Friends Near and Far
With only 10 days until I return home, I've been thinking with much anticipation about the friends I'll be meeting this summer. I've got some amazing friends and family back home whom I only get to see once a year, if that. This summer, I'm flying to see a friend of almost 20 years whom I haven't seen in 5! I wish I could see everyone every time I go home, but with time, money, and geography, it's just not possible. Plus there are so many Taiwan friends who have returned to North America that I would love to see in addition to the Canadian friends I left behind 10 years ago. It's really hard for me sometimes to choose to see someone, or not to make the trip to see someone, to impose myself on people helplessly (I'd love to visit you, but I'll need you to drive me an hour or more to an airport afterward), and to have to say "you only get a few hours of my time" when it would take much, much longer for us to catch up. I also don't want it to feel like I'm "gracing" you with my presence when I probably am more encouraged and refreshed from our visit than you ;) Recently, I've been thinking about an attitude of my heart. I know that it makes me feel unloved when I feel like people are friends with me for what I can give them rather than who I am or talk to me only when they need something, and I never want someone to feel like I'm visiting them because they'll be a free place to stay/ride or not visiting them because I can't get anything out of it. I especially don't want people to feel that way because God reminded me that we treat Him in exactly the same way sometimes. Do we only want to be 'friends' with Him when He brings us blessings? I'm certainly not a perfect friend, and not unlike this blog, I do feel like I've neglected a lot of my friendships in the past few years. Here's what I strive for instead, as I posted a few months ago at Bold Cup of Coffee:
5 ways to engage in life-giving friendships
Originally posted here
You can’t be God to someone As much as you want to help and be there for your friends, it’s more important to encourage them to seek God. You can’t make decisions for people, change their hearts, or become their salvation. But you can remind them that God sees and hears them, testify to his work in your life, and pray with them. Some of my most blessed moments with good friends have been when we stopped rehashing problems, situations, or frustrations over and over again and just prayed.
You can’t live in the past As the rhyme goes: Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver, the other gold.
But the truth is, people change, friends drift apart, and keeping in touch is HARD. It’s ok to let people go, and it doesn’t invalidate the time you had together. It’s a truly wonderful thing to have those friends with whom you can just ‘pick things up where you left off’ which for me is a necessity since I only return to Canada about once a year. But I’ve also had to come to understand that life is happening during those in between times, and I may or may not be a part of that. I believe that God brings people into our lives at different times, and we should do everything we can to build up those around us and learn from them while we have the fortune of being part of their stories.
You will need to be honest Friendship requires vulnerability. Truly connecting with someone means letting them see both your good and bad, and trusting them not to judge you. Will you get hurt? Probably. Does that mean you should give up on people? Probably not. I’m starting to wonder if people-pleasing is, at its root, an honesty problem. We want people to see some made up, ideal of ourselves so that they will like and accept us. But a true friend will see your potential, and be willing to help you get there.
You will mess up Friendships can become a place where we are very selfish; whether that means expecting another person to fulfill our needs, or whether we surround ourselves with people who make us feel good and avoid those who are harder to love. I know it’s been said many times, but people, even the best of friends, will always let you down. We really need to stop keeping score in our relationships. If we started applying a measure of forgiveness to others, we might remember that we have already been forgiven much.
Life-giving friendship is a taste of heaven Part of being image-bearers of God means that we were made for relationship. We were not made to live in isolation, and friendships at their best can truly reflect God. When life-giving, God-glorifying community happens, healing occurs, people get saved, and memories are made. I don’t know about you, but for me, coming to a relationship with God didn’t involve an intellectual decision as much as a community of believers who came alongside me and showed me what life could be like.
Maybe one of the most well known Bible verses about friendship is this one:
We need the light, warmth, acuity, and simply the spark from others to pass through the flames and become a more useful instrument in the hands of our Maker.