Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Heart of True Friendship

Okay, the screen is too small, there are no fancy-dan programs for me to do any kind of creating or editing, the lighting is bad in this location in the evening, but I am using the family computer until I'm up and running in my own corner of my game room. I'm only complaining a little bit, because it's really turned into a blessing. Before I get my tower back to it's healthy self, I'm going to completely re-do my workspace. I've been wanting to gut it and start over for a while now, and this is the perfect time to do that. Now then...

I sure wish sometimes that I had a photographic memory when it comes to hearing things. I have a really good memory when it comes to visual things and being able to recall detail, but when it comes to hearing things I'm not nearly as good at that. For that reason, I take a lot of notes during both Sunday School and the Sunday morning service. This morning however, I have to admit I was a little sleepy and I didn't take notes. I really should have.

The subject of our Sunday School lesson today, was how to secure "change" in your life via Biblical Friendships. It was the last in the 10 part series of James MacDonald's "I Really Want to Change, So Help Me God" series. I was a bit reluctant to sit through the series because quite frankly I have heard this teacher on the radio say some things in the past, that go against the reformed faith - however - I was encouraged by a dear friend to really give this series a chance. I'm really glad I did that.

Ever since my oldest became of age to really begin having a "social life" (which generally occurs for girls at around age 12), the importance of having genuine Christian friends really became a focal point in my life, for my children. Interestingly enough, she was also almost 12 years old when I was converted to Christ myself, and began to consider what true friendship really meant to me as well.

The first few years of my Christian life was by most people's standards, a most horrific rollercoaster ride. In that first few years, I became a widow, lost my home (my own fault), and many of my dearest possessions - twice, made some of the worst decisions in my life, and suffered some pretty extreme consquences as a result. Suffice it to say, my new life in Christ was initially far more painful and lonely and heartbreaking than my life in the flesh ever was. However, it was a transformation that clearly had to happen for God to bring me to the place He eventually brought me. I lost so much, but what I gained was far more valuable. Through it all, my hunger for genuine Christianity never wavered, and God was certainly faithful to bring me to a place of understanding what that really is.

At that time however, I really didn't have the kind of genuine, Biblical friendships that pastor MacDonald described today in the series. He defined these kinds of friends in two ways:

1. friends that lift you up when you fall
2. friends that hold you down when you stray

In the first example, he defined these kinds of friends who are always there for you to pray for you, encourage you, calm your fears and give you hope. In the second example, he defined these kinds of friends as those who tell you the truth even when it's not pretty, shoot straight and tell you what you need to hear, to either get you back on the straight path or keep you from wandering off it, if that's where you're headed. He suggested that it's generally not a common thing to find both character traits in just one friend (although certainly possible), so it's good to have more than one friend like this in your life so that both areas are well covered. It's been my experience that MacDonald is correct, and finding all of those characteristics in one person is fairly rare. Possible, but rare. (God seems to gift people with varying gifts, rather than gift each of us with lots of them).

In the first few years of my Christian life I didn't have these kinds of relationships, and while it's mere speculation, I suppose I wouldn't have had the extreme trauma I had, if these kinds of people were in my life at that time (and I also wouldn't have learned some of the most valuable lessons in my life). Over the years since then however, I have been blessed to have these kinds of people come into my life. I have also been through the experience (as I'm sure everyone else has as well) of having the kinds of "friends" that make it so difficult to be in that friendship, that you're quite honestly better off without that in your life. I've heard this called "toxic friendships" and they're described from one end of the spectrum, as in just fair weather friends, to the other end of the spectrum of those kinds of people that place heavy conditions on your friendships and will only be your friend if you meet all those conditions. I found it striking that MacDonald mentioned in his lesson today that his own daughter came to him once and told him about a girl in school who was doing this to her (wouldn't be her friend if the daughter played with certain people the other girl didn't like), and how he advised her on that. The reason it struck me as so familiar, is because I also had a friend in the third grade who was identical to that. Sadly, I've also known adults who do the very same thing and place very restrictive conditions on friendships that make it a "my way or the highway" kind of relationship. Those can be very emotional to maintain, and quite honestly they're not Biblical friendships at all.

It was suggested in today's lesson, that finding friends like this (and we really have to intentionally choose our friends in this way) was to be a friend like this. This is something else that I've learned by experience is exactly true. While I certainly do not have a horn to toot here, I know that I have strived diligently to be the kind of friend that not only tries to be there if I'm needed, but will also (and I hope with grace) say what needs to be said, even when it's not pleasant to hear. I fail at both and I fail more often than I'd like to admit, but the interesting thing is that trying to be this kind of friend seems to bring other people into my life that are also striving with all their hearts to also be this kind of friend. It's a great thing, really - because iron definitely does sharpen iron in this situation.

I'm really glad I didn't miss Sunday School today, and I'm really glad I took the advice of one dear friend who suggested I give MacDonald's series a chance. It was a tremendous blessing, and I would recommend the series to anyone, who really wants some practical teaching on how to live your Christian life with an intention toward godly growth.


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