Have you ever stepped foot into a new church and your hearted started racing a million miles per minute as you looked for a friendly face to sit next too? Has a friend from your bible study ever made you feel small or unimportant? Did you ever wonder if you could be doing more for your Christian friend besides simply telling them, "I'm praying for you" ?
Yup. Same here.
I have come realize that I have believed three common myths of Christian friendship. Maybe you have too...
1. The people in my church will automatically be my main source of friends.
A young pastor wife pulled me aside at an event that I was hosting. I could tell that she was holding back the tears when she said, "I hear that your researching friendship and are writing a book about it." I didn't know what she was getting at but before I could ask she said, "I have no friends. It's hard to be vulnerable with the people in my husband's congregation. Everyone looks to me to be their leader and always having it all together. The last time I shared in a small group that I was feeling anxious about my children, someone went to the elder board about it. I have never opened up since. I feel so alone."
Another woman had been attending a church for three years and even had belonged to the same small group for those same three years. She said that people were friendly and always willing pray for her but no one ever had time for a coffee or to do anything outside of the church. The friendship was simply limited to church-only activities.
Church can be an excellent place to cultivate meaningful friendship and it also can be a very difficult place to cultivate meaningful friendship. It does not happen automatically just because we regularly attend. The young pastor's wife was able to find a local group of other pastor's wives that she became friends with. It was there that she was able to share her struggles and speaking honestly about her life. The woman who been attending the church for three years and still felt friendless, still attends that same church but her expectations have changed. She found a group of Christian women who share a passion for writing. Each of the women come from a different church but they have been able to build a deep friendship with each other.
2. My Christian friends will not hurt me.
There is a misconception that Christian friendship is pain-free. We are Christians and because we love Jesus, we always are loving each other, right? Ugh. I wish this was true! If we are honest, we know that despite our common faith, we are incredibly capable of damaging each other with our words...our silence...our neglect...our control... our expectations...our abandonment....our jealousy... and well frankly, the list could go on.
I remember speaking with a woman on the phone who was sobbing because she had thrown a birthday party for her ten-year-old daughter. Recently, her and her husband and felt like God was moving them on to attend a different church but she had hoped to still maintain the friendships at her past church. She invited several of these friends and their children to attend her daughter's birthday party. Not one of them showed up. This woman was devastated. She called one of her friends from her past church and asked, "Why didn't you come? Is it because we go to a new church?" Her friend answered honestly, "Yes. I think it's best if we let our friendship go since we do not attend the same church."
I met another woman who shared that one of her friend's husband had sexually abused her child. When she confronted her friend, her friend accused her of being a pathological liar and for a season, was able to turn many of her church friends against her. It wasn't until the authorities were able to prove the husband's guilt that people began to believe this woman's story.
The pain that is found in Christian friendship is deep. It can ache for a very long time. Though we know that people are not perfect, we often our surprised when others who share our faith, show their imperfections through hurting us. I know, personally, I have hurt many of my Christian friends. It grieves me to think about it.
3. The extent of my responsibility to my Christian friends is to pray for them when they need something.
We are required to do far more than just simply pray for our friends. Beyond prayer, we are called to:
- Encourage them in their dreams and calling
- Serve them when there is a need
- Give generously when there is a lack
- Practice hospitality by opening up our home
- Remind them of the faithfulness of God
- Keep them accountable to a godly way of life
- Celebrate them in their victories and when they have experience goodness
- Mourn with them when they are met with heartbreak and loss
- Commit to living peacefully together and always working towards reconciliation when there is conflict
- Speaking honestly to them and about them
- Allow them to do all the above for us
Prayer is important but true Christian friendship requires a lot more than just saying those 5 easy words: "I will pray for you."
So, now what? What can we do? Well, here are three ways we can address these myths...
1. If we aren't finding friendship in our church we need to decide to be proactive. We either actively try to build relationships with those church people or we can look to find Christian friends outside of our church. It is not a sin to have Christian friends outside of your church.
2. If we have been hurt by Christian friends and are finding it difficult to heal, we need to honest about it. This is where we start. Forgiveness is a journey. and honesty is the starting point. A counselor can be an excellent support as we journey toward healing and forgiveness. Working through the pain will also make us better friends to others.
3. If our Christian friendship is simply limited to praying for each other, perhaps it's time to embrace the privilege of giving more. Starting with small steps, begin to practice ways that you can be more intentional in helping your friend walk out their God-given mission in life. In the same way, become willing to allow them to do the same for you.
Wrong assumptions about Christian friendship, cause us to miss out on the beauty of truly walking with someone else who loves Jesus.