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/
“We are going to meet one of my old college friends tomorrow,” I informed the kids.
“Do they have children?” one of the boys asked.
“Yes,” I responded and showed them pictures of the family.
It’s remarkable to me how quickly children make friends. They barely need to meet a new child before they are off running and playing together. I guess I find it remarkable because I don't find friendship to be that easy. For me, it's sometimes quite hard.
Friendship is Hard
It seems effortless for children to form friendships and perhaps it is. When a relationship is centered on talking about video games, sports, and favorite super heroes, such relationships are easy and don’t take much work. Eventually though, we all move out of childhood and learn that friendship isn’t so easy. Especially friendships that are deep, real, and lasting. Such friendships are often hard to make and sometimes just as hard to keep.
To begin with, finding friends who are willing to share their real self is hard. Our natural inclination is to talk about surface things. We prefer relationships that are comfortable and uncomplicated. It takes time to develop that level of trust with someone else where we feel safe sharing our innermost thoughts, feelings, struggles, sins, dreams, and heartaches. Indeed, this kind of friendship is a rare treasure.
Friendships are also hard to keep. They can hurt. Sometimes friends hurt us and sometimes we hurt them. I remember when my best friend in high school made a new best friend and then mocked me and my faith in front of everyone else. As an adult, I’ve had dear friends cut off our friendship without notice or reason. Friendships can also be lost over time and distance. I've grieved friends who left our church for greener pastures and those that have moved far away. And sometimes we lose our friends to even death itself.
Here’s the truth: Friendship is hard. Not the simple surface level friendships my kids have on the playground or out on the soccer field. Rather, making and keeping real, authentic, see-me-as-I-really-am, sacrificial, and honest friendship is hard.
Because we are sinful: It seems like a Sunday School answer but it’s true. Relationships are hard and messy because of sin. In our sin nature, we are selfish and self-centered. We ultimately care about ourselves first before anyone else. We want to talk rather than listen. We want people to care about our problems rather than pour into theirs. We are prideful and don’t want anyone to tell us we’ve done something wrong. We’d rather act as though our life is perfect than admit that we are weak and helpless. We are mean and hurtful and envious and unforgiving. It’s amazing that we ever make friends to begin with!
But God has not left us alone in our sinfulness. He gives us grace upon grace. Through the all encompassing power of the gospel, we can have good friendships. In spite of our sin, the gospel enables us to love one another as Christ has loved us. Christ cares deeply about our friendships with one another. He loves his Bride. He went to great lengths to rescue and redeem her. He will ensure her unity.
We expect more from our friendships than we should: Because we forget about this sin nature in ourselves and in our friends, we tend to expect more from our friends than we should. We are surprised when they forget something important. We are hurt when they don’t respond to our needs right away. We are resentful when they say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, or don’t live up to our expectations. When we view our friendships without the understanding of sin, both ours and theirs, we can respond in shock and surprise when such friendships hurt.
We don’t realize the hard work involved: Friendship is like any relationship; it takes hard work. It also takes intentionality. It takes a willingness to forgive and overlook offenses. It takes time and effort. Friendship isn’t always equally balanced. Sometimes we might have to work harder than the other person for a while. We might have to take the first step and initiate needed conversations. We might need to lay down our own needs for the sake of theirs.
Our identity can get wrapped up in our friendships: Another reason we can face problems with our friendships is sometimes we find our sense of meaning and belonging from our friendships. We can look to our friends to define us and give us our worth. This can be dangerous. When they say something hurtful, aren’t there for us, or even move away, we can feel lost and abandoned. While we do need each other and will often rely on one another for help and support, our identity ought to come not from what our friend's think of us, but of what Christ thinks of us. We need to draw our meaning from who we are in Christ, not who we are in relationship with others.
Yes, friendship is hard. But it is worth the effort to work hard to make and keep friendships. The Bride of Christ is worth the effort. Our Savior thought so; we should too.
"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).