i've been thinking a lot about friendship over the past few weeks, with the Bold Boundaries conference just around the corner. i'm really looking forward to spending a weekend hearing the thoughts and stories of several people who have been thinking thru and praying thru the dynamics of cross-gender friendships. much of what i've been reading over the past few months (on the blogs of some of the main speakers for the conference) has encouraged, inspired, and challenged me.
i've also just finished re-reading Two-Part Invention by Madeleine L'Engle - a re-read that has turned out to be timely in so many ways. it is the (much-abridged, i'm sure) story of her marriage to Hugh Franklin, much of which was written as he was dying. the stories of community within its pages are truly moving, and beautiful.
which may be why this L'Engle quote, shared by Sheila Brennan in a guest post on her husband's blog this week, leapt out at me the way it did: "Could I keep on believing in a loving God if I had no friends? I am not sure. My friends are God-bearers to me."
when i am lonely or confused, a long conversation with a good friend is often the vehicle by which God answers my longing for companionship or wisdom.
when i am sad, or hurting deeply over something, a good cry on the shoulder of someone i completely trust can help the sorrow abate, at least a bit. their presence serves as a solid reminder that i am not alone in my grief. their friendship is an icon, reminding me that God is God-with-us.
when i am deeply happy about something, being able to share that joy with someone magnifies and makes the gladness even more glorious - a gloriousness that reflects, however dimly, the glory of the One who created things that make us deeply happy.
so when i need counsel, or just want companionship - when i have prayed and prayed and have no clue what His answer might be - when i am, indeed, lonely, hurting or sad - and when my joy is too great to contain on its own - i seek out my friends. and i want them to feel that they can do the same.
so i call them to say hello. i ask them for time. i send a text message to say i am thinking of them or an email to mention that i'm praying. i try to be intentional about letting the people i care most about know that they are in my thoughts. that they matter. that they're important. that i want to spend time with them. we do not tell each other often enough that we are here. and in truth, we are not actually here, not all the time - we can't be. only God can be.
but i suspect this is why He gives us more than one friend.
it was suggested to me this week that having asked a friend for five minutes of time, a hug, and a reminder that everything would be okay was a possible indication that my walk with God has been suffering.
no. it hasn't.
when God first created the world, he made Adam and decided that it wasn't good for him to be alone. so He made Eve. and told them to make more people. community was His idea.
Scripture is chock-full of stories about friendship: David and Jonathan. Ruth and Naomi. Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Jesus and Mary (Martha's sister). Jesus and John. Jesus and Peter. Paul and Priscilla (and her husband Aquila). to name just a few; there are so many others. friendship was designed by God.
the very night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, he was in a garden with His friends, and He asked them to keep watch with Him. He did not want to go thru what He knew He was about to go thru on His own, even while He knew He would have to. When His friends fell asleep, He expressed His disappointment. He loved them, in spite of their failure and betrayal. And when He rose from the dead, He went back and spent time with them. He made them breakfast. And made sure they knew that any brokenness in their relationship with Him had been healed.
i cannot believe, if the God of the Universe (who is in Himself enough to meet any need) wanted His friends during one of His toughest hours, that it could possibly be wrong for me to express the same wish in one of my (significantly less significant) moments of need.
to be open and honest in our friendships about the ways in which we bear God to each other - to be grateful for it, to express that gratitude to God and to each other - to ask our friends to be God-bearers to us when we know we need them to be (because they are not mind-readers and will forget or just not think of it, in the same way that we will forget or just not think to bear God to our friends) - is not wrong. it is not idolatry.
if we were to expect one person - a spouse, another family member, a pastor, a best friend - to be the sole bearer of God's truth or presence to us, then yes, that would be idolatrous. but idolatry and iconography are two very different things. i do not worship my friendships. but i trust most of them to point me in the direction of the One i do worship. i don't expect them to do it flawlessly. i've experienced failure in many of my most-valued friendships, as did Jesus. but a friendship built on mutual love, respect, and trust will weather those failures and come out stronger, and less likely to fail (or at least maybe not quite as abysmally) the next time it is tested.
and i dream of a day when we are all free to simply be ourselves, to be able to state simply and honestly - to both our male and female friends - how much we value them and how grateful we are for the ways in which they have imaged God to us, without fear of misunderstanding, accusation, or judgment of our motives. it may not truly happen in this lifetime - we are each of us flawed representations of His glory, even on our best days - but it is a dream worth working towards, even when it's difficult.
As Dan Brennan says, "Intentional friendships are hard work and messy. But they are worth the risk... May we all seek grace and forgiveness in our friendships. ...we're all going to fail one another... But the beauty of grace and forgiveness is that they are wildly generous and free..."
and a future marked by that kind of beauty is definitely worth the work.