Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Surprising Beauty of Christian Friendship

She is lying in the hospital bed. Jaundiced. Attached to tubes and an IV bag. Waiting to discover why she is there. She is more concerned about her husband at home struggling with his own health issues. Who is going to look after him while she is in the hospital? They have been married for almost 58 years and it’s obvious they still  love each other.

“What’s the secret to a happy marriage?” I ask while we wait.

“Friendship goes a long way in marriage.” She throws this little gem out with a tired smile. “It enables you to forgive. Helps you let the little things go...and really, you just get tired of being mad at your best friend. So you let it go and get back to being friends.”

There are few earthly things that can compare to the beauty of Christian friendship.
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.(Proverbs 18:24)

1. A Friend Sees the Person You Are Becoming (and Helps You Get There)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Eccles. 4:9-10)
Friendship can take many forms -- a mentor, a mentoree, a peer, a family member. But anyone who's ever struggled and fell can testify to the power of friendship to pick you up.

For Christians this is especially true. Friendship is enduring because we do not pick friends based on what they can do for us.

We see people for who they are, but also who they are becoming.

God loves his children despite their sin and weakness, and we view our friends in light of this fact. But more than that, we envision who our friends will be in the future -- holy and glorious -- like a bride made beautiful for her Husband. (cf. Ephes. 5:25-27)

Sometimes we need to read the end of the book before we read the beginning and middle. It just might change our opinion of someone.

As C.S. Lewis said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” We are eternal creatures. Seeing our friend’s potential is one way to bless and honour them. It also encourages us to hope the best for our friends.

We each have our own turn in the Slough of Despond.  Thank God for friends who stick with us in hard times and help us get back on the narrow path.

2. A Friend Does Not Give Up on You Easily

A friend loves at all times…(Prov. 17:17)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.(Cor. 13:4-7)
Transparency is one aspect of friendship that I am growing in appreciation for. A true friend doesn’t judge you harshly, but lets you breathe and unmask without fear.

I’ve found that when a person is first hurting from a new trial, they haven’t come to any godly conclusions yet. They might sound immature and over-dramatic. Sometimes they implicate other people with what they say because they are not filtering their words yet. They are simply trying to understand themselves.

It goes without saying that you need friends that you can really trust. Friends who are not going to repeat what you say in these “processing times”. Friends who will hear you and pray for you and point you to the Lord.

Sometimes it’s hard to find a safe place to share your heart. I’m thankful that I do have trustworthy, godly women in my life, and I’m learning to let them into my mess and help me. If feels so much better to be on the giving side of friendship, but sometimes we need to be willing to receive, to be open and to trust.

Perhaps just as important is the question of our own heart.

Am I a good friend to others?

Am I a safe place for the secrets of others? Am I quick to judge or worse, quick to gossip? Do I bear all things, believe the best, hope for their good and endure all things?
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

3. A Friend is Kind

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
I think “kind” is often confused with “nice.” And nice people are thought of as boring, repressed or flatterers. Right? But kindness must be differentiated from niceness.

A kind friend is compassionate and benevolent. They take an interest in the concerns of others. They are inclined to do good and to think the best of people. They are tenderhearted. Forgiving. Reflecting the loving kindness of God.

An interesting article in the The Atlantic titled “Masters of Love” showed that marriages that lasted had something in common -- you guessed it -- kindness. But as I read through this study, I was stuck by how lasting marriages were not largely defined by passion, but by kindness and generosity toward each other. Basically, being a good friend.

Kindness is not a new idea. But it’s a virtue that seems to have gone out of style. So much so that “speaking your mind” trumps it every time.

Are we afraid of losing our ‘self’ if we put our needs aside for the sake of another? Are we angry and selfish in our responses more out of habit than preference? Do we even value kindness?

To initiate with kindness and respond in kind may transform our relationships more than we imagine. And what better motivation than to reflect the character of our God.
But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,... (Nehemiah 9:17)
We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

I feel her frustration lying in that hospital bed. Her husband has trouble getting around, yet he longs to be beside his wife. Of course they have family that love them and will take care of them, but as she rightly says, “I’m the only one that knows all the little things he needs.” She is the one that knows him best and can best encourage him in his weakest moments. 58 years of practicing kindness is no small thing to let go of.

I’m not against passionate, honeymoon-like romance. But when the movie ends there, it only tells a fraction of the story. Kindness, enduring love and appreciation of eternal value shapes  the rest.

Christian friendship is intrinsically valuable when it reflects Christ-likeness. The beauty of enduring friendship is surprising sometimes. My life is profoundly enriched because of Christ-centered friendships. I couldn’t have gotten through the last year without them. They just might be one of God’s greatest gifts.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Race Even Non-Runners Can Win

Running for an hour seemed like a break compared with the rigors of life at home with a baby and toddler. So after the birth of my second son, I decided to do something I had never done before. I joined a run club.

Race day was always inspiring. Hundreds of sets of feet pounding on the hard pavement—everyone pushing to their limits and beyond. By about two miles, I began to feel tired, but the crowd kept me going

I vividly remember finishing my first race. Trying desperately not to trip over my rubber legs, my lungs were burning and my side cramping, and I didn't think I was going to be able to finish. At this pivotal moment, I heard something. It was a crowd cheering. Those who had finished first were standing on the sidelines cheering the rest of us on.

Keep reading here.