The Gift of a Friend

(EDITOR'S NOTE: There are times when blogposts from the past are really speaking in the present. This is one of those! Please enjoy this slightly retooled blog.)


A true friend is one of the greatest gifts we can be given on this earth. I’ve had periods in my life when I lacked deep friendships, and those were, without a doubt, some of the hardest times emotionally for me. Interestingly, they weren’t the times I went through the hardest circumstances; sometimes my circumstances were just fine. Rather, I felt alone on my journey and isolated. The bone crushing, heart wrenching times in my life have been brutal to be sure, but I have been blessed to have deep, close, honest relationships during most of those storms. That, in and of itself, makes the storm much more bearable. God tells us, “A true friend loves regardless of the situation, and a real brother exists to share the tough times” (Pr. 17:17, MSG). On many, many occasions it has been my close relationships that have helped me hear God’s voice, allowing me to move away from adversity and ahead toward light and freedom. I believe God gives us friendships for that reason.


Consider the following: “ Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” (Pr. 27:6a NIV) “A man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.” (Pr. 27:9b NASB) “A despondent person deserves kindness from his friend, even though he strays from the fear

of the Highest One.” (Job 6:14 VOICE) “Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” (Pr. 18:24 MSG) “Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the

line for your friends.” (Jn. 15:11-13 MSG) “By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a

third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” (Eccl. 4:12 MSG) Obviously, friendship is not only important to God, it’s part of what we need in order to truly understand God’s love and connect more deeply with our Creator. And not just the giving of friendship, but the receiving of friendship from others. Yet the Bible also makes clear not every friend is equal. Some friends come and go; some stay by our side no matter what happens. Some can be trusted; other’s can hurt us. Proverbs 12:26 puts it this way, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (NIV) There are many examples of positive friendships in the Bible – Jonathon and David, Elijah and Elisha, Naomi and Ruth, Paul and Timothy, to name a few. These were priceless relationships where each person helped the other to grow, strengthen and move forward in life in a powerful way.


Believe it or not, there are also some very negative examples of relationships in the Bible. In the very beginning there were Cain and Abel, then Samson and Delilah, Jezebel and Ahab, and even Barnabas and Paul. Some of these relationships were downright destructive. Each person spurred the other on toward evil, bitterness and heartache.


In the case of Barnabas and Paul, they sharply disagreed on an issue and parted paths. Their friendship was deep and powerful for a season, but their journey’s diverged, and they went their separate ways. Neither path was wrong; they were just different. I’ve learned one of the secrets to having those strong friendships that spur me on toward powerful growth, and it is to be intentional about whom I pull into my life. Not all friends are created equal, and some friends who were perfect for one season in our lives may not be the best fit for the current season in which we find ourselves. Just understanding those two statements puts great power at our fingertips – the power to choose a person (Yes, we get to choose!) who actually strives to build us up, and the power to realize sometimes a person is no longer the best companion to move forward with on our journey.


The first helps us to surround ourselves with people who genuinely “get” us and have our best interests at heart. The second frees us from the guilt we can sometimes experience when a friend, despite our best efforts, no longer “gets” us. Moving on from those who likely are not going to help us to grow and to make the best choices as we move forward. It hurts, it’s hard, and tears may be shed, but it’s a normal part of the growth process. No one is perfect, myself included! Friends have let me down, even the best ones in my life. And, I am certain I have let them down, as well. But because we are close, I cut them slack, just as God (and my true friends!) cut me slack. And working through those challenges together makes us better people. Helps us to grow. It’s worth the effort.


Unfortunately, there are still times a friendship needs to come to an end. It's not easy and needs some intentional prayer and effort. To discern this I’ve learned to ask myself some basic questions: Do I consistently feel less then or bad about myself after spending time with this person? Do they respect me and honor my personal boundaries? Do they have a tendency to bring out the worst in me? Do they take the time to understand, or do they jump to conclusions?


If a consistent, negative pattern emerges, it might be time to move on from the friendship. Like when I've actively worked to help them understand what I need, yet they continually ignore it. I’ve learned to respectfully, but firmly, bring the closeness of that relationship to an end. In doing so, I open up fresh space for stronger, richer relationships to enter into my life.

We all need deep relationships. Research consistently shows the benefit of having genuine, close friends. Such friends are gifts. They are the ones who are there for me through thick and thin, come hell or high water.


They are the ones who are willing to tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. And even if I don’t listen, they still love me, accept me, and make me feel safe and secure in our friendship. They don’t tell me, “I told you so.” They don’t judge me. They just love me and are committed to helping me on my journey, and I do the same for them. These are special, intentional relationships. These are the relationships to water, cultivate and grow. FOR FURTHER THOUGHT

Researcher and author Brené Brown says, “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. [It’s] the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”


What do Brown's words mean to you? How can you grow in your friendships? I would love to hear from you so please post your thoughts 🙂


PRAYER

Lord, thank you for the gift of friendship. Help me to grow in the way I love and serve my friends, and in my ability to cultivate quality friendships that help me to grow in return. Let me love with shrewdness and wisdom, as you taught in Matthew 10:16. Most of all, would you allow me to shine brightly in the lives around me just as you did, so that I leave joy and peace in my wake. Give me courage to bring to a close harmful relationships so that you can replace them with vibrant, healthy ones. And when I'm tempted to stay isolated, would you gently remind me of my need for others. Thank you, Papa. I love you. Amen.





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