“I get it. Friendship should be easy. They shouldn’t have to try so hard.”
I was on the phone with a student at a local Christian university, and the woman on the other end was defending her fellow classmates who had been leaving her out of their social activities. She was feeling hurt, but also owned that there were things she was doing that made it more challenging to build relationships. Our conversation went many places, but her phrase sticks with me still.
Friendship should be easy.
Or should it?
Sure, it’s true that we get along well with certain personalities better than others, and we often can’t put our finger on why. But even in the most breezy connections with others, it is only a matter of time till you reach a gap.
Sometimes a gap looks like pain. Sometimes it looks like difference of opinion. Sometimes it is simply that we cannot comprehend why the other would respond in a certain situation in the way they have.
As soon as we reach a gap, we have a choice to make. Will we swallow the discomfort, skirt the issue, pull back a bit from the depth the relationship has been heading?
Or will we reach?
Reaching is a conscious decision to face the gap we see, move outside the comfort of our own opinion/personality/experience, toward our friend on the other side. Reaching is uncomfortable. You can’t even hold the physical position of reaching for long unless another hand takes yours across the space between. And even then, the act of reaching infers an amount of work.
Does the Bible say friendship should be easy?
Bear with one another in love (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:2).
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3).
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends (John 15:13).
Bear. Effort. Keep. Lay down your life.
Why so much strain and effort in love? This is far different than the Hallmark card, television sitcom version of friendship our culture seems to prize.
But then again, maybe friendship was never meant to be easy.
Offenses will surely come, and they hit all the deeper from a brother or sister in Christ. Some experiences are so excruciating that we can’t imagine being in the same room again. Yet, as my pastor reminds us regularly, the person who so wronged and offended you will be your brother or sister for all eternity. You will have a friendship with them forever.
So in light of forever do we deny the pain we feel right now? Clean it up and move on? No. We acknowledge the gap. On this side of eternity we may never find full resolution and ease in the relationship. But our love for Jesus and desire for holiness doesn’t lead us to avoid the messiness of relationships. Rather, His love in us allows us to face the mess through difficult conversations. We do not fear conflict or difference of opinion. We are enabled by the Holy Spirit to lean in and listen, truly hear one another from the heart level.
We also do not fear people who are different than ourselves.
I was challenged a few months ago by Amber Helms, a social worker friend who was leading a prayer meeting. She said, “people often tell you to ‘just love the person right in front of you’. But if you love the people right in front of you, you will mostly only have relationships with people who think like you, look like you, have the same skin color and cultural background as you, and have the same socioeconomic status as you”.
To love like Jesus requires us to reach.
It’s through reaching past what is familiar that we will eventually experience the whole love of Christ: the heights, the depths, the lengths, the widths. We are promised in Ephesians 3 that we will know this fullness not in isolation but rather together with all the saints. All of us, with all our differences, linking arms to make up the full expression of the love of Christ.
And so, when we see a friend in pain, especially when we have caused pain, we reach. When our brother is angry and unforgiving, and it feels unfair, we reach. When we feel awkward because our life is so different than the person next to us, we reach.
We reach, and reach, and reach, and all the while we are being strengthened in love. It feels not quite so self-gratifying as we had hoped, but our love is growing. Isn’t that what we had truly hoped for all along?