by Zach Simon
“Friendship has no survival value, but it brings value to survival.” - C.S. Lewis
Prior to arriving in Tallahassee this past December, Aly and I had spent just over 6 years living in Orlando. And prior to that, we had spent just over 6 years living in North Dakota. In each of these chapters in life, we had developed robust and healthy friendships. Friendships that still exist today and still serve as safe harbors in life’s ocean where we can find rest, encouragement and happiness. It’s also been exciting to see the buds of new friendships beginning to show themselves here, now that we call Four Oaks our home.
In each of the transitions between these chapters, it’s been natural for us to spend some time thinking about friendship; thinking about the work that lies ahead of us in maintaining old friendships, and in cultivating new ones. I don’t say “work” in a begrudging or obligatory way, but rather in the simple realization that friendships aren’t easy, contrary to what we are led to believe when we look at the lives of others. Scripture teaches us that God has given us the blessing of relationship to provide a place for spiritual growth, intimacy, accountability, and protection. However, these things take form in different types of relationships. We speak about relationships often in the church. We have marriage seminars, leadership training, counseling training, parenting classes, and membership courses. Yet one of the most important, and least talked about, forms of relationship is friendship. This leads me to think of friendship as a lost art, not only in our culture (which is absolutely true), but also sometimes in the Church.
Why do I call friendship an art? Because I believe that’s what it is. Art is the expression or application of our God-given human creative prerogative, producing something that’s appreciated primarily for beauty or emotional power. We build friendships. They don’t simply happen. We choose with whom we will be friends. It is not out of our control. And when we build well and choose wisely, almost anything bad can be wonderful with friends, and almost anything wonderful can be terrible without them. Even in my darkest moments, the beauty in Christ-like sacrifice, emotion, loyalty, and faithfulness are seen most clearly in the words or presence of a friend.
Facebook, for all its usefulness, has also wrecked a lot of things. One being our understanding of the work it takes to cultivate this type of biblical, Christ-honoring friendship. Now friendship is as easy as clicking a button. Celebration as easy as a “Like,” and compassion as easy as typing “So sorry. Praying for you.” I think it’s helpful to admit our laziness in this area, and that we’ve lost something. The kind of friendship we see in scripture goes way beyond our normal American practices. We over-emphasize romantic relationship and affection at the expense of the time consuming and self-sacrificing brotherly love we find in the life of Jesus. He says in John 15 that “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
That’s a tall order, even for the best among us. Discouraging even. How can we be that type of friend? I find Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s answer helpful:
“Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a human reality. In this it differs from all other communities.”
You guys, I’m thankful for the gospel. I’m a terrible friend half of the time. I’m lazy about it, I’m self-absorbed, and sometimes I'm in it for all the wrong reasons. But the other half of the time, when the art of true friendship is refreshing our souls and evoking worship of God, I’m resting solely in the power of Christ, who’s not only our example as the one who laid down his life for us (his friends!), but who also provides his Spirit as my source of strength and life.
By grace, I hope to live in this power more and more. Because, despite the effort and sacrifice it takes, friendship in Christian community will stand out and bear witness to Jesus, and because it brings great joy.