Thursday, September 20, 2012

Is friendship worth it?

I've had a rough few months, especially when it comes to friendships.

I've had a friend betray me, a friend lie to me, a friend gossip behind my back, a friend use me as a scapegoat and had a friend believe a lie about me and then get mad at me about it.  It was one after another in rapid succession and to someone that struggles with trust in relationships anyway, it was more than devastating.

It left me asking the question, "Is friendship worth it?"  I understood how David must have felt when he wrote Psalm 109:1-5 (although the rest of that psalm is kind of harsh...I don't wish that on anyone!).  I was ready to give up on relationships, and just accept the fact that healthy, intimate, Christlike friendships were only for a very few select people.

After talking with my counselor (everyone should have a counselor!), and rereading the academic and theological information I had studied on friendships, I've come to a few conclusions on why close, healthy, Christlike friendships are worth it.

1.  Close friendships make us humble ourselves and say we can't do life alone.

Most Christians will readily say that they can't do life alone, but they live as though they can and should.  They put on a facade that everything in their life is together and going well and they have full control of every situation in their home.  In order to keep that facade going, though, they have to keep people at arms length. Once people begin to get into that inner circle, you can no longer hide the craziness in your life.  Allowing friends to get close to us is to humble ourselves and say, "you know what, my life is screwed up and I'm not in control of everything I'd like to be."  Then, letting that person love on us when we need help is the next level of humility, admitting that we can't make our lives work without the help of others.

2.  Close friendships keep us from being too wrapped up in ourselves and our families.

Some people avoid friendships because they only feel like family is allowed to be that close to them.  Family can see who they really are because family doesn't have a choice in the matter, they are family and will always be family.  Being that open with friends is scary because friends choose to be around us.  If we get too crazy, they can choose to leave us at any time.  Family is less risky.  It is a security blanket.  There is too much to gamble in a friendship.  What these people fail to notice is that if a friend sees your craziness and still chooses to love you, that can be just as strong as any family relationship.  That's why marriage can be such a strong relationship.  Your spouse chose you and sticks by you through your craziness.  We no longer cling so tightly to our family because we know we can find love and security elsewhere as well.

3.  Close friendships keep us from constantly living in our own pity parties.

A close friendship allows us to see each other's lives close up.  It allows us to see how everyone is screwed up and everyone has some sort of hardship.  It cracks that veneer that other people put out there and debunks the lie that everyone else's life is great and ours is horrible.  It is a lot harder to whine about how hard your life is and how no one understands your horrible situation when you have someone sitting right next to you who has shared how hard their life is.  It takes all the focus off of us and helps us to see how we all share in the pain of the world.

4.  Close friendships allow another doorway for God to work powerfully in our lives.

God works primarily through other people.  We've all heard stories about some stranger coming up to us and giving us exactly what we needed, but honestly those stories are few and far between.  What happens more often is God puts a friend in our lives that loves on us as Christ loves on them.  This person prays for us and is sensitive to our needs.  They look out for our best interests and are eager to help us out.  God loves to help us through other people and opening ourselves up to another person opens up another avenue to receive God's blessings.

5.  Close friendships allow us to get a clearer reflection of who we are, both good and bad.

You can't delude yourself about who you are and interact with people close to you at the same time.  If you truly are a selfish person, you can't hide that for very long with someone close to you.  If you are crusty on the outside but warm and kind on the inside, only the people closest to you will see that.  Also, since friends choose us, they have less reason to not be truthful and authentic in their relationships with us.  If things get too bad, they can choose not to befriend us, so why not be honest?  You can also tell much about yourself based on the kind of people you choose as friends.  Asking yourself questions like, "Why do I enjoy being around this person?" and "What does this person offer me that I value enough to befriend them?" can tell us about our needs, insecurities and beliefs.

6.  Close friendships expose us to new ideas and opportunities for growth.

Friends are different.  They can be from different cultures.  They have different beliefs.  They have different ways of doing things.  They see the world through different lenses.  Just by getting close enough to another person, our own beliefs and ways of seeing and doing things get challenged.  Disagreements with someone you are close to can bring us to face our own stuff and working through the disagreement can push us places in our life we may not have gone otherwise.

7.  Close friendships give us a safe place to practice being vulnerable.

Many people fight to keep all their problems and shortcomings hid behind the veneer of their home and keep anyone outside of their family at arms length, lest they see what a mess they are on the inside.  What that does is puts a false person out there that doesn't really exist.  We end up sharing the person we created instead of the person God created.  If you are a Christian, Christ lives in you, not the cardboard cutout you made to represent you.  You have to become vulnerable to truly have Christ at the center of any of your relationships.  You also have to become vulnerable in order to know others and to be known...and loved.  And a safe close friendship is a wonderful place to practice that!

8.  Close friendships can be a relief to our spouse.

Your spouse can't meet all your needs.  In fact, the expectation that they do can be more pressure than one person can handle.  Especially when one spouse is going through a tough time, the other spouse can benefit from a close friend.  Close friends can prevent depression in the spouse that isn't dealing with the issue.  It gives them a safe place to vent, and can give them a break from the constant burdens at home, not to mention help keep their individual identity .

9.  Close friendships allow us to experience what it means for Christ to be our friend.

Studies have shown that people who have never known their father have a harder time relating to God than those who have experienced the love of a father.  The same applies to our friendship with Christ.  We can't understand what it means for Christ to be our friend without having close friendships.  In fact, our problems in relationships with our friends often mirror problems in the friendship we have with Christ.  John 15:3 doesn't say, "Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one's life for one's family", it says, "Greater love has no one than this:  to lay down one's life for one's friends."  There is a reason why Christ used the word friends instead of the word family, or any other word, for that matter.  Friend implies that we were chosen by Him, that He was willing to lay His life down for us.  It wasn't out of duty or obligation, as is often done among family.  It was out of friendship.  It was His choice.

There is no way that I could cover everything important about friendship in this post, so below are some books that I recommend with sections on finding good friends, keeping good friends, and how God intends for us to share our lives with people we call friends.

Friendship for Grown-ups by Lisa Whelchel
Loving People:  How to Love and Be Loved by Dr. John Townsend
Safe People by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend
The Relationship Principles of Jesus by Tom Holiday
An Adult Child's Guide to What's "Normal" by John and Linda Friel
Healing is a Choice by Stephen Arterburn

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