“Will you be my friend?”

To my surprise, making friends is one of people’s deepest insecurities, fears and longings. We think it is an issue for little kids, but it’s not.  To simply have a friend is one of the most affirming and life-giving things we can have. I have talked to hundreds of students, friends and acquaintances, many of them weeping, because they felt that they simply didn’t have a true friend. On top of that, they didn’t know how to get one.

If I’m honest, I have been in the same boat. I’ve spent many years longing for true friendship and feeling like it was unattainable for me.

In my journey, here’s what I’ve realised. Friendship happens through initiative. Someone took initiative. Jesus did it. Those who he called his friends were people he actually sought out. He loved the crowds but enjoyed friendship with the disciples. I remember a time in my life when I was so insecure, so afraid of being hurt by others that I simply didn’t have real friends.

I went through several years of blaming it on outside circumstances. I’m embarrassed to say, these are just a few of the lies that I used to hide myself from true friendship.

  • There is no one around that I “click” with.
  • People are so busy.
  • No one understands me.
  • No one seems interested in me, they have their own friend groups.
  • I’m a leader (in a Christian org). No one will see me for me, they will just see me as a leader.
  • I’m an introvert, I don’t need people.
  • People can’t be trusted.

Lies, lies, lies. Some of them pathetic. Some of them truly sad. Some of them arrogant. It doesn’t matter if they were true or false, they kept me lonely and isolated.

It took years of some gentle and sometimes not so gentle correction from God. I have thankfully grown-up (a bit) and now have a multitude of true, sincere and loving friends.

Here is some of my process:
i_need_friends1. Admit I needed friends. I needed friends not because I was weak but because I was like God. God, in all eternity past and present, is in relationship in the trinity. God doesn’t do it on his own, neither should I. If I have no friends I will be lonely, that is a fact for me and everyone else.

2. Stop the excuses and lies. Here’s the truth: I don’t have friends because I have chosen not to have friends. I may have valid hurts that led me to this (and boy I do!), but I needed to admit this was a choice.

3. I opened myself up to hurt. You can not love deeply if you do not deeply risk the possibility to be hurt. If anyone tells you that healthy friendships will not hurt you, then they haven’t read the Bible. Even Jesus’s friends let him down. I will let others down, they will let me down. I could protect myself from hurt. But in the same action, I am preventing myself from loving and being loved. The only road to loving friendship is the road of vulnerability.

4. Repeat after me, “Anyone can be a possible friend”: I will not be friends with everyone (impossible and unhealthy) but I can possibly be friends with anyone.  I stopped being a legalistic person and demanding people to meet a certain criteria for friendship. I don’t want it done to me and I shouldn’t do it to others. Some friends stick, some don’t, it’s ok. I now have friends from all stripes and colours of life. Some of my closest friends are NOTHING like me… what an unexpected blessing.

5. Take initiative, take initiative, take initiative.  In the midst of doing all the above internal work I just stepped out and started taking initiative. It was scary! But I didn’t wait passively. I gathered friends. I invited people to coffee. I chose to be the first to open up. I did this over and over and over. Sometimes it was awkward and didn’t work. But I didn’t give up. I made a decision: even if no one invites me to their home, I will never stop inviting them in to mine. Here’s the gut-level honesty: It took a few years for people to reciprocate like I hoped. Years!! But I was a bull-dog and I didn’t stop (no matter how much I wanted to shut down). I now have loving, deep and life-giving friends… who also invite me over as much as I invite them! Phew!

When being a bad Mom is a good thing.

A few years ago I was commiserating about my children. Do you ever have those moments? I mean, they are wonderful, I love them, I couldn’t imagine life with out them. If I am honest as a parent, I see their areas of growth.

I had been working on them very deliberately on admitting mistakes, owning their actions and apologising (with eye contact, full admission, the whole nine yards!). After several months, I actually felt like they were going backwards. Lots of blame, mumbled “I’m sorries” and don’t even hope for eye contact… that seemed just too much to ask.

I was wallowing in my parenting failure, adjusting my expectations on what success could look like. Finally, as a last resort I took it to God (will I ever learn?!).

God’s response to my frustration was swift and in the form of a question. “How do they know what this is supposed to look like?”.

I was just as swift and prepared to answer! “Well, I have explained it to them a hundred times, I’m quick to jump in and gently guide… I even give them a script to repeat after me! They just won’t do it! They’ve obviously got a genetic disorder that prevents them from saying ‘I’m sorry’ and admitting mistakes!”

i_was_wrongAnd then God laid his gentle hammer on my blindness, “How do they know what it is supposed to look like if they’ve never seen it in you?”.

Oh… gulp.

I let it sink in. I couldn’t think of the last time I apologised to them. This wasn’t because there was a shortage of things to apologise for. But it became even bigger. When was the last time I confessed a sin to them about anything? When was the last time, in our nightly prayer times, I asked for them to pray for me about an area of growth I was working on? When was the last time I told them, “I had a bad day today, I hurt someone with my words”.

This wasn’t about me burdening my kids with my adult problems. But it was about showing to them the level of humility, transparency and ownership that real relationships require.

How would they know how to walk in humility and weakness if they had never actually seen it in action? Especially from their own parents.

The clincher was this. Telling them, with my words, that there is grace for sin and mistakes is not enough. Why? Because Mom is demonstrating with her facade of perfection that there really isn’t grace to be broken and imperfect.

I now realise a new truth. Often the most powerful demonstration that there is grace in our house is not Mom saying, “You’re forgiven”, it is Mom saying “I need forgiveness”.

Here are 4 things I did over the next months and years to reverse course in our house:

  1. I asked the Holy Spirit to convict me of when I sinned against my children. When that happened I immediately went to them, got on their level, looked them in the eye, admitted what I had done, and asked for their forgiveness.  This was not always easy. Often they had also sinned against me and I wanted to focus on that!

  2. I asked for them to pray for me at night. Each night we read the Bible and pray. I now occasionally say something like this, “Boys, I’ve really been struggling with coveting… wanting what others have for myself. Will you please pray for me?” (Their eyes got as big as saucers the first time I said this which was encouraging and convicting at the same time)

  3. When we read the Bible we often stop and talk about what is happening in the passage. If there is a bad or good behaviour to be learned from I will sometimes say something like this: “I want to obey God like Abraham did in that story. I’m going to pray and ask God to give me the courage to do that.”

  4. In general conversation I try to be more open about mistakes and failures. Not a big heavy or all the time. Simply saying, “I had an interesting day, I said something that hurt a friends feelings and felt terrible. It was hard but I eventually went to them and made it right.” Even better, find opportunities to apologise to my husband in their full hearing and sight. It’s as simple as saying, “I’m sorry, babe, that tone of voice sounded rude, forgive me.”

What are your ideas on how to create a home of vulnerability and grace?

Conflict in Marriage: These are the Rules of Fight Club

In my own marriage we have had our fare share of disagreements.  We have argued, disagreed, been in conflict, fought well, fought poorly… you know, general married stuff.

Fight ClubRecently, I was talking about this to another married woman.  She talked about how challenging their marriage was because of the constant conflict.  I quickly understood it was more than the “general married stuff”.  There was always conflict.  Always.  I asked her what they fought about. She began to list pretty much everything you could imagine.  Now, there were obviously deeper issues going on.  But, it got me to thinking. An important part of marriage is to know when it is healthy to be at odds and when it is healthy to “just let it go”.

The Bible lives in some sort of tension with this.  In one place it says, “it is to one’s glory to overlook an offence” (Prov 19:11) and in another place, “speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

What are principals for when to confront and speak hard truth to your spouse and when do you just “let it go” and “move on”?

If we bring up every issue that annoys, hurts or aggravates, we will have an emotionally volatile, draining and suffocating relationship. We will have a relationship where there is constant drama and it is never safe to be your imperfect self.

If we never speak hard truth then we have no relationship at all.  A good relationship is not problem-free  It is when we can be honest, say hard things, ask forgiveness and extend forgiveness.

How do we know when something should be overlooked and when it should be confronted?

Here are 5 questions we can ask ourselves:
1. Is it sin?  If it is sin, then sin needs attention.  Sin destroys marriage.  If we ignore sin then we are allowing a destroyer to live in our marriages.
2.  Is it actually my issue?  Here is something I ask myself regularly, “Was my husband being impatient or am I having a bad day and being overly sensitive?”  Often when we consider an issue we can be honest and say, “I’m over reacting and just need to go to bed”. Honesty with ourselves keeps true peace and blesses our spouse!
3.  Does the issue break trust? Sometimes the issue is not sin and it is definitely my own issues.  But, it is still important to confront because it breaks trust.  For example, when my husband teases me about being disorganised.  That is not a sin.  It affects me because it is actually my issue… I overreact every time! (I know, I have issues)  But, repeated teasing in this area breaks my trust with him and he knows that.  So, I confront him, communicate my sensitivity and he stops.
4. Is it ongoing and repetitive? It is one thing if I had a bad day and was emotionally absent from my husband.  In grace he forgives me, lets it go and loves me.  But if this behaviour is frequent and ongoing then it needs to be brought up and dealt with.

A healthy marriage overlooks a multitude of offences and speaks truth in love.   Grace and truth always go together.

What are your rules for Fight Club?  When do you know to walk in grace and when to walk in truth?