Even though no zig-zagged, half-heart BFF charm has ever graced my neck, I really love my friends. I’ve been given some great ones. Lately, I’ve been thinking how much my friends fit me.
I mean how they shape, form, fit and transform me. I’m learning.
Truth #1: No one likes jealous, clingy friends. Enjoy a bunch of (imperfect) friends.
My jealous bone came out in 6th grade when my friend Jill spent the night at Teresa’s without me. I pouted. Then Mom’s sage advice clicked: being clingy will drive friends away.
If you think of yourself as a needy, leaky love tank waiting to be filled, you’ll probably stay that way. You won’t have many friends. Mom’s advice made sense and I stopped pouting and soon Jill – and Teresa- were both my friends.
But I still try to take mom’s advice to heart. I get it about how if you love someone, set them free and if they come back they’re yours and if they don’t they never were. That.
But I’m not too proud to say I need friends. A bunch of friends. Because no one soul can bear the load of me, and no one friend can meet all my needs. Friendships flourish when we don’t expect all from one.
Paul knew this too. He had a big bunch of imperfect friends.
Truth #2: No one outgrows the need for (imperfect) friends. Not even saints.
For the last month, I’ve been studying the last half of the last chapter of the last epistle that Saint Paul wrote. Paul who wrote the magnificent theology of Romans 8 and set the doctrinal record straight.
But do you know what was on Paul’s mind at the end of his life? His friends. His fickle, deserting, imperfect friends.
Paul ends his second letter to Timothy with mention of no fewer than 17 friends (18 if you count Timothy and 20+ if you count “the brothers”). Verses earlier, Paul wrote those triumphant words, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. He spoke about the crown of life that the Lord would award him. You’d think that would be the end.
But it wasn’t.
Paul eagerly- desperately?-wanted to see his friends. Do your best to come to me soon…Luke alone is with me (4:9,11). Paul was a spiritual guy. He’d already been caught up to the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2). He knew what it was to set his mind on things above and not on earthly things (Col. 3:2).
And Paul really wanted to see his friends: Jesus- soon, Timothy- now.
Truth #3: You can love Jesus and (imperfect) friends. It makes both loves sweeter.
John Stott explains how these two desires, to be with Jesus and to be with our friends, are not incompatible.
One sometimes meets super-spiritual people who claim that they never feel lonely and have no need for friends, for the companionship of Christ satisfies all their needs. But human friendship is the loving provision of God for mankind. (John Stott, Message, 120)
In other words, if you say you’re beyond the need for human friends- maybe because you’ve been burned by friends- you’re beyond the Bible. Paul had been burned. Paul was deserted by his friends at his first defense in Rome, but said, “May it not be counted against them!” (2 Tim. 4:16)
(Have I mentioned yet that our friends won’t be perfect? That they will fail us even as we fail them. They will hurt us and we will hurt them. Count on it. There will be the giving and taking of wounds. But that needn’t end our friendships. It’s par for the course. In fact Jesus made Peter- as in Peter denied the Lord and cried Peter- his Rock to build his church.)
Commenting on Paul’s words at the end of 2 Timothy, John Piper clinches the point:
Don’t feel you must choose between the supreme love and delight you have in Jesus and the pleasures of Christian friends… The joy of a Christ-centered friendship is meant to magnify the worth of Christ as the common treasure of the friendship and this deepens the sweetness of the friendship.
Because maybe behind our choices, it’s God who chooses our friends. And because He does use (imperfect) friends who fail us to shape us into Christ’s faithful friends.
Truth #4: God shapes us through our (imperfect) friends. Welcome the rub.
We are the friends we keep: the faithful and the unfaithful, the timid and the bold, the new and the old. We need them all. Failing friends, failing kids, failing wives can still be our friends- our sweet friends, John Piper says. God brings them into our lives and they all play a part in the people we become.
God works in us through the friends he gives us.
A few weeks ago a friend told me how she’d asked another friend if there were any “blind spots” in her. That question is not for the faint of heart. But, if she could do it, I could too, and an hour later I asked her the same of me. What she said is another post and I’m not recommending you do the same. But I am suggesting that you have you’re close enough to others to feel loves frets and rubs– divine sandpaper on our rough spots, if you will.
Sometimes that hurts, but it need not be painful. Being with a soft-spoken friend helps me to speak more gently. Time with a big-hearted friend makes me want to be more generous. Being with a self-controlled friend makes it easier to skip bedtime snacks. Sanding me smooth.
But most spiritual growth is slow. Sometimes we don’t recognize the tools. We might even ask, God, how are you actually working in me?
In Chapter 7 of Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis gives this memorable answer.
…[It] is rather like the woman in the first war who said that if there were a bread shortage it would not bother her house because they always ate toast. If there is no bread there will be no toast. If there were no help from Christ, there would be no help from other human beings. He works on us in all sorts of ways...He works through Nature, through our own bodies, through books, sometimes through experiences…
Now here’s the kicker:
But above all, He works on us through each other… Men are mirrors, or ‘carriers’ of Christ to other men… That is why the Church, the whole body of Christians showing Him to one another, is so important.
We need friends because they are one of God’s choice tools to transform us to be like Jesus.
Truth #5: (Imperfect) Friends fit us for heaven. And we are fit with them.
But this year, as I shop and bake and wrap and read it’s dawning on me that Someone else is doing the lion’s share of preparing. For all the thoughtful stocking stuffing and gift wrapping he does, I don’t mean Jim.
All this while, Christ is preparing us, fitting us. He is rebuilding our ramshackle houses, transforming our stinky stables, and sanding our rough trim to make a fit throne room for the King.
The last line in Away in a Manger nails it: And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.
It strikes me that He might just be doing that through (imperfect) friends.
In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.