Gary Clayton explains why the just make good friends
Making friends not only requires a certain amount of courage and vulnerability, it also means being proactive.
At the end of secondary school, I wanted to keep in touch with someone, but couldn’t be sure he wanted to remain in contact with me. But the more I tried raising the issue, the harder it became. Sometimes I’d lose my nerve before asking. Sometimes I left it too late and it was time to go home.
When the final day dawned, I knew I had to do something. But again, words failed me! Eventually, I scribbled something down on a scrappy piece of paper.
The note contained my telephone number and a brief message: ‘After seven years, the residents of this particular prison are now free. Would you like to keep in touch with one of the inmates?’ I thrust it into his hand and ran off.
The next day, I got a call. It was my friend. “Would you like to come over for lunch?” I agreed. We had a great time. Later, we went on holiday together. Eventually, through God’s grace and my friend’s prayers and encouragement, I became a Christian. Painful though it was, it was a friendship worth initiating!
God in His goodness puts people in our path for different reasons. Some help to heal or encourage us, others appear so we can help them. “God,” a friend once said, “puts people on our hearts, and we find something delightful about them.” Other – less nourishing – relationships test our sanctity, and encourage spiritual growth through suffering or forbearance.
But why do people become friends? Some look for those who can give them a career boost or do something for them. Others search for a kindred spirit. Some look for those with a similar outlook or sense of humour. For others, it’s a shoulder to cry on or someone to complain to. For some, it’s about having someone to serve Christ with or share special interests.
“Friendship,” said CS Lewis, “is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You, too? I thought I was the only one.’
Whatever the reason, there are often barriers to break before friendship can occur. Perhaps we need to open up about our hopes, dreams or fears, or explain what we’re really like. Or perhaps it means inviting someone over for a meal, to the cinema, or to some kind of sporting activity.
It may mean being comfortable enough to pray with someone or study the Bible, or being so at ease with someone that you don’t mind them making a friendly joke at your expense. If you look at teenage boys, it probably involves play fighting.
1 John 4:18 tells us, ‘perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.’ Although this refers to God’s love, the principle has some bearing on friendship. The need to reach out means overcoming our fear of ‘punishment’ – of being rejected, embarrassed or made to feel foolish.
You can’t eat with someone you’re not comfortable with. You can’t laugh with someone you hate. You can’t open your heart to someone you don’t trust, or hug someone who’s likely to reject you. You can’t do sport with someone who might look down on you if you can’t exercise, swim or play squash or football as well as they do. Doing these things requires vulnerability.
But what does it mean to be ‘friends’ with someone? Herod and Pilate ‘became friends’ because of how they treated Jesus (Luke 23:12), while Jesus became friends with tax collectors and sinners because they knew they needed salvation (Luke 7:34).
To be friends with Jesus means doing what He commands (John 15:14), the writer of Psalm 119:63 describing a kind of solidarity among believers: “I am a friend to all who fear You, to all who follow Your precepts.”
But because everyone’s different, every relationship works differently. For some, it revolves around sport, art, hobbies, etc. With others, it’s a shared political or religious viewpoint. Some require a depth of feeling and knowing that involves great empathy and understanding.
So don’t get frustrated if one friend is comfortable going deeper and revealing more, while another is less forthcoming. People can be like open books or closed doors. Some reveal very little about their private life, while others are willing to tell those they trust nearly everything.
In one fellowship, a group of men met to pray. One shared deeply about his life and struggles. Another would smile and say: “Fantastic week! I went to the opera with a friend, had a splendid meal with my brother and, on Friday, enjoyed a delectable white wine at home.” Yet all, to some extent or other, were friends.
Most importantly, Jesus calls us ‘friends’ (John 15:12-15). So, whatever their occupation, financial situation or status in life, we can all have Christian friends in high, or heavenly, places (Ephesians 2:6).
Gary Clayton is married to his best friend Julie, and father of Christopher (15) and Emma (12). He is Copywriter and Editor at Mission Aviation Fellowship. To discover how MAF shares God’s love with some of the poorest nations in Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, visit www.maf-uk.org