Christina Fox received her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey Through the Psalms of Lament and Closer Than a Sister: How Union with Christ helps Friendships to Flourish. You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and www.Facebook.com/
My friends and I like to get together for what we call "girls night." It's a fun evening where we enjoy our favorite foods, share stories, and laugh. Okay, maybe it's more like giggle. Because that's what girls do, right? And most importantly, we stay out late, at least past the time when our kids go to bed.
Friendship is a treasured gift. It's a joy to talk with others about common interests and shared delights. It’s fun to tell stories together of the silly things our kids said or did. It's also fun to exchange ideas and advice on all the things we care about with our closest friends.
But the true test of friendship is when life gets messy.
It's easy to be friends with people when life is simple and carefree. It's easy to hang out with friends who only want to talk about the latest sales at the mall or their summer vacation plans. And it's especially easy to talk with friends who are upbeat about life.
But when life gets hard and there is no laughter to share, that's when friendship is seen for what it truly is. When life gets messy, that's where the rubber meets the road.
I recently had one of those days where my mask was torn away and the real me stood there in front of one of my dear friends. My children were behaving at their worst and to be honest, I was embarrassed by it. I felt out of control and helpless. You can't get more real than when children are tantruming and Mommy is too.
The truth is, real life is messy. You can’t be a friend with someone for long without facing the realities of living in this fallen world. The fun times do not last forever. Grief and loss cuts into our peace. Uncertainty and financial struggle impedes our carefully laid plans. Trials and hardship interfere with our dreams. And we carry the weight of those things into our interactions with others.
When a friend is suffering and their life is falling to pieces or when they are trapped in sin and the fallout is great or when there is conflict and unkind words or when they've hit a wall in their faith, that's when friendship gets messy. And how we react to seeing our friend at their worst shows more about the depth of our friendship than anything else.
As believers, just how do we live in messy community?
For Christians, messy community is everyday reality. Yes, Christian friendship certainly enjoys fun fellowship and shared laughter, but we are also very aware of the heartaches of life. We know that the effects of the fall are far reaching and run deep. We know that each and every one of us is a sinner, has been sinned against, and lives with the effects of sin every day of our life.
Our Savior showed us the way of messy community. He touched the dirty and diseased and ate with the outcasts. He washed the feet of his disciples. He didn't keep conversations at the level of small talk; he got right to the heart of what was happening in people's lives (John 4). He didn't deny the sinfulness of the people he ministered to; he met them right where they were, in the muck and mire of their lives and showed them his grace. When he encountered the sin and messiness of people's lives, he pointed them to what they needed most: himself.
Likewise, as Christ followers, we too see the sins, struggles, and sorrows in one another and rather than balk, react in surprise, or run away, we point each other to Christ. When a friend is lost and confused in the faith, we reorient and remind them of Whose they are and where they are headed. When a friend is heartbroken and overwhelmed by the pains of life, we help them find the hope and comfort they need most, from Christ, the Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3). When a friend has sinned, we remind them of the forgiveness they have through gospel of Christ.
As believers, we engage the messiness of this life together. We walk into the dark unknown valleys of this fallen world head on and side by side. We know that we are at war and in wartime, things are not always pretty. The battles we face against sin, the world, and the devil are often fierce. We expect and know that there will be pain and heartache; wounds and scars. We are not afraid of getting involved in the trials and struggles of each other's lives (Hebrews 3:13, 10:24). We know that real community gets right there on the floor and sits in the dust and ashes of life and mourns alongside the hurting (Romans 12:15).
As I apologized to my friend for myself and my kids that day, she smiled with grace and nodded. I knew she was thinking, "You too?" Because as a fellow believer, she knows that we all are messy, sin-stained, and broken. And that's why Christian friendship doesn't shy away from the mess of one another's lives, for we are united in Christ. We are in it together. Your mess becomes my mess and mine is yours. We stand side by side, in the muck and mire of life, looking to Jesus, the One who met us in our sin and took it upon himself, so that we might be cleansed forever.
How about you? Have you experienced messy community?