I was recently asked in front of a group of women what I look for in a friend.
I stumbled around in an attempt to sound somewhat holy (or at least reflective) until I finally said, “I guess I just like them.”
I realize that we’re called to be kind and welcoming to all. I know we’re supposed to love even our enemies. But friendship isn’t mere kindness. I’m not talking about who you are going to be kind to. Yes, be kind to everyone.
But we don’t have to be everyone’s friend. And everyone doesn’t have to be ours.
We cheapen real, deep friendship when we demand it of everyone, when we demand it of ourselves toward everyone. The beauty and joy and danger of friendship is that no one owes it to anyone.
It’s a gift. And in my experience it’s poured right out of the heart of God. A selfless love. Undemanding. Unqualified. Life bumps up against life, and neither remains unchanged.
Sometimes I think about Peter and James and John walking along behind Jesus. I think about how well they must have known each other. About how they recognized the sound of the others’ steps. About how John probably waited to see what Peter would say. About how Peter kept looking to John to ask Jesus what He meant.
I think about how often they must have been the ones that stepped on each others’ toes. Proximity does that, you know–enables us to wound and annoy each other in ways mere acquaintances never could. I think about how easy it would have been for them to begin to compete and compare.
And if they had, John would have ended up with the upper hand. John followed Jesus all the way to the cross, watched Him suffer and struggle and succumb to the death, held His weeping mother. Peter denied even knowing the Man. (John 18-19)
But friendship at its fullest won’t allow it. It was Peter and John who sprinted together toward the empty tomb (John 19:1-10). And yes, John does mention that he beat Peter to the tomb. Friends aren’t perfect. Friends do compete. But never maliciously. John may have picked on Peter’s speed, but he did not poke at the failure that threatened Peter’s faith. My friends may mock my dance moves, but they never laugh when my eyes well with tears.
When Peter was at his lowest, he still sought the company of James and John and the other disciples. We seek the company of the ones we know best when we are no longer sure we know ourselves.
“Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you'” (John 21:3). We don’t need our friends to be profound. We just need them to be present. We need the monotonous lull of familiarity when everything else feels foreign.
And when our eyes are straining toward the horizon for the One we love, for the One we’ve missed, for the One we’ve failed, we need friends right there beside us looking too. We need their confidence that He will come when we’re fearful that He might not. We need their faithful calm when our hands shake with doubt. We need their silent companionship when words have failed.
We need friends who will turn the boat toward the shore to be sure we catch sight of the approaching frame of the Man we’ve missed.
We need friends who know our failings but bear witness to our restorations too. When we catch sight of the One we love and dive headfirst toward Him, we need friends who slowly row the boat to shore just in time to overhear His words to us (John 21:9-19). Not because they’re being nosy, but because we’ll forget. And we will need them to remind us that it was real.
No, we’re not called to be everyone’s friend. But let’s be true friends to the ones we’ve got. Because yes, we like them! But it isn’t always easy. In a world with hearts as fragile as ours, we will be broken apart on more than one occasion. We will fumble our faith. We will betray the ones we love the most. We will have opportunity to rejoice in their failings, but we will have opportunity to witness their restoration too. We will need their forgiveness and they will need ours. We will need their encouragement and they will need ours. They will need us to see in them what they have lost sight of and we will need that from them.
We will need to be pushed toward Jesus, and they will need us to pull them too.
We need our friends to remind us that Christ has called us His friend.
And oh the privilege it is to let our lives bump up against one another’s as we follow Him.