Putting the “Forever” in Friend


“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
– Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey –

Next to loving God, loving others is our primary responsibility (Mark 12:28-34).

God is easy to love in a sense, because He completely deserves my adoration. People…not so much. They can be complicated, confusing, changeable, cranky. Bottom line: they don’t always deserve love. Then again, neither do I.

I’ve seen friendships last fifty years…or fifty days…and I wonder if the life-long friend is becoming a rare breed.

I’ve seen heart-breaking misunderstandings where one person assumes too much. I’ve seen warmth cool until people stop speaking entirely, over the most unimportant of things.

So, from one friend to another, let’s talk about how to be a friend. I’m not interested in shallow platitudes or cure-all formulas. I’m interested in what the Bible tells me about friendship. I’m interested in being wise with my relationships, so that–to the best of my ability–I will be at peace with my friends.

The Talk of a Friend

1. Mean what you say

Friends have jokes. I get that. But be careful. What’s funny to you might not be funny to her, especially if the joke is poking fun at her. I’ve heard friends say, “I hate you” in jest. Uh oh. Too much room for mistakes there. Why even joke about that? There are plenty of funny ways to express friendly rivalry without risking your relationship over a dumb misunderstanding. It’s okay to tease…but be cautious. A hurtful quip is not worth losing a relationship. It just isn’t.

2. Do what you say

Be trustworthy. If you promise to send them an email, do it. If you say you’ll help out with a project, be there. It’s not hard…but it is. Just take your words seriously. Being a friend that can be counted on is HUGE. You will be the one that people will come to for help and advice, just because you are faithful. Follow through.

3. Don’t tell everything you know

It’s okay to not tell your friends everything there is to know about you. With today’s flood of social media, people often feel the urge to share every intimate detail of their lives on the internet. Instead, I’d encourage you to set boundaries. It’s okay to have thoughts that are yours alone. It’s okay to have family secrets that don’t go beyond the house. It’s okay to keep quiet. You don’t owe your friends knowledge of every secret. As long as you are straightforward and sincere, you don’t have to share everything there is to know about yourself. And sometimes it’s better that way.

4. Tell the truth with grace

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent.”
― Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

Sometimes you need to ask your friends hard things–or tell them hard things–about themselves. Whether its a sin that needs confronted or a sticky emotional issue, being a friend means telling them the truth. When you think you need to say something hard, be careful. First, is it necessary? If not, don’t. Confrontations, though sometimes necessary, are not easy on friendships. Don’t risk a relationship over a non-issue. However, sometimes you have to speak. Approach with love and humility. Don’t act like a teacher or a second mom. If you can, tell how you’ve been in the same boat. If your friend still gets mad, you have to give the situation up to God. He can change hearts; we can’t.

The Walk of a Friend

5. Take the first step forward

“Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry”. This movie line turned into a catchphrase, and it is about the farthest thing from the truth that I can imagine.

Love means saying you’re sorry. Love means doing whatever you can possibly do to bring reconciliation. Love means laying down our dumb pride and being the first one to take a step toward the other person. Honestly, it doesn’t matter who “started it.” Dying on a hill of “being right” is a terrible way of killing a friendship.

If you’ve sinned against a friend, it is your job to take a step toward them. It is your job to ask their forgiveness.

But if you’ve been sinned against, it’s your job to take a step too. That’s what Jesus did. He came to us even when we were His enemies. This is radical love. This is friendship that is only possible with the grace of God filling your heart. This is Christlikeness.

 6. Love when you don’t want to

Just like discipleship, Love is a call to die daily.

The saying has almost become trite. People say, “Love is an action.” I don’t know if that is all love is. Love is also a choice: a choice to act for another’s good, even if they don’t deserve it. Jesus, again, is our ultimate example.

It would be great if our feelings always kept up with our choices. But sometimes, you need to smile and give hugs and spend time with a friend, even if you’d rather be doing something else. “But that’s so hypocritical,” you might say.

Let me say something about that. Hypocrisy is living a lie, fooling someone so they’ll think better of you. Imitating Christ, even when you’re operating on bare choice, is not hypocrisy. I can choose to thank God even when I’m not feeling particularly thankful, because it is the right thing to do. I can choose to get up and put on a smile even when I’m not feeling terribly joyful, because that’s what I’m called to. Or…perhaps it’s not so much a choice as a surrender. 

“Loving when you don’t feel like it” is not easy. It is a living sacrifice. It is laying down your desires and your contrary feelings and saying to God, “Not my will but Yours.”

The funny thing is…usually our feelings are not all that far behind our choices. What we practice is what we become.

7. Don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve

I’ll admit something to you. Growing up, I hardly ever saw my parents take offense from friends and family. We just…didn’t really get offended.

It’s not because we’re some rare breed, I assure you. It is just that many things are not important enough to get ruffled up about. Remember a lot of the things we’ve talked about? What happens if your friend calls you a name in jest? What happens if she forgets to do something she said she would? What happens if she confronts you about something painful?

See, love is not a 50-50 sort of thing. It is giving up yourself completely. So even if your friend messes up, you have a choice in that moment: You can be offended and assume the worst, or you can immediately let go of the offense. We take a lot of things too seriously. Don’t let bitterness get even a single talon in you.  “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’ ” (1 Peter 4:8, NKJV). 

The Heart of a Friend

8. Pray for your friend

This is an obvious one…but also one that I need reminded of myself. It is easy to hear our friends’ deepest needs and then simply forget to pray about them.

Let me tell you a little secret about prayer–it is like glue. If you pray for someone, something special happens in your heart. They become a part of you. Their victories become yours. You feel their pain or sorrow. So pray for your friends. It will bind your hearts together in a way only prayer can.

9. Don’t make…or be…an idol

Friendships are precious, without a doubt. But they are not ultimate. Some people, it’s true, are too independent, but others are too dependent. Do not allow yourself to set up your friend as your idol. If you don’t think you can survive without a particular friend, you should check your priorities. Beware of letting a person sit on God’s throne in your heart. And beware of letting your friends put you on that throne. We were never made to fill that kind of need in one another. Let’s strive, instead, to constantly point one another back to Christ, our only Savior. No one else is worthy to fill His throne.

10. Give up control

I’ve begun to fear, sisters, that you will take these words of Biblical wisdom and make them a set of rules to live by. This is not my own list of “10 Commandments of Friendship.” Not at all. These are lessons I have learned and observed–things that will make your friendships better if you take note. But NONE of these things will make you righteous and NONE of them are possible to sustain in your heart unless you have been radically changed by Jesus Christ’s grace and forgiveness and are filled with His Holy Spirit.

So, taking that to heart, let me say this: Give up control of your friendships. If you ever thought you could control people, let go of that lie. You can’t make people be your friends. You can’t make your friendships secure. This world is insecure and unsteady. You can’t make things go perfectly.

One day, all things will be made new and friendships will blossom eternally. There will be no rifts in eternity. But until then, keep your eyes on Jesus. Following His example of radical love, let yourself be poured out for your friends. We can only give ourselves. It is for God to make things grow.

 “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”

– Ephesians 4:29-32 –

Savoring the Gift


“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
– Dr. Seuss –

It’s easy to want to be wherever I’m not.

It’s easy to miss the moment for the longing.

And it is so, so easy to want to tweak God’s gifts.

I laid on my back on a blanket spread over the cropped green grass. The sky was blue–oh, so blue–and the little ships of clouds scudded along the uncreased waves of air. Sun rained gold down on my skin. A wasp hummed by, in search of a warm place to bask.

But I wanted to add a P.S. on to my letter of thankfulness to God.

Truly, my heart was full as I stared up at a sky with such clear-toned color, I could not describe its blueness. I grinned up at the clouds. And then I wondered.

I wondered if a moment could be so perfect again. And I amended my letter of praise:

Dear Lord, thank you…but is this the only moment like this I will ever have? Will the people I love not ever get to see this with me?

Like a child letting the warm sand slip through its fists, I clasped the moment–wild with the glee of warm, pouring life and desperate to somehow bottle it up and immortalize the perfect instant. I was so afraid of the trickling time pouring warm between my fingers. I was so afraid the breathless moment would be lost for ever.

So fear crept into my glorying, and tainted my joy.

Climbing a mountain, I think about those left at the bottom. Walking along a river, I wonder if I’ll ever return to the perfect moment again.

With each gift, I’ve found that my heart bends the joy into a sort of ache. Instead of just enjoying the gift, I ask questions: Will there be another gift like this one? What if I can’t remember this gift? Why can’t others share this gift with me? How long can I keep this gift?

A glorious dinner of laughing and fun. A breezy neighborhood walk with the acorns crunching under foot. A cup of hot tea. The soft weight of a baby resting in my arms, wiggling her toes in thoughtless glee.

All these things I’ve had. All these things are gifts.

Why, then, do I persist in spoiling the moment? I think of the absent dinner guests. I wonder if tomorrow’s walk will be spoiled by rain. I wish for another cup of tea. I wonder how many baby toes I’ll get to wiggle.

“Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”
– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts –

Yes, this is my fall: That I spoil the gift because I fail to trust the Giver.

I bow now, and repent. I give over myself–again, and again, and again. I will trust my God for His gifts. I will trust that He knows just what to give me–each day’s gift perfect for that moment.

Because every day…every breath…is truly a gift.

 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

– James 1:17-18, NKJV –

Love Beyond Flannelgraphs


“Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way.

A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ “

Luke 10:30-35, CEB

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a well-worn path for me. Those horrible “religious” Jews ran away from the problem; the good “unclean” outcast stayed to love. I can almost see my childhood’s flannel board now: the resolute Samaritan, and the man lying pale and bandaged across the back of a compliant donkey.

This story is nearly as reminiscent of Sunday school as John 3:16 and goldfish crackers.

I’m not sure whom I always identified with in the story. Maybe the Samaritan, because of course I would stop to help, right? Or perhaps I always focused on the robbed Jew, the man lying splayed on the rocky soil. Poor guy. Yeah, I’d want someone to help me too.

But I don’t think I ever once identified with the Jews that did not stop. Reading Gary Inrig’s The Parables recently, I came upon this passage:

“We should not make the mistake of thinking these are ‘bad’ men. No, not bad, but busy. For them, and too often, for me, people in need are problems, interruptions, nuisances. They intrude awkwardly on my privacy. They deflect me from my duty. They distract me from my responsibility. They keep me from my pleasures. I agree that they need help, and I hope that someone does help. But not me, not now, not here. I have a different agenda.” – p. 37

Oh. Oh, I see. To my shame, I see I am the priest that crossed to the other side, the Levite who skirts around, every time I do not stop for my neighbor.

“And who IS my neighbor?”

This time I take the part of the questioning teacher, the student of God’s law whose query prompted Jesus’ parable. “Ahem. Teacher. So we’re supposed to love God and our neighbor. But who is my neighbor?” I’m sure he felt very smug, thinking, Yes, let’s clarify. Because of course there are limits to love.

Or, to rephrase….

“Isn’t there someone I don’t have to love? This sounds pretty involved. Where can I draw the line? When do I not have to stop and take pity? When can I cut back on this love business? I mean…really, you can’t expect me to love everyone all the time, can you?”

And Jesus answers with a powerful story that we have reduced to a flannelgraph lesson promoting the moral standards of the nice Samaritan--an impotent, sanitized repackaging of a radical love:

And here seems to be the thrust of the story: When a need appears on the path, Love stops.

To the best of its ability, Love lends a hand.

“The Lord is deliberately and carefully shocking his audience. His hero is a despised Samaritan, a man who does not pass by, whatever the pillars of jewish religious society might do. However, it is not his nationality that sets him apart, but his compassion. He doesn’t see anything the other two didn’t, but he feels something they didn’t. ‘He took pity on him.’ All of the normal hostility between Jew and Samaritan is swept away as he allows what he sees to affect his emotions and actions. Strikingly the word translated here ‘pity’ is used elsewhere in the gospels ply of the Lord Jesus. He, above all others, is the model of compassion.” – The Parables, p. 38

In his book, Mr. Inrig points out, “The central question is not ‘who is my neighbor?’ but ‘what is my duty?’ Again our need is not to define ‘neighbor’ but to become the kind of person who cannot pass by on the other side…Am I concerned about calculating the limits of love or about caring for hurting people? The theologian is thinking about his responsibility; the Lord wants us to seize the opportunity. The theologian is thinking about himself; the Lord directs us to the sufferer” (p. 40-41).

In Christian communities, debates still rage. How do we help the needy? Are there people that we have a higher obligation to love and care for than others? How do we help people if they won’t better themselves? Should we give money to that homeless guy that makes minimum wage with only a  scrawled cardboard sign and a grocery cart? How do we balance safety with radical love?

Certainly, wisdom should come into play. The focus of the story is not mindless care–the focus is deliberate love. If loving someone means not giving them certain things, or not enabling them to continue in a particular lifestyle, that is not less loving than binding up a bleeding man’s wounds. And, certainly, there are Biblical priorities–God, then biological and church family, and then those outside the faith.

But–at least for me–the problem is not in the exceptions or the complications.

The problem is in the application.

” This is how we know love: Jesus laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. But if a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn’t care—how can the love of God remain in him?

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.”

– 1 John 3:16-18, CEB –

A man who doesn’t show practical love for his family by doing his best to provide for them is betraying his faith (1 Timothy. 5:8). A Christian who does not have compassion on his fellow heirs in Christ is demonstrating a dearth of love. A man who passes by is showing that he really doesn’t understand the kind of grace that throws away convenience, propriety, reputation, comfort, and possessions just to stop and do something.

We quibble over terms.

Christ came in and acted.

We, of all people, were surely not His neighbors: More inferior to his Divinity than an amoeba is to a great blue whale. More adversarial to his kind advances than a Jew would be to a helpful leper. A cosmos, in a sense, separated us from Him–a world gone amuck, millions of sins piled like stones between the life of God and the life of man.

And us, unaware of it, ran straight into the den of robbers and gave ourselves over to the beatings of the sin we chose, until we lay bloody on the roadside. Utterly hopeless. Utterly undesirable.

But He had compassion. Desiring us! What love is this? He stopped. And, at the cost of His life, bound up our wounds.

It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
    and our sufferings that he bore,
    but we thought him afflicted,
    struck down by God and tormented.
He was pierced because of our rebellions
    and crushed because of our crimes.
    He bore the punishment that made us whole;
    by his wounds we are healed.
 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
    each going its own way,
    but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.

– Isaiah 53: 4-6 –

We can make wonderful excuses. We can say we’re too busy. We can say that we don’t owe them anything.

Jesus could have done that too.

But He went out into the highways instead.

With such a Savior, how can we hold back for one more minute? Today, my neighbor is the person in front of me–my roommate, my boss at the office, my brother, the cashier at Wal-Mart, the lady walking her dachshund down the neighborhood sidewalk.

How can I not love them? How can I just pass by?

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”

– Augustine –