Friendship is hard.
It does not matter if you are in 1st grade, 32 years old, or 80 something. Being a good friend and maintaining good relationships with people takes work, commitment, and intentionality. There are no guarantees that your efforts will pay off in the way you would like, but if you are willing to work at it, wonderful, life-giving relationships can develop.
I had several conversations about friendship with my daughter over the past school year. I have learned that in first grade, the goal of friendship seems to mainly involve having someone to play with. Once you have a “friend” to play with, you hope they want to do what you want to do. Manipulation can enter the scene when both parties are not in agreement about how to play. They say things like, “If you don’t do this with me, I am not going to sit by you at lunch.” The threat is dangled in hopes that it will sway the other person, and they will do what is desired by the keeper of the threat.
As we get older, our friendships hopefully grow out of the selfish, manipulative stage as we become more aware of the highly rewarding call to BE a good friend. Hopefully we somehow make the transition from viewing friendship from the perspective of what we can get from it, and in its place we recognize a deeper fulfillment that comes from what we offer to the friendship.
Lately, I have been pondering the idea of Jesus as my friend, and it has been a tough concept to wrap my mind around. Even after much time wrestling with this concept, I still feel I have very little idea what it really means to call Jesus, “friend” and to have him call me his friend. And yet, Jesus has been stirring my heart and calling me to a greater understanding. I can tell that he wants to move me from an elementary understanding of our relationship to a more mature friendship.
If he really does call me friend (which I believe, even though I don’t “get” it), then if I am honest, I am a pretty crappy friend. I tend to be pretty selfish and immature in our relationship. It is all about me. I tell him all about my day, but I never ask him about his (I know, this sounds a little silly, but don’t you think he’d like to be asked? Do you wonder what he would say?). I ask him to do things for me, and I tell him I am willing to do things for him (because I am), but I often get so caught up in my own world that I forget to check in with him and see if there is anything he wants me to do. It is a give and take relationship, except he does all the giving and I do all the taking.
Thankfully, He is committed to my maturity. I am learning to listen to him as I am floating through my day. He is such a faithful friend and he continues to repeat himself until I hear. He gives me grace when I either do not hear or choose not to act. He does not need anything from me, so he is free to receive what I give and he is able to give freely and abundantly.
As I have meditated on what a good friend he is, the desire to be a good friend to him is growing. This is how Jesus talked to his friends:
Jesus said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:9-17).
Love each other.
Isn’t that the key to being a good friend – to love well? Love is not selfish, it is patient and kind…(1 Corinthians 13). We are empowered to love others well because we are first loved by a perfect Friend (1 John 4:19). If we do not take the time to invest in friendship with Him, our ability to love anyone well is stifled.
Friendship with God is clearly different than earthy friendships, mainly because one of the parties is perfect, but the principles are the same. The relationship will not thrive if we do not invest in the relationship. The relationship will not mature if we remain selfish. The relationship will remain extremely lopsided if we do not take the time to get to know our perfect Friend. The relationship will lack deep value if we do not recognize what a good Friend He really is.
One of the greatest things that sets Jesus apart from our earthly friendships is the fact that he is 100% trustworthy. Trust is a key element to all friendships. Jesus is perfect, so we can always trust him. He even extends an unmerited amount of trust to us as he confides in us, like friends do. He shares the secrets of his Father’s business, and he invites us to share the adventure of life with him.
Any issue we may have in the friendship is ours to own.
Sometimes we immaturely want God to prove himself to us, and sometimes we even resort to manipulation to try to get God to do what we want.
“If you will allow me to get pregnant this month, I will…”
“If you don’t stop this from happening, I won’t be your friend (follow you) anymore…”
We make all sorts of vows and pleas to God out of desperation. When the picture of life is cloudy, our faithfulness in the friendship wanes, yet His faithfulness endures forever.
The cloudy times reveal to me how the attitudes of my heart can so closely reflect the heart of a 7 year old, and I am sobered. I am thankful to have such an incredibly terrific friend in Jesus. I am thankful he chooses to be my friend. I am thankful that he is committed to helping me mature and become like Him.
God, help me to cling to your goodness and faithfulness despite any circumstance, and please bring me to a place of maturity that I may be a good friend to you and to your people…
“And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend” (James 2:23).