First Steps of Friendship
On the first day of kindergarten, I decided I was going to befriend a girl in my class. I was too scared to initiate a conversation with her (social anxiety manifests itself young), so my strategy was to follow her at a distance until she noticed me and said hello.
This lasted until the last five minutes of recess when I worked up the nerve to corner her in the playhouse and introduce myself. Amazingly she wasn’t too freaked out to take a chance on the strange girl stalking her, and we spent the remainder of recess together on the swing set.
As I reflect on that hilariously uncomfortable first attempt at friendship, it occurs to me that making (and keeping) friends as a grown-up doesn’t feel that different. Too often, adult friendship looks like an elaborate game of hide-and-seek, complete with long pauses between texts, rescheduled dates, and apologies galore. Too often, it’s easy to slip into the habits and routines of our daily schedules and allow friendship and community to fall to the wayside.
Is it worth it? With so many other pressing matters at hand (including but not limited to family, church, work, vacation, exercise, volunteer opportunities, politics, and social media), should Christians make friendship—particularly friendship with other believers—a priority?
More Than a Friend
Recently I rewatched the Lord of the Rings trilogy and found myself struck by its radical portrayal of friendship. Samwise and Frodo. Merry and Pippin. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli. Friends who quite literally follow each other to the ends of the earth, who are willing to put their own lives on the line before allowing their friends to fall into harm’s way. It reminds me of a particular verse in the Bible that points us to the example set by the best Friend we could ever have. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NIV).
However, as one of my friends recently pointed out to me, Jesus is more than just a friend. He is our friend and our Lord. “You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14–15 ESV, emphasis mine).
Friendship and Obedience
Friendship with Jesus and obedience to Jesus are inseparable. The Holy Spirit not only supplies us with the power to live out such a high calling (and the grace to catch us when we inevitably fail), He also provides Christian community to help us along the way. These relationships are where gospel-centered friendship comes into play.
Gospel-centered friendship is a relationship among people who share a common dependence on and love for Jesus Christ. It is a friendship built around the core of the Christian faith. It requires a level of accountability, intentionality, and sacrifice that is distinct from other relationships and rooted in the finished work of Jesus. Gospel-centered friendship is impossible unless both parties are fully committed to living a life shaped by the gospel of Christ.
Help Along the Way
One of the most important but most neglected aspects of gospel-centered friendship is accountability. Our fellow travelers on the narrow path Jesus calls us to follow are given the unique responsibility to speak the truth in love when we stumble. A true friend is someone who loves you enough to graciously call you out on your sin, even when it stings. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6).
Gospel-centered friendships are rooted in a willingness to talk about the hard things in life. There is a freedom to discuss the bad habits you can't seem to shake. When an impossible family situation arises, you can turn to a faithful friend. If you struggle to get out of bed each morning, it doesn't have to be kept in the dark. Gospel-centered friendship roots both parties deeply in hope and truth.
A Costly Investment
Sometimes investing in friendships as an adult feels as easy and natural as swinging side by side on the playground. Sometimes it feels a little bit like stalking as you reach out to that one friend whose list of strengths does not include communication and attempt to coordinate your schedules.
Remember that time Samwise Gamgee almost drowned following Frodo into a river because he didn’t want him to journey alone?
Sometimes, friendships feel like that.
Another aspect of gospel-centered friendship that sets it apart is sacrificial love: a love that mirrors that of our Savior. A Savior who, bruised and bloodied, shouldered the weight of sins that were not his own, carried a cross up a hill, and died an agonizing death upon it, all for the ones He calls His friends.
At All Times
If a friendship is rooted in faith, it will not always be comfortable. Gospel-centered friendship may involve lovingly confronting a friend who is straying from the path they profess to follow. Grace in that friendship may mean sitting in silence with a friend caught in crippling grief or anxiety. Loving that friend may require clearing a spot in your already overwhelming schedule to talk on the phone or grab coffee with someone who needs the companionship. According to Proverbs 17:17, a friend loves “at all times”—the good, the bad, and the inconvenient.
So pick up your phone. Text that friend. Set that date. And if you have to reschedule because life keeps getting in the way, do it. Your fellow travelers will understand.
It may be hard, yes. But it will absolutely be worth it.
Your friend, Kati Lynn
Kati Lynn is a writer, doodler, and storyteller who is slowly but surely learning how to live loved by Jesus. She enjoys hanging out with teenagers who keep her up to date on meme culture and is especially passionate about the ways faith, mental health, and media intersect. You can keep up with her musings on her blog and Instagram @justanotherdavis.