“I want to keep it handy in case I need it,” she said, matter-of-factly.
She wasn’t talking about a flashlight.
Not a package of tissues.
Not a cell phone—they hadn’t been invented in 1978.
She was talking about Isaiah 55.
“I liked it,” she went on. “So I memorized it.”
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.”
The words poured from her lips, because they were, indeed, handy, and although the pale yellow V.W. Rabbit continued on its way south down Route 1, I had been stopped in my tracks at the miracle of memorization. My friend had captured for herself the treasure of 13 verses of exquisite beauty and stunning promises—mountains and hills bursting into song and trees clapping their hands—all for the LORD’s glory and renown.
There is no way she could have known that my view of Scripture would be forever changed on that bumpy pot-holed ride, for I saw clearly that, in my friend’s mind, the Words of God were a banquet, and she would have devoured them all given the time and opportunity.
And this is the power and the gift of friendship: when hearts collide, lives are altered. Fortunately, some astute authors have noticed this almost chemical reaction and have put their observations and insights into the pages of books.
Fiction lovers will delight in following a four-way spiritual journey among friends in the Sensible Shoes series by Sharon Garlough Brown. Speaking truth into each other’s lives through personal crises, the four protagonists adopted habits of holiness and embarked on individual spiritual journeys that were enhanced by coming together. It turns out that life-on-life interaction can be the sandpaper of God’s choosing to bring about the miracle of Ephesians 3:1 “…that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Can You See Anything Now? is another work of fiction that spotlights the importance of friendship. It’s a complicated read, but perhaps the reason it won Christianity Today’s 2018 award for fiction is the church’s great need for stories that do not require a happy ending to be redemptive. From a white Cracker Barrel rocking chair set on her front porch, Etta Wallace observes the comings and goings of the quiet community of Trinity. Prescribing banana bread and Crock-Pot dinners, she serves up grace in the evangelical tradition. Author Katherine James crafted Etta with a friendship mantra that resonates in our lonely world: “Do the opposite.”
“… when people are struggling, it seemed to Etta, the people around them run away—embarrassed, uncomfortable. She would do the opposite and introduce herself.”
“Doing the opposite” is a practice of holy rebellion, and Sally Clarkson (having moved 17 times!) has had to lean hard into the discipline of making those connections. Girls’ Club: Cultivating Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World is her record of resisting isolation and embracing routines of community building centered around large mugs of strong, hot tea and a welcoming table. It is her instruction manual in the art and science of cultivating deep and lasting friendships.
From time to time, we all need to hear the words, “I think you have it in you to be brave.” We need permission to make friendship a priority we can choose amidst the demands of life. And certainly, we should not sit in our solitary chair and wait for friendship to strike like lightning.
What seedling of friendship is already sprouting, unnoticed in your world?
“Usually friendship grows over time when planted in the soil of life, grown over seasons, and watered with love so it can flourish in the sunshine of life shared.”
Being seen and valued by a friend who was always present, always caring, set Janice Peterson on a course to be that person for others, to live given, and to love well. In Becoming Gertrude, Peterson remembers lemonade on the porch and shares her deep conviction that friendships can be life altering in all the best ways. Ministering alongside her husband, author and pastor Eugene Peterson, Janice seized the opportunities that her role as a pastor’s wife provided for investing in relationships. With rich insights from Romans 12, she has distilled for her readers a rich brew of caring, acceptance, service, hospitality, and encouragement that allows us to become a gift to each other as we drink deeply and then take note of the people God has placed right in front of our eyes.
Taking aim against our cultural tendency toward privacy and independence, Leslie Verner provides scriptural evidence that we have been Invited into relationship with God and into community with his people. Therefore, we are empowered for an intentional practice of hospitality as an open door to meaningful relationships. Jesus modeled an open-hearted practice of welcome, insisting that our “neighbor” (and therefore our friend!) could be just about anyone. Living like “invited ones” ourselves, we take the initiative in a practice of missional hospitality and purposeful cultivation of friendships.
Unfortunately, in our virtual world, we can swipe away friends as easily as we send leftover mashed potatoes into the kitchen trash. In Never Unfriended, Lisa-Jo Baker floats the notion that maybe our struggles with friendship happen because we are operating from wrong assumptions in the foundation of our thinking about relationships. We carry baggage from bad past experiences forward as if they were gospel, and we encumber our people with unrealistic expectations. We talk when we should listen, and we fret about our own small selves when friendship demands that we keep our eyes open wide to spot the needs of other women in the room.
Thanks be to God! We are all friends-in-training together until we reach heaven. In the meantime, we live our way into our best relational selves and seek to fulfill our God-breathed desire for community in ways that glorify him and serve others. Our reading choices can move us, by grace, in that direction.