By Debra-Lynn Swearingen
Words between sobs are difficult to understand. Substitute teaching for elementary children gives me practice. On a regular basis, a little girl comes to me crying over the way her friend is treating her. In order to mediate I point to an overall desire for kindness and inclusion. And like most teachers dealing with childhood drama, I attempt to force reconciliation so the class can move forward. Sometimes it’s successful, sometimes not. Either way, I remain convinced that growing up female is fraught with friendship woe. You don’t have to look far beyond the school playground to find that women hold an idealized view of friendship. In fact, we have even coined it with a term of endearment, “BFF— Best Friends Forever”. It’s an unfortunate acronym because best is always put to the test, friendship is often conditional, and forever is a really long time!
Friendship is a beautiful thing. Especially in Christian circles where God gives us each other so that we can share burdens, weep together, rejoice together, and love and serve one another. But the reality is, that over time, friendships change at a minimum and dissolve at worst. It is often difficult to overcome a lack of common interests, or to scale distance when miles come between us. But the real challenge begins when misunderstandings and disagreements arise and we need to forgive and to love what we perceive is unlovable.
It’s easy to believe friendship means agreement on all fronts, and defending one another at all costs. However, our definition need not be so rigid and our demands need not be so high. We can disagree and communicate about it. Sometimes we must talk about the hard things. I defer to Professor Dumbledore of Harry Potter fame, when he wisely says, “There are all kinds of courage. It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.” More importantly, Proverbs 27:6 tells us, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; and profuse are the kisses of an enemy”. It is good to know the difference. And it is good to teach girls the same. True friendship gives permission for another to have a differing opinion and be able to freely share it. From this comes honesty and wise counsel.
Forging friendships is understandably difficult. At church we gather on sleepy Sundays where our time together is brief and family focused. We come and go, unwittingly sacrificing relationships on the altar of a busy-life. We read everywhere that loneliness is at an all time high. Non-committal e-communication is the norm. We’d like to think that technology has brought us together, but a closer look reveals that social media has redefined friendship and given us the word that has long been experienced by elementary-aged girls everywhere-“unfriended”. Still, we clamor about looking for that one friend that sticks closer than a brother, the one that would lay down life for us. Truly, that friend is Christ, and Christ alone. And it is fitting to know— it is He that binds us in Christian sisterhood. Granting us forgiveness and the ability to forgive another. Giving us friends to kneel beside at the rail, and in the pews. Friends that sing hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs— to one another— as partakers of His grace.
Grace that tells us that love covers a multitude of sins. Christ’s love. He dries our tears over broken friendships and forgives us the sin and sorrow we have inflicted on one another. In His humility, we are able to count others more significant than ourselves. We take that into our relationships whether or not our friend is a Christian. And if our friendships are not based on a shared theology we can find them in vocation: fellow wife, mother, co-worker, student, and even in the most mundane areas of life. Friendships are seized in opportunity. We do not have to galvanize them in the timed pressure of forever. They ebb and flow. Our view of tomorrow is limited, so may we be content in our relationships that are best described as “good friends for the day”!