Leaning up against the kitchen counter whilst looking into the teary eyes of my littlest sister, my mind flashed back to when I was her age. Fourteen, and trying to make friends I desperately hoped to keep forever and ever. Honestly, I remember it far too well: the striving, the pleasing, the bending-over-backwards for people, and being everything I felt like they expected me to be. It was hard work, even at fourteen. I honestly didn't even know what problems were back then. Dear fourteen-year-old self: just wait until you become an adult. You've never had it so good. Yet at the same time, as I listened to the all-too-familiar words coming from my sister's heart, I so get it. I know the struggle. Keeping friends and making sure they liked me really was one of the all-consuming and eclipsing issues I had to deal with when I was a teenager.
Why do we feel it is so important that we be liked and accepted by others, come hell or high water? Probably because we're made for it, I tell myself as I flick back through my journal pages and ponder the places my heart has wandered. We were created for perfect fellowship, perfect unity with one another where each person is celebrated for their strengths, and where the strengths of one another make up for the weaknesses. But the world is broken and full of broken people with broken perspectives of the world. We were hurt, so we hurt. We expect and assume the best of people and are disappointed. We see our own failure and despise ourselves, so we cover it up in an effort to be loved for our perfection rather than being okay with just being "okay". The older I get the more I realize that friendships are not built on a mutual respect for each other's perfection (or appearance of). Friendships—real friendships—are made from a lot tougher stuff. The stuff of salvation.
Think about it: salvation is not earned. It is a free gift. Christ died in order to achieve the perfection we could not. His blood covers our failure. By the Spirit we are enabled to live righteous lives, but for the times we mess up, fall, or absolutely train wreck, He's got our back. God's glorious grace is more than enough to cover whatever sin we may commit. Because of Jesus' sacrifice, we are able to love like He does, and live free knowing that the debt we could never pay, that debt—Someone picked up the tab for us. We live free because we are saved through nothing done of ourselves, with the understanding we are carried by an incredibly merciful and loving Father in heaven who went all the way for us.
How does this relate to friendships? Well sadly, it often doesn't. Somehow salvation doesn't always make it that far, and instead of just being honest and open about who we are and how our mess has been restored by Jesus, we would far rather hide it and pretend we have it all together. It's easier to just brush stuff under the rug and tritely say "God is good" with no visible reason, as opposed to revealing all your ugliness for why God is so good. Holding up a mask makes it difficult to love people because once you've established your character to someone, if they get too close, they'll see under it. So the only way to keep your charade in place is to hold people at arm's length. This results in shallow "friendships" that never come close to the fellowship and camaraderie we crave. In short, we'd rather earn our friendships.
Don't get me wrong, relationships take work. It takes selflessness, honour, the swallowing of a whole lot of crud and communicating hard things in order for a relationship to flourish. But there's a difference between working on something and working for it. Just as it's a red flag when you recognize you are striving unhealthily for the love of God, I believe it's the same warning sign if you find yourself trying to earn a friend. Newsflash: you can't earn true friendship any more than you can earn salvation. If you're doing this... well, it's a "friend" you'd be better off without.
As I shared this with my sister, I could see the struggle in her face. Yeah, because who wants to be told that if you have to be anything more than yourself to keep a friend your friend isn't worth having? It hurts. I've been there. When I did a lot of growing through my later teen years, learning that I didn't have to strive to become some figment of my imagination that I thought I was meant to be, I was lonely. I lost friends. I learnt a lot about the phrase quality over quantity. I didn't want to be that person on Facebook with over six-hundred "friends". It was quite the dry spell for me when it came to fellowship. The most wonderful thing however about waiting in the dry spells instead of digging your own well, is that the drought is broken by God Himself—heaven's rain.
I can now point to people in my life that—only by the extraordinary hand of God—became cherished friends; divine interventions of my ordinary, every day life opened miraculous windows of opportunity for relationships to form. Following blogs. Joining internet circles. A random movie date. An honest word at the right time. Crazy ideas chased down and realized. Courage to take risks. To be open. To dare. I've formed friends who exhibit a Christ-like grace to me that I could never have earned by my own perfection. Ever. This is what makes a real friendship. It's hanging onto grace for dear life, and not being afraid of what people will see when you stand in the Light. It's being confident of the goodness of your God, and how much you are worth to Him; trusting He will shine His light on the gold in you for others to see and be drawn to. God brings people together...
...but only if we trust Him enough to be real. It is in our weakness God makes Himself strong. I would rather live bravely, letting my weaknesses be the cracks of a broken vessel letting God's light shine out like a beacon for all the friends who could be drawn to it; to live in a way that is unashamed of love, unafraid to be messy, and grounded in the love of Christ that cannot be earned. I no longer have time to waste pretending to be anything, or show myself perfect to anyone in order to attain their friendship. I want grace, and He gives more grace.
I see His grace in the face of my friends.
I watch my little sister smile, and see the lightness in her step after she's spent time with her friends, learning to be real. Practising honesty. Learning to love, and to give grace. She's smarter than I was at her age. But it's not too late for us.
The best is yet to come.