By Jocelyn Santos
A few nights ago I sat in a busy restaurant across from one of my dearest friends, Kiara. As girlfriends often do, we ate yummy unhealthy food and talked about all the things: recent vacations, post college revelations, future goals, life and of course past relationships. Both of us have been single for quite some time, which, in the seven years we’ve been friends, has literally never been the case. As we reflected on our romantic relationships and our friendship Kiara asked me one of the tougher questions: why have I historically been so unforgiving of friends?
What Kiara was referencing was my very skewed version of friendship that she, unfortunately, has been a victim of over the many years and seasons we’ve shared together. As far as romantic relationships were concerned, I had always had pleasant experiences. On the contrary, my experiences with friends had taught me that friends were fleeting, disloyal and untrustworthy. Being a deeply loyal and nurturing person at my core meant I was often burned by my friends. I didn’t know what it was to extend grace because I only knew the rejection I felt, so I opted to perpetuate that rejection.
In the one page book of Philemon the Lord spoke directly to me regarding friendship and relationship within community. Though the letter is literally referring to the forgiveness and acceptance of a slave, Onesimus, what this letter spoke to me is how God expects us to receive those who have wronged us. In verse 16 Paul calls Onesimus more than a slave, he calls him a beloved brother and because of this Philemon should not only forgive Onesimus’ transgressions, but should accept him as the brother he is.
The definition of friendship lays so flat: two people who share mutual affection. Really the journey of friendship is one that is filled with all the twists and turns of which make a great rollercoaster. It is so common for emphasis to placed on romantic relationships, but rarely do we discuss the importance of friendship and community, especially when you’re wandering through the field of singleness for what seems like forever.
Friendship is a beautiful lesson in forgiveness and acceptance. Its a model of how we are to extend grace beyond what we alone can be expected to extend. How can we possibly understand how to show that much grace to partner when we haven’t learned to do that with those around us? How can there be a cap on the amount of grace we give when the Lord never shows us a limit?
At a conference, famous worship-leading-best friends Amanda Cook and Steffany Gretzinger were asked by a 13 year old girl how to be a good friend. The answer rocked me at my core: “To be a good friend is to be committed to a person. No matter what. Their good, bad, and ugly. To stand by their side and choose to love them when they’ve hurt you. To say sorry when you’ve hurt them. To love them like Jesus.”
Like Jesus, over the course of seven years Kiara has showed up when I’ve walked away, she’s anchored down when I’ve wavered. She’s fought silent battles for me through prayer. She’s extended grace through her own frustration. And it wasn’t until I decided to commit to her in the same way that I realized friendship is an entirely different type of intimacy. It’s facing the worst of a person, and, with no certain guarantee of commitment returned, choosing to stand before them and love them until they’re beautiful again.
But not only is friendship choosing to stand beside someone, it’s choosing to run alongside them and champion them all along the way. It’s seeking the Lord on behalf of those around you. Its praying and advising while allowing room for them to make mistakes. Proverbs 15 tells us that plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed. This just goes to show that we are not meant to endure this life alone. Plans and big decisions shouldn’t be made alone, but rather we are intended to seek counsel in friendships rooted in the Lord. To have people in your corner, and to be a person in someone else’s corner, praying and contending for loved ones.
The reality is that friendships require just as much blood, sweat, and tears as romantic relationships. They are how we learn to lay the groundwork for romantic relationships. It’s how we engage in sharpening those we love and being sharpened. If you’re feeling lonely whether you’re single or not, take courage and grab hold to those who love you. Be bold enough to ask for an outpouring of love and be open to receiving it.
If there was an image for what being immersed in community is like it would be the image of Peter stepping outside of the boat on the Sea of Galilee, walking toward Jesus. Peter and Jesus had built a relationship of trusting love, so much so that Peter was willing to defy all nature and believe he could walk on water to Jesus…and he did. Until doubt came in. So often in life our troubles, betrayals, and loneliness can feel like the doubt that crept into Peter’s heart. At that moment Peter lost sight of his beloved friend Jesus and saw his isolation and quickly felt the overpowering waves, but still in that he cried out, “Save me, Lord!” The Passion Translation says Jesus IMMEDIATELY stretched out his hand and lifted him out. Doubt comes at us fast and the lie that you are alone quickly follows, but choose to be like Peter. Cry out to your beloved friends and hold fast to the hands stretched out.
Yes, it’s true – your friends are not Jesus. They’re flawed people just like you. But my prayer is that in their own flawed personhood, you find Jesus, the greatest friend, reflected back in their eyes.