I had a nightmare when I was 5 and I still remember it; I still picture it vividly in my head. My friend lived in the trailer house next door to me; one night I dreamed a monster took her and carried her off to the horizon. In my dream I gathered everyone in my family and we all watched this thing take my friend away.
It’s been a long time since I had that dream. There are still times when I’m driving at night and I’ll think, “It was just like this in my dream.” And I’ll live it all all over again.
In a few short months, my friend was taken away, but not by a monster but by her family when they moved across the state.
I’ve spent many years wondering about friends and friendship. What is a friend? What make a friend a friend? There are a million different answers to those questions. If you asked ten different people you’d likely get ten different answers. I’d be the first to admit I have had a skewed view of friendship.
I’ve been reading the book of Ruth for the past few months. That is a book with a well-known story. The love story of Boaz and Ruth. He was the kinsman-redeemer. The man in the white hat who rode the white horse. All of this is true. It is the story of the redemption of Ruth and Naomi. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a story of loss and blessing. Of love lost and love found.
But it’s also a story about friendship. Specifically the friendship of Naomi and Ruth. Unlikely friends.
Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me. (Ruth 1:16)
These words are so often used in weddings. But they aren’t spoken to a spouse but to a friend. But an interesting friend. Naomi was attempting to push Ruth away, to abandon her. She is pushing Ruth away, “Don’t come near me. Don’t come with me. I don’t want you.” But Ruth kept pushing in, walking closer. Until Naomi gave up and gave in. She welcomed her on the journey back to the land of Israel, back to the land of blessing.
We need friends like Ruth. Friends who push in close and closer when we’re bitter and reject them. When we want people to just leave us alone, we need those friends who stay by our side.
To too many people this is a friendship, “This is how you are and I don’t like it about you. So until you change to suit me, I will not be friends with you. I know you, your heart and motives, your attitudes more than you. I am right. You are wrong. Change your behavior to suit me and my needs. I’m only saying this because I love you and I want what is best for you. If I didn’t love you I’d let you continue to be stupid.”
That isn’t a friendship. It’s a dictatorship. It’s also not love. Yes, corrects and so do friends. Friends get to point out wrong or hurtful behavior, they get to point out sin. But it is always done to make you a better person and it’s not at all about our own comfort and feelings. Friends hear and discuss and believe each other. They unite together against the world and not with the world against their friend.
- Friends respect boundaries.
- Friends cling to one another.
- Friends provide for one another.
- Friends protect one another.
- Friends share with one another.
- Friends pay attention to one another.
- Friends desire the best for us and from us.
Not everyone who starts a journey with you finishes the journey with you. Sometimes we have to let those we love walk away and sometimes we have to be the ones to tell them to walk away.
Not every person we meet has to be our friend and we don’t have to be everyone’s friend. Being a friend is a privilege and a gift. We get to be choosy about who gets the gift from us and from whom we receive the gift. Not every gift is meant for us and not every gift is meant for us to keep forever.
When I look back on the friendships I’ve been blessed to have over the course of my life one consistently rises above the rest. This person has been in my life for decades and that feat alone elevates them to best friend status. This person consistently speaks truth, both hard and easy truth. This person encourages me, pushes me to be better, to love Jesus more, to surrender to His life living in me. This friend isn’t afraid to get all up in my face and business when I’ve screwed up, but neither are they afraid to get all up in my face and heart when I’ve done something right. This is the friend who gets in my business, accepts my flesh-response of a flash of anger with words like, “You need to go pray about this.” Then accepts my apology and we move on. Then weeks later will receive a text like this from me, “Hey do you remember that time you said this and I got angry? Well Jesus just showed me that I had taken all of your kindness and friendship and I’d angrily thrown it back in your face. I am so sorry! Please know it will never happen again.” We were good before, but now we’re great.
This is the kind of friend our hearts need. And the kind of friend we need to be. We can only be this kind of friend when we rest secure in our love affair with Jesus. He alone knows the gifts we need to keep and the gifts we need to walk away from. It might be a cliche, but honestly the only true friends are those who have their individual hearts anchored deeply in Jesus and live out His life.
That is where we find the friend our heart needs. In Him. In His life. In Him.