Caroline Reads: Messy Beautiful Friendship

This could be the beginning of something or the first and last time I ever give my thoughts on a book on here…but I’m going to give it a try! One of my loosely held goals for 2020 is to read more and I’ve thrown around the idea of 12 books. One a month shouldn’t be too hard as I love to read and am a fast reader, but I’ve been out of practice for a while with making this a discipline, so we shall see!

I have always held a very high regard for friendship. I truly love making new friends and keeping in touch with old ones. Just this past weekend, Luke and I hosted our annual Christmas game night with my best friends from high school. We’ve gotten together every Christmas for over 5 years now and it’s one of the most fun nights of my year – because friends are just so special. I feel most myself with these old friends – I feel understood and seen and loved. They make me laugh and let go of all the pressure surrounding so many relationships today.

I love the moment when you connect with someone new or when a new relationship just “clicks.” I love celebrating birthdays and babies and job promotions with dear ones. I love the deep conversations, the laughs, the shared meals and games and events. I love that I have many amazing people in my life to share life’s ups and downs with. What a gift from the Lord to have those to hold hands with and pray with and exchange meals and to just simply be there when in times of celebration and when life’s circumstances are not what you had hoped.

All of this sounds lovely until you encounter a hard conversation with a friend or feel a stirring from the Lord that you need to lovingly confront a friend, or there has been a misunderstanding, or you feel hurt or unseen or just not cared for in a particular instance. It’s all easy until you sin against your friend or are jealous or deal with a situation out of fear rather than love. I am thankful that I have experienced much more sweetness in friendship than heartache … but I would not be telling the truth if I said all my friendships have been or are perfect … I have felt hurt and unseen and all of the things above and I am most certain I have been the one who has made someone else feel that way and that I have missed the mark so many times in loving my people well and taking the time to care for them sacrificially.

At the beginning of this year, I knew God was asking me to allow him to reshape some of my views on friendship and the purpose of biblical friendship. I was feeling more overwhelmed by relationships than ever before and putting so much pressure on myself for them to be, look, or feel a certain way.  I felt like I was never enough, was letting everyone down and simultaneously like I wasn’t being seen or cared for in the way I “deserved.” Praise Jesus that he is so near to us and hears us, but also speaks to us and in asking for His wisdom, He made me aware of where one of my problems began – with me. He showed me how I had recently let my view of friendship be tainted and was falling for the lie that it was all about me. At the end of the day, we love ourselves some “ME!” That’s why true biblical friendship is such a beautiful picture of the gospel because it flips our sinful nature and culture as a whole on itself – it is not actually at all about us, but about God and He changes EVERYTHING, including even the smallest details of how we engage one another in relationship.

With this new revelation in hand, I was on a mission to find a biblical resource on friendship and in came “Messy Beautiful Friendship” by Christine Hoover. I was immediately captured by her language and the way she spoke from deeply personal experience with a wellspring of scripture and wisdom gleaned from her mistakes as well as her triumphs in friendship. It felt like she was reading my mind at some points, which really showed me I am not alone in my thoughts and struggles with friendship. We are all just trying to figure it out and I’m so thankful for this sister in Christ going ahead of us and writing this beautiful book on how to honor God with our friendships and ultimately, surrender them to His use and for His glory.

I truly savored this book and took a few months to read it because there was so much to take in and process with each chapter. The chapters are short, especially towards the end, and perfect for a quick read before bed time. My favorite part of the book is that in the back there is 1) discussion questions for if you read this with a friend or a group of girls 2) all of the scripture she used in the book in one place 3) one key takeaway from each chapter. I LOVED this because it makes it easy to glean so much from the book without having to go back and figure out where you read it and re-read the chapter if you don’t have time. It will definitely be a book that I ALWAYS go back to.

It is broken up into 5 parts – 1) A New Vision for Friendship 2) Threats to Friendship 3) Discovering and Deepening Friendship 4) Being a Friend 5) Receiving Friendship.

A New Vision for Friendship 

This section of the book was basically about how we set ourselves up for failure in friendship when we have a “wish dream” of what it should look like…basically saying to God…”welllll, this isn’t what my friendships were like in college and this isn’t what others appear to have or what I see on TV, so it must not be good and I’m going to keep looking” (which leads to such discouragement!!!) rather than realizing friendship is mapped out by God and is for God and embracing who He has placed in front of us is key to trusting His plan. Ultimately, true friendship is often not easy. Biblical friendship means embracing the difficulty and accepting that it is for our sanctification.

It means being willing to love, forgive and bear with those we might not necessarily always understand. We must be willing to confess sin, inadvertent or not, and receive the grace that helps us grow. Biblical friendship is what helps us grow; it sharpens us just as we are used by God to sharpen others. (pg 42) 

In our wish dreams, we tend to make people our gods. We look to them – at least I have – to know us intimately at all times, to meet our every need to be there when we want them near, and to love us unconditionally and perfectly, when the map points only to God as having those abilities. When I am disappointed with my friendships and I take time to dig a little deeper in my heart, I inevitably find that I’m looking for my friends to relate to me as only God can. I want God to give me good friends, and when he has, I’ve been prone to shove him aside for the attention, wisdom and companionship of those friends, despite knowing they were intended as gifts rather than replacements. People are not fillers for a present God and God is not a placeholder for future friends. (pg 37-38) … we must, like with any good gift, hold this desire in its proper place and appreciate what he has given us right now, even if what he’s given is not necessarily what we envision (pg 40). 

Threats to Friendship 

This section talked about the things that keep us from initiating friendship or can hurt our friendships. Namely our own sin! When we fear being hurt or are insecure about our own lives, we tend to shrink back instead of boldly pursue friendship. When we are afraid (I have to remind myself always that fear is not from the Lord), we are turned inward to ourselves rather than outward to our friends and loving them like Jesus. Friendship will sometimes hurt…so we are not naive when we realize that friendship comes with risk. But, ultimately, we are secure in the love of Christ and with Him, we can work through conflict, love courageously, and lead boldly in vulnerability.

Biblical friendship is grounded in vulnerability, because vulnerability is necessary to fulfill the “one anothers” found in scripture. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The word translated burden implies a load too heavy for one person to carry. How else can we help carry a load unless we know the load is there? How else can someone help us carry a load unless they know what we’re trying to carry? The same can be said for the other “one anothers”: confess your sin to one another, love one another, instruct one another, serve one another, bear with one another, forgive one another, spur on one another and pray for one another. All require vulnerability. Vulnerability is risky, yes, but in biblical friendship the Holy Spirit guards our vulnerability. We aren’t to value vulnerability more than we value the Lord and his wisdom; to value vulnerability and “realness” above God leads us to spew every thought and emotion and to idolize ourselves and other people. We must filter everything we share through the leadership and help of the Holy Spirit. As we walk by the Spirit in our friendships, he will help us know when to share and when we need to hold back and rely solely on the Lord to meet our needs (pgs. 81-82).

Discovering and Deepening Friendship 

This section really resonated with me – Christine says here that in order to be a friend and have friends, we have to get over ourselves and just go for it! She also talks about giving a friendship time and effort before you decide whether it is working or not, pushing through the awkward, inviting people to things, opening your home, etc.

My two favorite parts of this section were

  1. The “There you are!” vs “Here I am” mentality. This truly changes everything. Friendship is about serving one another and modeling the love of Jesus and when we approach it from this truth, everything makes more sense and we worry a whole lot less about ourselves and how we are being loved/taken care of because we know God has us and fills us to pour out into our friends.
  2. “Naming your people” – Christine says “naming our friends is a form of remembering, a marker for stewarding well the friendships God is giving us.” I LOVE this. I have actually done this before, but sort of thought it was silly…but reading the chapter on this really encouraged me and reminded me how powerful remembering is in the Kingdom of God.

-Who are the women in your life you enjoy spending time with?

-Who are the women in your life who encourage your faith?

-Who are the women who leave you feeling like life has been breathed back into you when you are deflated?

-Who are the women God is nudging you toward and giving you an affinity for?

-Who are the women you want to learn from?

-Who are the women God might be asking you to invest in as a mentor?

-Who are the women God is seeking for salvation and wants to use you to minister to?

I think most of us don’t necessarily feel like we’ve got all our friendship ducks in a row. I think we all tend to have moments when we think, just who are my friends? In my humble opinion, I think this occasional question can actually be a sign of doing relationships right rather than wrong. If we can’t point to any relationships at all, that’s certainly an issue; but when we have various relationships in various stages of development across different life stages or in different locations or front different circles, it can sometimes feel like we are doing it wrong because we don’t have a BFF or a tight-knit circle of friends. That seems to be what everyone envisions and everyone wants, but if we’re a Jesus-loving, others-minded person, we’re likely going to have many different types of relationships spread across multiple circles and, therefore, we may not always be sure who are friends are. There will be occasions when we need to privately name our people (pg. 116)

Being a Friend 

This is the really practical part of the book that talks about how we can be loving, godly friends to our people. I love how Christine talks about in this section that the primary avenue we have for representing God to people who don’t know him, is through friendship. As Christians, our home is in Heaven and stewarding our time on earth is SO IMPORTANT, but not our eternal home – we live in the already, but not yet. She says that friends who don’t know Jesus may not be able to put it into words, but they may long for what you have or feel “homesick” for what you have as we show them our home in Jesus. I thought that was a really sweet way of looking at it and of being encouraged and challenged in our friendships.

I love how she mentions that other people don’t have God-like capacity, so we can’t expect that from them..in other words, our friends are wonderful, but they are not our Christ so we can’t expect that from them…and they shouldn’t from us. This frees us up from the pressure or burden we may feel to “fix” our friend’s problems…but rather to come alongside them, do what we can, but ultimately leave it in the Lord’s hands as he shows us how to love them tangibly and well, especially in hard seasons. It is our honor to come alongside our friends in adversity and grieve with them.

Other truths she shared about being a friend were … a faithful friend is one who loves enough to tell the truth and does so carefully. She uses her words carefully because they MATTER. The Bible tells us our words can be like honey – the words we dispense among friends should reflect Christ, be filled with grace and truth – not “sugary” but full of sustenance!

A faithful friend leans in and asks “tell me more.” A faithful friend uses their online presence to encourage, champion, thank and connect with our real life friends and doesn’t put undue amounts of weight on solely “online” friends, although those are meaningful too!

I thought it was especially helpful how Christine outlined steps to take when you are concerned for a friend:

  1. Pray about why
  2. Think and pray more
  3. Love – Galatians 6:1 says that we are to restore our friends with an underlying spirit of gentleness
  4. Place the goal before you – Galatians 6:1 says the goal of any confrontation is restoration
  5. Be discreet
  6. Be a truth teller
  7. Be willing to confess your own sins
  8. Be ready with wise counsel
  9. Be ready to forgive

God stands between us and our friends and that is exactly where we want him. That is exactly where we need him.

Receiving Friendship 

The final part of the book is about receiving friendship as a gift from the Lord. He has given them to us very intentionally and loves to see us “unwrap them” and delight in Him in the process. Sometimes it feels like the forming of a new relationship or the deepening of an older one is hard work and messy – and it certainly can be – but it is an encouraging word to think of the process of maintaining and developing friendships as part of the unwrapping of the gift. When I think of unwrapping a gift, there is so much excitement and wonder – I think that is one of the best ways to view our friends – never done learning about them and how to love and serve them and be known by then as well.

In order to receive and deepen friendship, we must learn to ask for help from our friends. Therein lies a risk…and I understand that all too well, because I am not the best at asking for help. But, every time a friend asks me for help, I feel so honored and of course want to come alongside them – so why wouldn’t they feel the same for me? Yes, there is a risk in stepping our in that vulnerability to ask for help – and they could possibly misunderstand you or truly be unhelpful – but the reward outweighs the risk because relying on the help of friends is one of the greatest catalysts for deepening our friendships.

Christine mentions how “friends are fun, but they’re also sanctifying.” This is so so true. We sharpen one another in our pursuit of the Lord and we are wise to listen when friends bring “faithful wounds” (Proverbs 27:6)

A faithless friend chooses passivity when a hard word is needed, but I would be just as faithless of a friend to refuse to heed a hard word. So instead of bristling or explaining away, I choose to listen closely, to digest carefully the wisdom my friends are presenting to me. Their words were wounds meant to usher me toward healing and they found their mark. pg 186 

She closes the book with the cliche, but SO TRUE saying that “friends are friends forever, if the Lord is the Lord of them.” What a beautiful thought! Christian friendship on earth is truly just the BEGINNING.

Friendships among Christians are even more fun, in my opinion, because they occur between two people who are savoring the same discovered treasure: If God is for us — and he is — who can be against us? The friendship of God, then, makes friendship between Christians the most JOYFUL, PEACEFUL, and STABLE kind of friendship, because it ultimately reflects the delighted communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and God’s love for us. pg 183 

 

 

 

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