A Friend

Three years ago God began revealing something to me: Love Him, others, then myself. Everywhere I turned, the message was clear. I was pretty bad at loving people, and He was doing a pretty good job of showing me that. But I was too calloused and stubborn to really see and love people, so He had some work to do.

At the moment when things started to shift in my life, I quickly formed a couple deep friendships quickly. The Lord had brought people into my life that hadn’t really been there before, and friendships rose out of crisis. These relationships weren’t out of mutual respect or admiration but rather out of needs that needed to be filled. These friends needed a shoulder to cry on, and as I would find out later, I really needed to be needed. And I wasn’t afraid to manipulate, push, or deceive to fill that need, and all-the-while I was convinced that I was being selfless in my  actions because I was caring for them. As quickly as the friendships arose, they crumbled. There came a time when I no longer felt needed, so I became desperate, and the relationships, which didn’t have a stable foundation to begin with, died as a result of my actions.

Within two months, I went from having few friends to having two “best friends.” Six months later, I had royally messed up both relationships and distanced what friends I’d had before the whirlwind began. Crash and burn.

Somewhere in that messy process, God awakened my heart. He showed me my deep need for relationships, which I’d never known before. I think that’s part of the reason I went so crazy when I finally had people around me who I felt cared. I’d never really known that, outside of my family. I craved that feeling of companionship. I panicked when I wasn’t around someone. Even my poor roommate had to deal with my extreme neediness.

But as He’d planned, when I felt all was lost and I thought I’d lost my two closest friends, I turned back to God. He was all I had, and, as I remembered, all I needed. He showed me His grace and then humbled me by bringing in other friends, friends who’d I’d distanced through those few months, to love me and support me with no questions asked.

Both friends have opened their hearts back up to me. We’re building on new foundations now… a foundation of trust, boundaries, respect, and admiration. I don’t know how far or how long I’ll be blessed to have them in my life, but I’m still humbled by their forgiving hearts. The relationships are drastically different now, and that’s hard for me. I’m having to reshape how I think, how I behave, and how I respond to my feelings.

I want more than anything to have mature, Christ-seeking, young women in my life who can come alongside of me and pray WITH me, not just FOR me. I want mature friendships, but I know in order to have those, I must be mature. And I must learn how to LOVE. Easier said than done.

Moreover, I want to be known. I want to be understood by someone. I want inside jokes, and coffee dates, and shared favorite movies. I want someone to care about how my day went at work or if there was traffic on the way home. I want to be known for all my faults and loved anyway. Part of me says that if God would just hurry up and bring me the right man, that’d all be fixed.

But I know better. I know MYSELF better. This isn’t a physical need that deserves a practical solution. It’s a spiritual need that deserves a supernatural solution. I think about what King David wrote in Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! … Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether… You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

David was admired by his kingdom and loved deeply by his many wives. Surely he had enough companionship! But David’s search for love, more often than not, got him into trouble. But he knew how well God knew him, and I imagine that as he wrote those words down, it was an encouragement to him.

Like David, I deeply want to be known by someone. I don’t want to struggle with loneliness anymore. But I know it’s a battle that’s mine alone to fight, a battle of the heart as I seek to be nearer to Christ. I know He can fill that hunger I have. But truthfully, I don’t know how to let Him do that. I don’t know how to let Him be my friend and confidant. So that’s what I’m praying about. Tips are welcome.

That said, I’ve become all too aware of my own messiness and increasingly aware of Christ’s grace and patience with me. He loves me on the days I can’t stand to be around myself, and He makes it bearable. It’s that kind of love that I want to be the foundation of all my future friendships and relationships… love as an outpouring of what’s inside me for the glory of God, not demanding from others what I lack for my own fulfillment.

So I’m discovering what it’s like to have a real friend in Christ. He’s the best role model for everything else, so I guess that makes sense that He’d be good at this whole love and friendship thing too.

John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

 

Parts of the Body – Friendships

Nearly every Christian has heard the analogy the body of Christ as it relates to spiritual gifts and their applications to ministry (1 Corinthians 12), but I’ve been seeing a new area in life where this also seems to be true.

Friendships.

Just like no one person can be an evangelist, pastor, prayer warrior, healer, administrator, or wise mentor (etc…) in the body of Christ, no one person can give you everything you need in regards to the “needs” that we have that are satisfied by friendships. For example, I can’t rely on only one friend to give me sound Biblical advice, hold me when I need to cry, always be available to talk, cheer me up when I’m in a crappy mood, pray for me, or encourage me when I’m struggling. Yes, my best friends will do all of those things if/when I need them to, but that’s too tall of an order to put on just one person  for a long period of time.

Instead, and luckily so, God has been working on giving me a network of people to rely on. I have mentors at church ( I can’t forget my mom!) to give me the sound wisdom I desperately need. I have a few solid people who will feverishly pray for me in a moment’s notice. I have a couple girls who will sit in silence next to me on the couch as tears fall down my face when I need to cry. Between a few of my friends, I know that if I need to talk to someone, one of them will make themselves available. I have a friend who I can geek out with about film and computers, one who I will run to for parenting advice (a while down the road… don’t worry!) or to vent about the Route 68 middle school kids, one or two who have terrific senses of style/fashion, and a couple who can turn any boring situation into a fun and silly adventure… and the list goes on an on. I’m blessed, aren’t I? And this “network” or “web” of friends I have keeps growing as I grow in my walk with Christ.

I’ve realized that one of the greatest disservices you can do to one of your friends is to expect them to be someone they’re not and to hold too high of expectations for them. This has been a very tough lesson for me to learn, because it also means I can’t be everything to each of my friends either. And the greatest disservice you can do to yourself is to close yourself off from new people and friendships because you’re satisfied with how many friends you have now, or because you keep hoping that you current friends will change. Not everyone needs to be your BEST friend, and it’s natural for there to be different levels of intimacy and time spent between your friendships, but don’t close yourself off. You may be missing out on someone God has picked out to make a large or small difference in your life.

That said, I love my friends with all of my heart, and I am so thankful that God built each of them the way He did. I love learning about them and who God created them to be (and who he DIDN’T create them to be!). And I LOVE growing in Christ beside them. I’m learning so much through them and because of them. I know that my journey these past few months has only taken place the way it did because they chose to put up with me and show up when God asked them to.

The King and I

During summer 2011 I enrolled in a 14-week class that my church offered called “Experiencing God”. We went through a workbook by the same name, written by Blackaby, Blackaby and King. It was an eye-opening process for me; I was at a stage in my life where I was really ready to see God, to EXPERIENCE Him in a way I hadn’t before. I was also at a personal crossroads and was looking for His direction in my choices.

The study had a ripple effect on many things in my life, but one of those ripples was an idea that I’d always been taught growing yp, but I had never embraced or understood it before: When we pray, we should expect an answer from God.

I didn’t know what “expect” really meant until now, though. Was I supposed to just be determined that God was going to respond to me in His small, quiet voice eventually, if I sat in the silence for long enough? Was I supposed to open my Bible to a random page, pick a verse with closed eyes, and try to interpret it to fit my situation? Was I supposed to go ask the wisest Christian I know their opinion, and go with it? How was I supposed to know when and where my “answer” would appear? What was I supposed to DO?

This past week has been intense. God has been teaching me more in this past week than He has in the past year of my life. And it’s only getting more exciting. But what I’ll pull out of those ramblings for the purpose of this blog post is that GOD RESPONDS. He not only responds to prayer, but He responds to our thoughts and ideas.

After my last blog post, “Just Show Up,” was published, I went to bed and opened my Bible. I usually read two chapters a night, unless I’m especially on fire. The last section I read was from Luke 17:

 7 “Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

I sat there and cried like I often do these days as God’s power washed over me. I was amazed that God had listened to my rambling thoughts just an hour before when I wrote my blog post. Those thoughts hadn’t even been expressed in “prayer mode”… I had just been thinking. And I was amazed that He sent me to a part of His Word where I could find His thoughts and His words about the subject.

So, this is what “expecting” looks like: It’s listening, everywhere and to everything, but not trying to FIND the answer. There have been times this week when I’d hear a verse in a worship song that speaks to what I’m experiencing. It encourages me and puts little joy in my heart. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a random stranger or a friend, and they word something just so, and I know that what they said was a hint to me from God (for an example, see the 5th paragraph in my post “The Godly Condition” about not being able to let God down). Or I’ll open my Bible to do my nightly reading, and something LEAPS off the page at me, and I can’t help but sit there in amazement.

I’m not wise, but I am a quick learner usually. One thing I’ve seen these past few weeks is that when God really shows up, and when He speaks and I’m listening, it’s very hard to miss because it clicks in my heart and my head. When I’m aware of His power and His caring concern over the details of my life, I know when He’s telling me something. It has been a daily exchange between the King and I.

But I’m learning to DO less and TRUST more. I need to stop trying to do the right things to find the answers to my prayers…

I need to TRUST (there’s that word again!) that if I keep living on God’s path, He’s going to walk by my side. Then I won’t have to go looking for Him when I need some advice.

Just Show Up

I’m a thinker. I always have been and probably always will be. I’ll spend hours strategizing over the best way to do or approach something. I’m also a master manipulator. I’m pushy, stubborn, and usually think I’m right no matter what anyone says.

I’ve had the uttermost privilege of coming alongside a few people in my lifetime when they needed a good friend most. God has used my relationships with them to keep them encouraged and going along the path He’s had planned for them. Every once in a while it’s like I get front-row seats to the greatest film ever: I get to watch God change someone’s life. It’s humbling each and every time it happens, and each time I’m amazed all over again at God’s awesome grace and power.

A couple months ago I had a God moment. If you’ve ever been in a close relationship with Christ, you know what I’m talking about. It was a moment where God literally cut me off at the knees. He shook me by my ears and yelled at me. It doesn’t sound gentle, and I can tell you that it was NOT, but it was exactly what I needed. He was telling me that I need to stop trying to manage other people’s situations, because that’s what I do naturally. I sit and think about the details of what they’re going through or struggling with, and I figure out how to solve it. And then I tell them exactly how they could fix their life by following my few easy steps. But like all humans, I don’t have the capacity to understand God’s plans, and quite often my plans interfere with what He’s trying to accomplish.

A couple months ago I had a sit-down with my best friend. I apologized to her for being a jerk, even if the manipulative thoughts never left my head, and for trying to “fix” her problems. I know, it’s funny, ME fixing other people’s problems. I have a hard enough time managing my own. But on with the story. I’d spent  so much time trying to manipulate conversations and situations to get the result I thought she should achieve. And it wasn’t just her. I usually spend my entire day trying to make people think what I thought they should be thinking. That night God had brought me to a place where I was exhausted from trying to control the world on my own. No duh.

I sat there in tears and cried on her shoulder. I don’t know if she understood what was really going on in my head, but God was in the midst of teaching me a lesson or two. By the end of the night, I knew I had to step back and stop trying so thinking hard. And not just trying, but THINKING about trying. My mind would constantly turn while I tried to solve the world’s problems. And then when I thought I’d had a solution, I was all gun-ho trying to get everyone in their “places”. Of course it would never work out, and I’d wake up the next morning quite disappointed in myself.

I have a dear friend from high school whose life was drastically changed by Christ just in this past year. I’ve seen such a 180 in her. Tonight she thanked me for being such a great friend, and she thanked me for “all I’ve done”. My reaction 6 months ago would’ve been a flat out “You’re welcome. I love you! Glad I could help,” but this year it’s different. I’ve witnessed first hand that I can do absolutely nothing. I’m stupid most of the time, and I usually have really horrible ideas. My response to her tonight was a line that I believe is whole-heartedly true: “You and God did all of the work. I just showed up.”

I know I’m slow, but I’m beginning to think that sometimes “showing up” is all God really asks of us. If  we see an opportunity, sometimes we need to just show up and be willing to do whatever He asks. In September I had a “divine appointment” that required me to show up and play whatever role was asked me of. Within one week I went from not knowing a particular girl at church to holding her, wiping her tears, and crying with her as she dealt with trauma from childhood abuse. I never could have predicted that, but God knew she would need someone, and He knew that if I would only show up, I’d play the role I was supposed to. I did show up, and God used me.

As I reflect on where God has me now, I have to constantly remind myself of what God has been teaching me. My instinct is to take control and protect the people I care about who may be going through something difficult. But God can do the most work when EVERYONE steps out of the way. Especially me, their pesky, nosy, pushy friend/daughter/sibling.

God will handle the details… we need to trust those to Him. We can’t be afraid of jumping in just because we’re not sure how deep the water is, how cold it is, whether there are sharks, if the floaties you bought at Target are guaranteed to work, or if there is a life guard on duty. And we can’t spend so much time focussed on the unknown details that we never embrace God’s big picture or trust in His power. Maybe you’re standing in the way of God  doing something big in your life. Or worse, maybe you’re standing in the way of God doing something big in someone else’s life. Either way, if you trust Him, let Him work. Let God do His thing. Believe me, God is GOOOOOD.