The Beginnings of Friendship

I read the most surprising thing in the Bible last week. It not only seemed strange but I always believed the opposite was true. As soon as I read it I stopped, “I am going to have to think about this one… that makes no sense to me.”

“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him”
Psalm 25:14

I must have scanned over this many, many times over the years. I looked at it with fresh eyes.

Friendship with God is connected to fear of God.

I don’t know about you but I’ve heard quite a few “fear of the Lord” sermons in my lifetime. I’ve even read a few books on the topic. None of them left me feeling like God’s friend. Not in the least bit. In fact, I’ve often heard in these sermons, “Stop making God merely your buddy and friend… we need to have a healthy fear of God and his holiness!”

That’s not what God says. He says friendship is for those who fear.

What am I getting wrong? Why don’t those two legos fit?

Then it struck me.

Friendship is Being Known

The holiness of God is deeply connected to God being God, not a mere man. God being perfect in all his ways. Being righteous and unchanging as opposed to sinful and fickle.

When we come to God as a Holy God, we are basically saying, “Ok, you are not an idol that I make in my own image. You are the true God that is who He is. I don’t shape you, you shape me. I don’t decide who you are, you reveal who you are.”

This is the beginning of friendship, isn’t it? To know someone for who they truly are. For someone to be vulnerable enough to be truly themselves without hiding.

I don’t step in and say, “To be my friend, you actually need to be like this.” When that is said, there is no possibility for friendship.

Marriages often go through phases where one of us wants to change the other. Sometimes the phase turns into a lifetime. We think in our mind, “If only you would be a little bit more like this or a little less like that.” When I go down that path, the creeping distance between my husband and I is almost tangible. Even though I never said a word of it to him. I am not allowing him to be who he is.

So, friendship with God is not just connected to his closeness and humility, it is deeply connected to his holiness. For Him to be who He is, and us to humble ourselves and allow Him to reveal that, is the beginning of true friendship with him.

Friendship is Standing in Truth

Holiness is also deeply connected with truth. I don’t see scripture refer to holiness without truth being deeply weaved in. Lies, deception and sin do not go together with fear of a holy God.

God’s holiness is also his sinlessness. We can be friends with God because there is not sin and deception.

The same cannot be said of people and our friendships. Friendship with anyone is fraught with difficulty because of our fallen nature. On offer is to enter the realm where I see who you are in Christ and also see who you are apart from Him.

Perhaps that’s why poets through the ages have always said finding a true friend is so rare. It is a scary and dangerous path to tread.

When I am messy and sinful I’m not just saying, “Accept me!”. I also say, “I’m allowing you to see parts of me you won’t approve of it all!”. It’s risking that we will choose to steadfastly communicate through the hurt and pain that comes with seeing people for who they truly are.

Friendship is standing in truth for one another despite how dark the circumstance.

Where does friendship with God begin? With me humbling myself and saying to God, “I want to see you for who you truly are, not who I want to shape you in to.” It’s realising that truth makes this possible and sin would destroy it but for His grace.

Where does friendship with one another begin? With each person humbly saying, “It’s safe here for us to expose who we truly are… even when it gets ugly and painful. Stand in and for truth on my behalf and I’ll do the same for you.”

Friendship with the Lord is for those who fear Him. It’s more true than I first realised.

Photo Creditfr: Elizabeth Albert

I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.

I have social gathering anxiety. The thought of a “meet and greet” causes anxiety and sweaty palms. I know many of you identify. Just the thought of making small talk with strangers… excuse me while I go breathe into a paper bag.

A while ago I was in church. After a few songs we all paused to “turn and greet those around you”. Afterwards I whispered to my husband, “If we ever pastor a church, this will be the first thing to go.” He smiled, agreeing, but also knowing that it’s my absolute least favorite part of church. Randomly greeting people I don’t know is not my idea of a good time.

A few weeks ago I was reading through the Gospel of John and came across these words of Jesus:

“I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you.”

I paused and thought long and hard about this simple promise of Jesus.

He will come to us. He will move towards us. He will seek us out.

Who?  Those who have been left behind, abandoned, excluded. Those who are not yet part of the family. Those who are grieving and mourning a deep loss.

Isn’t this such a characteristic of Jesus: taking initiative and going towards others. This is opposed to passively waiting for people to come towards Him. Jesus says, “I will come to you”.

When He does, I should then find others and go towards them.

I want to do that, even with my sweaty palms and awkward questions. I don’t want to find out there are those without “family” around me and I never went towards them. Not because I feel guilty but because Jesus came to me and that made all the difference in the world.

What about you? Who are those “orphans” among and around you? Here’s a few ideas.

The Stranger:

It should make us severely uncomfortable to see people who are not brought in and included. When you are in any gathering, seek out those who have not been included. Move towards them and find ways to bring them in. Let there be no strangers among you, because that is the promise of Jesus to us.

The Condemned:

Moral failure, professional failure, relational failure. When someone is walking a road of failure, the condemnation is heavy. It is so easy to resort to callous, “Well, if they made this mess, they will have to clean it up! If they want help they should ask!” We need to find ways to seek these people out.

For a long time, if I knew someone that had messed up badly I would tend to leave them alone. After all, my reasoning went, I didn’t want to embarrass them further. I didn’t realise how wrong I was. No matter how embarrassing and awkward, consistently reaching out with a simple visit, phone call or text message is powerful to those struggling to find their way.

The Grieving:

Grieving people are not just those who have experienced death. It can be anyone who is in a season of loss. A loss of a loved one. Those going through divorce. The experience of a broken relationship. A parent who is watching their child walk a path that is inflicting great pain and damage on their life. Those who have just experienced a mis-carriage.

In times like this we should not wait for them to ask for what they need (although they could). Find ways to move towards them, seeking them out often and gently.

The Awkward:

This is specifically for American culture. Let me tell you one thing I have learned about Americans as I’ve lived overseas. We do not like awkward people. We don’t know what to do with them, they make us uncomfortable, and we wish they would just disappear.

We will tolerate all sorts of mistreatment towards awkward people. We prefer those around us to have amazing social skills with a light touch of hilarious sarcasm. I’m convinced Jesus would seek out the awkward ones in our midst if he showed up today. We’d all be scratching our heads, confused and wondering, “Why is he wasting his time with them?” If you want to be like Jesus, don’t orphan the awkward in your midst, go towards them.

What about you? Do you take opportunities to go towards the orphans in your midst? Who could use some of your initiative in their life right now?

Good Leaders Have Good Friends

It seems to me that so much of the dysfunctions of leadership that I have seen over and over (and over and over) could be avoided. Leaders who wound others, leaders who are caught up in sin, leaders who trip themselves up by their lack of self-awareness. All these things could be prevented… if only those leaders had a real friend.

Many leaders don’t have healthy friendships. I’m nervous around leaders whom I observe are not able to build and maintain healthy and true friendships.

Of course, I’ve heard all the excuses leaders make:

“People just want something from me”
“People don’t see me as their equal”
“People don’t understand my unique challenges”

So much isolation, deception and danger in each of those three phrases.

Leaders need friends because leaders are normal people. I think being a leader also adds unique urgency to having and maintaing healthy friendship.

Here are three qualities of friendship that leaders and everyone else needs:

Friends who wound.

Solomon once said “The wounds of a friend can be trusted”. We all need friends who don’t just encourage, they know it is safe to wound us. Wound us by telling us the gut-honest truth about ourselves. Wound us by calling us out on the antics we pull. Leader, so many of your present and future mistakes could be avoided if you just had a friend who would tell you the gut-honest truth. The truth your “followers” only dream of saying.

True friends do that because they have the safety and trust to do it. Plus, their job is not at stake by getting in your face. I bet if you told a friend about criticism you were receiving they might say, “Well, you have been grumpy lately and you get negative when you do that… I bet your people aren’t enjoying working under that, I wouldn’t!”

Leaders need friends who are willing to wound.

Friends who are around.

“Personal coaches” is a trend that can be dangerous if used inappropriately. I talked to a leader recently and asked how they are getting feedback. They replied, “Oh, I meet with the most amazing mentor and they are very honest with me.”

Here’s the problem with this approach. Those mentors and coaches are often a once-off meeting every other week. The coach has very little daily contact with you in real life, with the people you lead. The coach doesn’t have to sit through the horrendous meetings you lead. They don’t see how rude your tone of voice can come across. They don’t see how you shut down your people with passive-aggresive statements. When you are enduring criticism, you give your version of events to your coach or mentor. It’s one sided and deceptive.

A friend is someone who is around the day to day. They don’t see you just in a 1-hour appointment at an office or coffee shop. They see you with your family, they see your interactions with others in a very mundane way.

With true friends, we can’t just present one side of the story, because they see the whole thing. A friend knows our strengths and weaknesses. There is safety in that.

Leaders need friends who are around.

Friends who don’t leave.

You know what my definition of leadership is? Leadership is making mistakes publicly, one day at a time.

I cringe at the mistakes I have made. I feel grateful that people bothered to work with me when I was less than enjoyable to work with (to put it mildly).

Everyone makes mistakes but leaders make them publicly, day after day. You are a dangerous leader if you don’t know this.

So, how is one to survive? Through faithful friends who stick with us in good times and bad times.

People will come and go. Some staff  will join with high expectations of you and leave with total disappointment in your leadership. Leaders need friends who see our successes and encourage us. Leaders need friends who see our failures and stand by us saying, “don’t give up”.

This provides the stability and safety to rejoice in our victories and own our mistakes. Unconditional love tends to do that. Leaders who don’t have honest, long-term, and unconditional friends can tend to be insecure and insular. The sad thing is everyone else sees it but them.

Leaders need friends who don’t leave.

If you are a leader, do you have the friends needed to succeed in this journey?

The Road Less Traveled

Last week I left my house for a late afternoon run. I’m a hoofer who plods along slowly. Seeing me run would probably evoke less images of a light-footed deer and more images of a stray elephant looking for it’s herd. But, I digress.

road-less-traveledThat evening was beautiful; still, cool air and beautiful clouds. I love running at that time of day, the streets are full of people walking home after a long day at work. There are large groups of gossiping Mama’s noisily giving the updates of the day. Weary fathers, pushing their young daughter home from pre-school. Dusty men returning home after a hard day of manual labour.

That evening I took my normal route along the busiest roads, past the buzzing taxi ranks and weaving along semi-crowded sidewalks. The next morning I woke up to learn that 30 minutes after I had run, there was a shooting along my route, killing several. It was part of week of rising violence in our neighborhood.

I told several people how close I had come to witnessing the violence. Several replied, “Why do you run there? It is not a safe area!” I could choose another route that takes me through quiet and calm neighborhoods. But, here’s the deal. Those quiet and calm neighborhoods feel dangerous to me because I’m alone. There is safety and security for me as long as I’m surround by the noisy Mama’s, weary fathers and dusty laborers.

I have changed my running route for now, until the violence calms down. But I’m looking for other busy paths that take me along roads where others travel.

There is an old saying, “God will not give you more than you can bear.” It’s not in scripture but we like to think it is. It’s not even true. There’s five words missing. Those five words make it more close to what scripture says all the time. Those five words are: “with the help of others”.

“God will not give you more than you can bear with the help of others”

This idea that we are radical individuals who should do everything on our own is a lie. So many of us desperately cling to this lie as if it is a life vest or a badge of pride. The reality? It’s like trying to swim down a white water river while holding on to a boulder. This go alone strategy can become our undoing.

We need people. And with the help of others… together we can bear so much. With others holding us up, we exchange our individual weakness for the the strength of community.

Jesus did this. Three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, facing his darkest hour, he asked the disciples for help. Think about that. The Savior of the world wanted friends to help him carry his burden.

Today we glorify the famous words of Robert Frost and seek after “the road less traveled.” While loneliness and difficult decisions are certainly part of our journey at times, going it alone should never be the ideal we praise.

Traveling on a road less traveled sounds so heroic. But I’m taking my strategy from Jesus. I’m choosing a road well traveled with people within shouting distance. When something feels too heavy to carry, I can bear it with the help of others.

In what areas do you need to reach out and ask for help? What’s stopping you from doing that today?