December 7, 2016

One Way to Discover and Deepen Friendships

There can be no doubt: God has given us friends. He has given us the Church. He has given us relationships for fun and for sanctification and to help us live wise lives. The gifts are all around us, if we have eyes to see and savor them.

If you're like me, more often than not you're considering the holes in your life. Perhaps you're new to your town and haven't made any friends to speak of. Perhaps you're feeling frustrated with your current church situation. Perhaps you've just been on Instagram and are feeling left out of the mom circle around you. There don't appear to be friendship-gifts all around you, just frustrations and longings.
But I want you to imagine your current life without friends--anyone on the spectrum from acquaintances to lifelong friends. Imagine that you didn't ever meet that girl in the dorm during college or the high school classmate who told you about Jesus. Imagine never knowing your co-worker or the girl in your small group at church. Imagine never having had that family in your home for dinner or not being invited to that birthday party. Imagine living the Christian life without the church and its truth-teaching; worship-singing; and people praying, serving, and giving. In other words, imagine moving through life solitarily. When life-altering decisions have to be made, you're on your own. When you need support, you have no one to whom you can turn. When you need a good laugh, you have no one to laugh with. A solitary life would be a life of no shared burdens and no shared companionship. It would be heavier and less delightful, and how would you see anything but your own small perspective?

What a wonder that God has given us other people, and that some of those people become dear friends! What a gift that we get to live life alongside others! Friendship is truly one of the sweetest gifts in life.

My biggest struggles in friendship, whether loneliness or unmet expectations or hurts, have generally filtered through a belief that I'm entitled to have it in the exact form I want it. The biggest boon to my friendships, however, has been an attitude of receptive thanksgiving for what is right in front of me.

Have you ever had the experience of excitedly planning a meeting with someone you want to get to know and then, when you finally got together, you left feeling disappointed because she didn't ask you any questions or things just seemed a bit off? Those are moments when we grow easily discouraged and want to give up on that person or on initiating with others.

But those are the exact moments that call for thanksgiving, because they are opportunities to look for the gift in that person. Were they everything you hoped they'd be? Probably not. For that matter, were you everything they hoped you'd be? Probably not. But what about the nugget of hard-won wisdom she shared with you? What about the fact that she gracious paid for your tea? What does it mean that she gave up her lunch break or switched around her work schedule or got a babysitter so she could get together with you? What about the way she asked you those questions or spoke one simple word of encouragement? Did you have something in common? Did she allow you into her life at all? Certainly there is something in each relationship we have for which we can be thankful.

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sets us straight:
Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients . . . We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily . . . If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.
In other words, we should view friendship as a gift and humbly acknowledge that the unwrapping will take time. It will take starts and stops. It will take space and grace. Let us not, in our wish-dream fantasies or our entitlement or our expectations of perfection, crush what God intended as a delicate gift to slow-open.
Hey, friends, I want to tell you about a book releasing soon that inspired this post! It's called Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God's Good Gifts by Trillia Newbell. Not only do I love the alliteration of that title (word nerd, here), but I love the topic Trillia's tackled (see what I did there?). With my own book releasing in the spring on the subject of friendship, I was happy to discover Trillia placed the enjoyment of relationships as good gifts from God at the top of her "Enjoy" list.
You can preorder Trillia's book and get it in time for Christmas, and if you do so, you get a free Advent devo to go with it. Score! Here are a few of Trillia's words to wet your whistle (stopping with the alliteration now) about enjoying relationships:
  • In order to fully enjoy relationships, we must be focused on others. The moment we begin to focus on what we're getting out of them or what we want others to do, our joy will die.
  • Perhaps another way to enjoy others is to relax. Relax? Yes, relax. Stop analyzing every friend and every move. To truly enjoy others is to let go and embrace them. No judging. No overanalyzing. Just enjoy.
I love that, don't you? Go on and get your copy now.