jealous, or any other negative attribute that we project on our friends when we feel wronged or slighted. But I did not expect to end a conversation with my friend Connor, whom I talk to 2-5 times a week, nearly in tears. I felt awful, not because he was mean, but because he was right.
Yet here I am, almost a week removed from the situation and I’ve realized something: We, as Christians, need to be willing to hear the words of God when our friends are the communicators of His word. Connor and I are close, yes, but our relationship has never involved a lot of rebuking. It reminded me of this passage on Godly council:
Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy. It is not the most elegant proverb, but it is helpful and true. Proverbs 27:5-6
For the past six years, I’ve viewed my friend Connor as a bro, but never as a brother. We can chill together, watch TV, go rock climbing, and even play music together. I perceive him as being emotionally closed-off, and I have completely pigeonholed our relationship into a box marked fun instead of a box marked truth. Stupidly, I have never even considered the possibility that he can speak any wisdom into my life.
We need to watch out for our biases when it comes to the people in our life. Our weaknesses and insecurities are exploited by our sinful nature, and our friendships are held back because of it. I have spent an entire two-plus years not engaging with my friend on a spiritual level, because I didn’t want my fun friend to become my truth friend. If the Holy Spirit is present whenever two or more are present in His name, I’m not sure He’s ever been around when Connor and I gather.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. Proverbs 17:17
I’ve often heard that as we get older, our social circles get smaller. It makes sense. As we grow older, we decentralize, and our youth group, or school, or whatever it was keeping us tied to our friends, gives way to adulthood and the friends we keep are the ones that matter most to us. But a friend loves at all times, not just when it is easy, or makes you happy. We have brothers, as shown in that verse, to help us through our adversity, not in spite of our adversity.
Ben Finley, a good friend, and I were talking a few weeks back, and he said something I really didn’t expect, “Why can’t Christians talk openly, like they do in the TV show How I Met Your Mother?” At first, I was completely shocked, but I realized that while these fictional characters do live in an isolated bubble, they are brutally open with each other. In ways that are both good and bad, they can talk about things, as a group, in a way that I have not seen in real life. They talk about everything; relationships, work, family, sex, clothes, and music. I realized that this show, and some others, which I had usually criticized, are not all bad. They offer a model, tainted though it may be with its subject matter, of how we should talk to our close friends. They are constantly pushing each other to do better in their careers, to move forward in their romantic relationships, and they even respect their parents in a pretty meaningful way.
Obviously these shows are fictional, and dramatized, and way more about sex than real life is, but Ben’s comment made me wonder. Why aren’t we more open with our friends, about everything? We need to talk about how things are going, in our careers, friendships, families, but most importantly, we need to know where our friends stand with God.
Connor and Ben, two of my best friends, showed me similar things in drastically different ways; our friendships need to be more like Jesus'. Jesus did not care if this guy was dumb, or if that women was a prostitute, he just gave of himself to everyone. Jesus' social circles didn't narrow as he grew older, he basically didn't even have a social circle until he was 30. For the last 3 years of his life, He hangs out with everyone, and more importantly, He talks to them, about everything, no matter who they are. We need to be more like that.
*Author: Thomas Bourne*