A few months ago, I was telling a family member about a friend of mine. I had barely begun the story before she cut me off. “Friend? Man, I wish I had some friends. Seriously, why is it so hard to make friends as an adult? Where do you even meet people?” Even though she said it jokingly, I could see that she meant it, and she’s likely not the only one who feels this way. Sometimes adulthood feels like an extension of middle school; everyone is taller and most of us don’t live with our parents anymore, but we still haven’t outgrown the social awkwardness and loneliness.
The consequences of the first sin fractured our relationship with God, and left a wall separating us from other people. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed, working and living together in perfect unity, but right after they sinned, it was every man for himself, covering up and blaming each other (Genesis 2:18-3:13). Christ made a way for us to come near to God through his life of obedience, death on the cross, and resurrection. When Christ redeemed us, he adopted us into his family, along with countless brothers and sisters; in doing so, he not only removed the dividing wall of hostility between us and God, but also between us and each other (Ephesians 2:14-22).
This is good news for us in terms of friendship. However, this does not mean that once we’ve been saved, we become automatic bffs with every believer. Christ tore down the wall, but that doesn’t mean friendship is suddenly easy and magical. Meaningful friendships actually require something of us.
Friendship requires initiation. Sometimes we mistakenly believe that friendships should form naturally or “just happen.” This is absolutely false. If you’re expecting to look across your church sanctuary, lock eyes with someone, and *BOOM* be friends forever, forget it. Even in the simplest, purest grade school friendships, somebody had to initiate the relationship.
When I was ten years old, while waiting in line to go to recess, Sarah C. tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “Hey, um, do you want to be my best friend?” Even if I had wanted to say no (which of course I didn’t because she was way smart, totally cool, and the only kid in 4th grade who had read more books than I had), how can you turn someone down when they put themselves out there like that? Sarah had the guts to ask me to be her friend. She didn’t hold back because it could’ve been awkward or I might already have a best friend or maybe I didn’t like her new headband. She sucked it up and did a scary thing, and as a result, made a new friend.
Friendship requires effort. We’ve all probably had a friendship centered around a common interest or hobby. That level of friendship is fairly easy to maintain; it doesn’t require much more than talking about or doing something you already love with someone who loves it too. However, deep friendship requires the hard and scary work of getting to know people in a real way. Sharing your junk with others is painful. Bearing someone else’s burdens is uncomfortable. But unless we can fight our instincts of self-preservation and self-interest and actually be vulnerable and listen to others be vulnerable, we can’t experience the depths of true friendship. Vulnerability is ugly and messy, but without it, we’re missing out on the deep joy that friendship brings.
Of course, with vulnerability comes risk. The better someone knows you, the more deeply they can hurt you. We’d like to think that our friends will never disappoint us or let us down or have any flaws. Realistically, that’s just not true. Our friends, like us, are sinners. They will disappoint. They will hurt our feelings. Sometimes the effort friendship requires takes the form of forgiving and asking forgiveness.
Friendship is possible in Christ. One of the most beautiful things about the Church is the diversity of its members. Christ redeems people of every race, gender, culture, background, age, education level, family type, and tax bracket, yet in Christ, we have “all things in common (Acts 2:42-47).” Now this doesn’t mean that all believers love Jane Austen novels, read Harry Potter fanfiction, or binge-watched the newest Netflix adaptation of Anne of Green Gables (I might be the only one). However, the same Spirit that stirred my heart as a 14-year-old girl and brought me to life in Jesus and made his home in me does the same in every other believer. Anything we counted as gain we now count as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord, and since we have the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS in common, we have everything in common (Philippians 3:8).
True friendship among believers requires initiation, effort, and the grace of Jesus to flourish. Christ adopted us into the same family, and we shouldn’t be scared of enjoying friendship with each other. Be brave. Make a phone call (or if you’re an introvert like me and prefer to avoid speaking on the phone, send a text), invite someone to coffee, or even better, into your home. My closest friends and I did not just “click” magically, and even after becoming friends, it hasn’t been effortless. Though it is painful and costly, the reward of sharing in joy and in suffering with true friends is a comfort and a blessing from the Lord.