Adult friendships don’t come easily, do they? Christine Hoover knows this well enough. She discovered she’d been holding a shattered wish-dream of ideal friendship in her hands, and God Himself had graciously done the splintering because He had something real and rich to offer instead. A new picture of friendship emerged for her, one that she shares with us in her new book Messy Beautiful Friendship— It’s a grace to welcome Christine to the farm’s front porch today…
The words came through an email and, as I’d skimmed through, I at first assumed I hadn’t read them correctly.
My heart began beating quickly as I reread the first few lines and saw that, in fact, I’d read it right the first time.
The biting words sunk in deep.
A friend had misunderstood me and not given me the benefit of the doubt, and she was writing to let me know I had disappointed her.
We’ve all been hurt by someone we considered a friend, whether it’s an inconsiderate word or an unexpected betrayal.
I’ve discovered that when it happens to me, as it did through that email, it’s my natural tendency, like many others, to pull away, erect protective barriers around my vulnerability, and let the friendship fade into the background as if it never existed.
Sometimes, when the wound is especially deep, our tendency is not just to write the friend off but also to write friendship off.
We’re hurt so badly that we give ourselves over to cynicism, bitterness, and resentment and we wonder if friendship is worth the risk of wading through the emotions and hurts, attempting reconciliation, and making ourselves vulnerable again.
We are friendly and sociable at a safe distance, but heart-level friendship?
It’s too hard and too risky, or, as we’ve already established, it never quite lives up to our exacting wish-dreams.
With that ideal view in mind, it’s far too easy to feel insecure about or frustrated with reality.
I tend to want to cast the responsibility or the blame for my imperfect friendships on others, but it works both ways.
Sometimes I am the one who hurts others, something I inadvertently did this year.
Although my friend whom I hurt brought it to my attention, at first I remained blind to the way I was wounding her, wanting to blame her instead. But she brought it to my attention again, just as clear and gentle as the first time, and I finally saw what my protective barriers had kept me from seeing and how they had been used as weapons instead of defense.
This friend challenged me to stay in the friendship and work through our differences rather than keep my distance, something that felt risky to me but in the end has been worth it and, I know, honors the Lord.
Isn’t this what true, biblical friendship is about: being willing to love, forgive, and bear with those we might not necessarily always understand? And being willing to confess sin, inadvertent or not, and receive the grace that helps us grow?
This is certainly more what it’s about than dinner parties and game nights. Biblical friendship is what helps us grow; it sharpens us just as we are used by God to sharpen others.
Over coffee, a young woman in my church and I discussed these things together, about how we have this stubborn belief that friendship can actually be what we ideally picture in our heads.
She said she wished people would invite her to more things and talked about how it seemed like everyone was always getting together without her.
I said I sometimes envied certain relationships and resented that I wasn’t included in them. After confessing our self-focused thoughts to one another, our conversation turned to what true friendship is and what it looks like in reality.
Isn’t it, we said, an ongoing effort? Doesn’t it require commitment and perseverance?
Isn’t it having to deal biblically with our inevitable hurts, being quick to forgive, crossing life-stage boundaries, and refusing to put other women in categories?
Isn’t it pushing through discomfort and refusing to give up on people even when they disappoint us?
And perhaps the most important question:
Isn’t it the greater blessing to be a person who seeks this type of community rather than clinging to false ideals and waiting for it to just “happen” to us?
Instead of holding fast to our ideals, we need to cling to a new definition of friendship, one that allows for awkwardness and risk and fumbling through, because isn’t the road of true friendship paved by these very things?
Paul offers us a definition for friendship that we’d do better to cling to than our false ideals:
Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
But above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Col. 3:12-15)
Paul certainly goes beyond vacationing together and making small talk and waiting for someone else to initiate.
He exhorts us to actively pursue being a godly friend to others—to actively pursue being patient, forgiving, loving, and being thankful for others as we relate to them.
We don’t do these things because we hope to get something in return, friendship or whatever else.
We do these things because that is how Christ showed His love toward us — and because biblical friendship will always model itself after Him.
The focus is on what we give to others — not what they give to us.
Christine Hoover is a church planting pastor’s wife, mom to three boys, and author of The Church Planting Wife and From Good to Grace. Through her blog, Grace Covers Me, she enjoys encouraging women to apply gospel truths to their honest thoughts, especially in the areas of grace, community, ministry, and friendship. Her work has appeared on Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, For The Church, and Incourage.
Women long for deep and lasting friendships but often find them challenging to make. Her new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships, explores the joys and complexities of friendship among women. With stories of real friendships and guidance drawn from Scripture, Christine encourages women to intentionally and purposefully invest in one of the most rewarding relationships God has given us.
[ Our humble thanks to Baker for their partnership in today’s devotion ]