“What does love look like?… Arms wide open, a heart exposed.”~ Misty Edwards
I was tempted to do it again the other day.
I sat next to Ka’en in church, minding my own business, when my mouth decided to make a cutting remark. I had a cold but thought she was overly concerned about my being contagious, so I said something like, “I don’t care about people being contagious, I just strengthen my immune system.”
Just like that her face fell and I didn’t even realize at first what I had done.
I should have been home, actually. I was sick with some sort of cold virus-y thing, but wanted to be in church to give her a little gift I’d bought. I pushed myself to be there and at first so far, so good.
Then out came the zinger. Now it wasn’t a big thing but enough to hurt her, the last thing I wanted to do to my best friend. But I basically told her she was wrong and that I was better than her. As I realized what I had done, my first reaction wasn’t to apologize.
It was to retreat. To hide. To self-condemn. I slid a little away from her and folded myself into a little self-protected box, mere inches from her but pulling away more and more.
Immediately after the service she confronted me about what I had said. As I acknowledged what she said was true, I was wrong, I suddenly just wanted to leave.
What the heck?
At home I immediately lay down, exhausted from overdoing it, from going out while still sick. But mostly hiding. I thought, What would happen if we stopped being friends? I began playing the scenarios in my mind, killing the best friendship a person could want by neglect. By hardening my heart toward her I could simply pull away…
I felt sick inside suddenly, more than from any virus, so much more.
Why would I want to throw away this gift? Why would I go back to the way things used to be where as soon as a friend got too close, it got too hard, I’d run away? I never had to change, to grow that way. As soon as things got beyond surface level and she saw who I really was under the facade, I’d withdraw. I’d be too busy to get together, making excuses till she stopped trying and the so-called friendship starved. Died.
Oh, I’d gotten quite good at it and I though I was okay. But one day I heard someone ask, “Who, besides a family member, could you call in the middle of the night if you were in trouble or just needed to talk?” I reviewed my puddle-deep friendship list and found — no one.
Why did it matter? I could call family, right? I had a best friend growing up, the best friend a person could ever want. But life pulled us apart and I hadn’t had that kind of friend since. I did have a few sort of close friends. Wasn’t that enough?
No, not if you want to be like Jesus. Jesus opened his heart to those who opened their hearts to Him. He made himself available to those who wanted to be close and let them in. All the way in. Even Judas. When Judas approached him to kiss him as a close friend, signaling to the mob that this was the man they wanted, Jesus said, “Do what you came for, friend.” Friend? He had just predicted Judas’ betrayal around the supper table with the disciples a few hours before, with Judas sitting right there. Jesus wasn’t fooled. But He kept His heart open even then.
Jesus gave the ultimate definition of friendship when He said, “the greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” (John 15:13). And then He proved it by dying for them and for His enemies alike. My mind can’t take it in, it’s so powerful. But I want that kind of love
Being like Jesus means I am willing to set my own life aside and be there for my friends. To see them as the treasures they are. And even to die for them if necessary.
Being like Jesus means I love wide open, from the heart. And when I do, I experience the love of God Himself. I become a channel of that love, His love ignited by my openness into a depth of compassion I’d never have otherwise. God is love, so to give myself completely to His love and to loving others, I become love. Like Him.
I asked the Lord, Please help me to be a friend like You, to go deep and stay when I want to flee. Be that friend through me and teach me Your way of friendship. One by one friends came in and when my mask fell I gritted my teeth and hung in there. While some friendships were only for a season anyway, most got deeper, better and better. Closer and closer. Without fear of exposure, for all was known. To know and be known is the most freeing thing I’ve ever experienced.
To be in a friendship is to choose to love another person. Seems simple, doesn’t it? But what does that look like? I believe all loving relationships have a friendship component. I Corinthians 13, the famous Love Chapter, could be rendered using the word Friendship in place of Love…
Friendship is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud;
Friendship is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable;
Friendship does not keep a record of wrongs;
Friendship is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth.
Friendship never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.
Friendship is eternal.
This is the kind of friend I want to be.
And I know it’s not going to be easy. Any time I open to Jesus His work always goes deeper than what I think I need. He wants to uproot old patterns and behaviors by getting at the what and why of them. What has plagued me all my life — a feeling of superiority to cover my deep inferiority around people has created walls between me and them. I can’t be the friend Jesus is to others till He takes me through the process of healing in this area, layer by layer. He’s so kind to take it step by step, one area at a time. And to continually build from there.
This new area of work began couple of months ago, when I asked God to help me with my mouth. At times I want to correct those around me (usually friends and family), to set them straight (“help” them) if I think what they’re saying or doing is wrong. It’s like a compulsion, and if I don’t say anything I’m inwardly judging them. They’re not as good as me or they wouldn’t do or say ______________. I had done this basically all my life, but in the last month or so I’ve started to actually see it for the ugly habit it is. Ugh. I see at last how my words cut, dagger slashes to the heart. It hurts the ones closest to me most of all.
I’m finally sick of it. I want to be free. For years I’ve wanted to accept everyone as the God-created beings they are. That I’m no better — or worse — than anyone else. I want to live in settled confidence coupled with realistic humility. Now, placing a trembling hand in Dad’s warm, strong hand, I’m willing to do whatever it takes. With sudden clarity I realize I only want one thing:
To love as Jesus does.
And I realized lying on my bed that Sunday afternoon — it was too late. The work I’ve longed for had already begun. I’d never be that person anymore, the one who made and threw friends away like they were disposable. I’ve got a treasure trove of close friends now and am finally becoming the friend I’d want to have. Open. Honest. Loyal. Brave.
Because it takes bravery to stay in it when it gets hard, to seek and find forgiveness. It takes courage to face what is under that cutting remark, to submit to the training our Heavenly Dad has for us, whatever the cost. To press past the guilt and get free of the shame. To see as He sees, and to learn how to be an overcomer here, too. Whatever it takes.
When we had some facetime that Sunday afternoon Ka’en encouraged me to go deeper with Dad, to see the how and why and the what of the superiority/inferiority I struggle with. And to bravely follow the path to healing. She will be there for me.
I will be there for her, too. No matter what. For this war zone we were born into isn’t getting any better, and there are fierce battles ahead. Linking arms with her, with ever-deepening friendships, with others determined to call each other out of darkness into light…
With our Commanding Officer blazing the trail ahead, sword raised — we will persevere. Shouting into battle, his light within us — together we will overcome the deepest darkness. And laugh, victorious, with our comrades-in-arms afterwards, gazing together at the face of the One who made it all possible. Our great Friend. For true friendship gives us our best life — it’s designed to last into eternity. And it’s worth laying down our lives to gain the kind of love only God can forge in our hearts. Then we truly love like Him — arms wide open, hearts exposed.
Dear friends, what can you do today to make openness and depth in friendship a priority? What is keeping you from being completely open to God’s work in this area? Where is He challenging you to change so you can be the friend He wants you to be? Are you willing?