You could take one look at me as an 11 year-old and feel my pain. I often stood at the fence outside the school, dreading another day of torturous interaction with my classmates. I had gangly arms and legs and my too-big-tortoise-shell glasses dominated my small face. I’d stand outside the fence as long as I could before the last bell rang. Quickly, I’d rush to my locker, eyes glued to the grey/brown floor tiles until I could stuff my coat into the small rectangular box.
Stuffing a coat in a locker shouldn’t be a big deal, right? You should have seen my coat. These were the days before ultra-light down. This was way back in the dark ages when down jackets essentially were sleeping bags with arms and a place for your torso to emerge.
This super-puffy jacket was a necessity in the frigid Northwestern temperatures. So cold that the hairs inside your nose froze and your tears turned to ice before sliding down your face.
It was also one more thing about which kids taunted me.
I wasn’t great at interacting with kids my age, probably because I spent so much time interacting with adults. The “why” of the abuse however, doesn’t matter. The “what” was awful. Socially awkward or not, some of what I endured from 4th through 8th grade was nearly unbearable.
I became an atheist during those years.
From the time I was eight years old until I was twelve, I prayed off and on to God to save me from the bullying.
One day a group of boys trapped me in the corner of a neighbor’s yard, Their hands went places they shouldn’t have. Mercifully, the owner of the house came out and chased them off.
Embarrassed, I ran.
I never told anyone what happened.
And that night, I decided God didn’t exist and I told Him so.
“What kind of God lets a kid get picked on like that?”
“What kind of God doesn’t put an end to bad treatment?”
At the time, I didn’t know why God allowed this pain.
While my thin skin didn’t seem to get thicker as a result of the daily torture of school, it did help me relate to my own kids in a different way.
And I understand when a friend lets them down.
Or when a friend is mean.
And they know how to speak truth into situations – and while the jury is still out they all have friends which are salt and light to them, iron-sharpening-iron style.
I did manage to escape high school without joining a clique of delinquents, doing drugs, alcohol, or being promiscuous. Somehow I also survived by staying mostly under the radar of the bullies. I even had a few people I considered friends.
I even had a “best” friend. Her name was Wendy. She was awesome. Legit-style.
What I’ve learned since becoming a follower of Christ, however, has changed everything in the friend department.
The friends I have now are amazing. When I sit and think of the work the Lord has done in my life, He somehow managed to turn atheist-timid-awkward girl into strong-God&self-assured,-thankful girl. With friends.
I long for you to have the kind of friendships that I have… the ones where when we hurt each other, we apologize. There’s repentance. There’s behavior change, and grief on both sides. Conflict resolved well creates intimacy – so yeah, we have conflict. And it is awesome when we work through it. We don’t avoid it.
But here’s the thing…
Having friends requires BEING a friend…
And that’s super-hard to do when your fear is bigger than your faith.
Or when your sin gets in the way – like gossip or envy.
So as we get to know Christ and start to emulate His character, we also start drawing in others – they see Him in us and naturally respond to the attraction. I have what I consider the “2 am Girls” – those friends that you could call at 2 am if the world was falling apart and you needed someone. The relationships are as deep as they come; and I them treasure immensely. We’ve hurt each other, apologized, repented, healed, forgiven, and brought out the best in each other.
I feel rich as a result.
The other night I had a discussion with one of the young women who comes to my house – she’s the friend of one my kids. We talked about how Christ had “the three” – Peter, James, and John. He took them everywhere. He expected them to lead, hoped they would pass on what He was doing after He left. I think these friends of Christ are like my 2 am Girls. It’s taken me a while to end up with three of them, but I have, and I love them all to pieces. Sometimes, honestly, the number moves from 2-5 depending on what I’m doing, what stage my kids are in, and how much I’m working.
You need quality time in all relationships – and that only comes from quantity time – no matter what the media tells you.
Then Christ had the 12. Those were the second-tier folks – people you love to pieces, maybe even wish you had more time to be deeper friends with, and yet you just can’t. They are treasures, too, by the way.
Given that the Bible has a lot to say about friendships, I thought we should take a brief look at that:
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”
1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV
Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
Proverbs 27:9 ESV
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
Proverbs 27:6 ESV
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! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV
He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.
Job 6:14 ESV
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
1 Peter 4:8-10 ESV
Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare. Be not one of those who give pledges, who put up security for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why should your bed be taken from under you?
Proverbs 22:24-27 ESV
That is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.
Romans 1:12 ESV
For me, the bottom line is simply this:
Friendship is like an ice cream sundae that requires big scoops of grace and encouragement; large dollops of truth-speaking in love, whipped-style topped with trust and transparency, and heavily sprinkled with forgiveness and humility.
My friends speak truth in my life, and I do the same in theirs. When I can’t think or am only capable of is tears – they listen. There’s no judgment, no criticism, just encouragement and compassion.
And then they do the most important thing: point me back to Him.
I’ve chosen well. My friends don’t try to solve my problems – they know Him well enough to know they are fellow travelers on this journey, not path directors.
What About You?
As you think through the passages above and the friends in your life, respond to the following questions:
- What kind of friend is Jesus to you “for reals-style?” Write down how you REALLY experience His friendship.
- What kind of friend is Christ supposed to be to you? Google “friend Jesus” and read the verses. Then make a list of His characteristics – Google “character traits of Christ” and write down what you see described there.
- What are the differences between how Christ really IS your friend now, and how He actually could be?
- What kind of friend are YOU? Take an honest look at how you treat your friends. Do you gossip with them, thereby encouraging them to sin? Do you lead them into doing the right things, or do you lead them away from God? Are you loyal, honest, trustworthy, reliable, etc.?
- Take inventory of your current friends. Which, if any (these take a long while to find) are the 2 am Girls? Which, if any, shouldn’t be on the list?
- Do these friends encourage you to do the next right thing, or do they drag you into sin?
- Describe yourself as the friend you want to be. Write down all the things you feel you are doing well, and the things you sense God wants to change in your life to make you a better vessel for His great love to others.
- Describe the “perfect friend.” What would she do or not do? How would you spend your time together?
- Take a moment and review how much time you spend with Jesus, either by reading the Bible, worshiping, attending church services, and especially being alone with Him and praying – and most importantly, listening. If you feel like you don’t have Him as your most intimate friend, you need to spend more time with Him. How will you do that?
Pray with me?
Lord, You made Yourself in community, in deep relationship with others. The Holy Trinity is a marvelous look at how we can be so united we feel as though we are one. We long for that closeness with You. Lord, we also need You with skin on – guide us in our friendships, oh Lord. Help us find friends that we can deeply connect with.
Show me, oh Lord, help me be a good friend to others, even when it is hard, even when it hurts. Help me continue taking risks with transparency while learning the fine line between that and over-sharing. God, please help me represent You well in my relationships.
And when I feel alone, please, Father, help me remember that Jesus is my Best Friend. Always. Forever-style. Help me reach out to Him in prayer, seeking His advice when I have no counsel with skin on, seeking His arms when I ache for a hug. Allow me to discover a deeper friendship with You, oh God, through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Enable me see You in Your Word, such that I revel in the intimacy we can have. Help me see this relationship deepen. Please grow my relationship with You, oh God.
Thank You for Jesus. It’s in His name I pray.
Amen and amen.
Explore the “gaps” between where your friendships (between you and Christ, and you and others) could be and where they actually ARE.
In prayer, ask God what is keeping you from deepening these relationships and what you should do about them.
If He tells you to do so, “go on the record” with God and your friends to let them know where you’ve been wrong, how you are sorry, and how you want to do better. If you’ve hurt them, listen and deeply explore that hurt without justifying or defending yourself – listen with compassion to their perceptions and hurts. Remember that just because someone feels a certain way or think something is true doesn’t mean it is your fault. Friends respect each other’s feelings, however. Own what is yours to own, apologize and commit to doing better with God and your friends.
Share this commitment with God, your friends, and someone else who can hold you accountable to this.
Thank God for the opportunity for second chances!
Chime in on the comments section below with your initial response, and then after you do the exercises, come back and let’s keep talking.
Love to you,
While you’re still thinking about your friends, head over to Dare to Respect, a novel based on six “2-am friends” who share the journey of taking all 40 Dares!
Are you parenting teens, tweens and twenty-somethings? Check out my 2 am-friend, Debbie’s blog and the new book!
Thinking of leading your own small group through The Respect Dare, Dare to Respect, or With All Due Respect? Come to our Leadership retreat in September, 2017 and learn how!