How to Do the Hard and Holy Work of Faithful Friendship

“So who’s mentoring whom here?” my friend asked with a mischievous grin.
Good question!
When friends challenge one another with shared books, Scripture reading, and transparent prayer, everyone is sharpened and restored in a way that uniquely shows the love of God. Janice Peterson calls this “spiritual friendship,” and has reached back into her long memory for the purpose of sharing her friend Gertrude, the woman who poured lemonade and listened to Jan’s teen-age thoughts and dreams.

Being seen and valued by a friend who was “always present, always caring,” set Peterson on a course to be that person for others, to live given, and to love well. In Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith, Jan remembers lemonade on the porch and shares her deep conviction that friendships can be life-altering in all the best ways.

A spiritual friendship differs from mentoring in that no one takes the lead. There’s no resident expert or hierarchy at work. Instead, spiritual friendship is characterized by an unstructured giving and receiving, “appreciating the gifts individuals have to offer. It’s being willing to share when you need to share and learn when you need to learn. It’s caring for the well-being of the other person, and letting her care for you as well.” (xviii)

Ministering alongside her husband, author and pastor Eugene Peterson, Janice seized the life-enriching opportunities that her role as a pastor’s wife provided for investing in relationships. With rich insights lifted from Romans 12, she has distilled for her readers five elements that have infused her most formative relationships:

Caring

“Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” (Romans 12:1 MSG)

We become caring people with practice, strengthening our awareness of others like a muscle. The author witnessed this outward focus modeled in her long-ago friend Gertrude and has concluded that regardless of gifting and personality, anyone can choose to put others first and pay attention to the needs of others.

As she matured, Peterson found her own caring heart drawn to the larger world. She began to serve on the Fair Housing Committee in her area and to practice cooking and eating habits that demonstrated her concern for the challenge of world hunger.

To become more caring:

  • Pay attention to those who are doing it well and copy them.
  • Push down your pride and receive unselfish caring from others.
  • Take note of the needs of the people God has placed right in front of your eyes.

Acceptance

“Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” (Romans 12:2 MSG)

Peterson warns, “A spiritual friend is someone you enjoy being with, but you may not always find the friendship simple or straightforward.” (30) As a “classic extrovert,” Janice finds it easy to take others at face value, but connecting with those who are more challenging to love can take the special effort of seeking to see the world from their perspective. Ironically, the first step in accepting others may be the task of self-acceptance.

To become more accepting of others:

  • Connect with them by participating in the things that interest them.
  • Spend time connecting with God to learn His heart of acceptance for you and for others.

Service

“Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.” (Romans 12:11, 12 MSG)

Living her way into God’s calling upon her life, Janice Peterson swam upstream in the 1960’s when other women were leaving their homes in droves to seek employment. Called to be a pastor’s wife and a mother, she has served and loved in her own unique way, motivating others to do likewise by her example.

To serve well:

  • Be ready to spring into action, loving your community in concrete ways.
  • Serve courageously when God points out a need that you are able to meet.

Hospitality

Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. . . Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” (Romans 12:13, 16 MSG)

Hospitality puts into practice the caring, serving, and accepting that friendship requires. Taking time to rightly align her readers’ understanding of the term, Peterson defines hospitality through a biblical lens: “the welcoming reception and treatment of guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” (67) The welcome of hospitality is a bridge to wholeness as we generously receive others and let them know us, warts and all.

To become more hospitable:

  • Forget about “entertaining” guests and just enjoy them, feed them, and listen to them.
  • Start with your family and move in ever widening circles.

Encouragement

“Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.” (Romans 12:14-16 MSG)

The church provides the perfect backdrop for mutual encouragement as believers motivate one another to acts of service, use of God-given gifts, and a continual focus on God and His faithfulness. Reorienting one another gently toward an others-orientation, we discover the truest and most healthy version of ourselves, and then offer that up as a gift to God. In the process, we also become a gift to others, a spiritual friend, putting on display the caring, accepting, serving, hospitable, encouraging heart of our relational God.

Many thanks to NavPress for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Thank you for the visit,

michele signature[1]


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Invited into the Deep Welcome of Friendship

Across the miles they drove, journeying four hours north on washboard roads until they reached this country hill.

“We want to talk about the conference,” they had said on the phone.  “We can fill you in on the details in person.  The more you know about us, the easier it will be for you to prepare.”

I heard their words, but I was deaf to their hearts, because as the date of their visit approached, the puddle of panic around me grew deeper and murkier.  The faithless ponderings multiplied:

They’ll be sorry they traveled all this way to meet someone so ordinary.
Will they want to quiz me on my theology?
I’m sure they’ll take one look at my tiny kitchen and my beat up wooden floors and decide that I’m a mess, too.

This, for me, has been the challenge of the Christian life:  to boldly welcome others into the mess that is me, and then to trust – to trust that God will build a bridge between our hearts, and to trust that others will respond with acceptance and love.

As it happens, my new friends arrived a few minutes late – G.P.S.’s aren’t much help out here!  More important, though, when they showed up in my driveway, they did not arrive bearing an impossible yardstick or hearts of judgment.  They were not expecting me to look or to sound like a conference speaker or to live in a museum of Pinterest perfection.

We exchanged warm hugs and settled down to business.

 

Capture

And may I invite you to join us?
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Michele Morin

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10 Questions that Foster Thriving Friendships

In our virtual world, we can swipe away friends as easily as we send leftover mashed potatoes into the kitchen trash.  We can polish our words and present ourselves as successful and popular, and even produce photos to back up our claim, but the longing of our hearts for true friendship — for genuine connection with another soul —  has to happen apart from Insta-glitter or the shallow disclosure of a tweet.

In Never Unfriended, Lisa-Jo Baker floats the notion that maybe our struggles with friendship happen because we are operating from wrong assumptions in our foundation.  We carry baggage from bad past experiences forward as if they were gospel, and we encumber relationships with unrealistic expectations.  We talk when we should listen, and we fret about our own small selves  when our eyes should be open wide to spot the needs of the other women in the room.

As community manager for (in)courage, Lisa-Jo is the girl in charge of relationships for that online gathering of hearts, but she doesn’t claim to have it all together yet.  We’re 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.   Crashing into my own selfishness and self-protective strategies from the very first chapter of Never Unfriended, a list of ten questions bubbled their way into my thinking about friendship:

 1.  What would happen if I approached friendship from an active posture?

What if instead of asking, “Who will be my friend?” I asked “How can I be a friend?”  The words of Jesus come to mind:  “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. . .”

2.  What lies are fueling my fear of or reluctance toward friendship?

Whether it’s a past friendship gone sour or wrong thinking about my own self-worth and relevance, these lies poison friendship going forward and must be rooted out and replaced with the Truth.

3.  What’s the worst thing that can happen if I go first?

It turns out that we’re all still in middle school when it comes to being the new girl — or welcoming the new girl into our established group.  Radical friendship maintains an open circle for others on the outside.  A fierce commitment to community will fuel Brave and risk Awkward.  Lisa shares the example of volunteering to host a group in her home when she had just moved to a new state and a new church.  She took the risk and the result was a sweetly woven network of relationships.

When we keep score with the facets of friendship — Who texted last?  Who’s turn is it to host this time? — and then hold back to wait for “justice,” our world becomes small and stingy.  Lisa describes going first as “the cardinal rule of friendship.”

4.  Am I willing to be radically inconvenienced?

Caller i.d. has made it possible for me to screen out undesirable contact at will.  My busy homeschooling life gives me a ready-made excuse for “minding my own business.”  However, if I live within safe boundaries of efficiency and time management, I’ll miss out on “Velveteen friendship” that loves off my rough edges.  I’ll never become real.

Adrian Plass writes about incarnational relationships modeled on the example of Christ’s radical encounter with humanity:  “Shouting stern advice at people through a megaphone from a very great height never did do much good.”

And it never did make for close friendship, either.

5.   Do I use guilt to get my friendship needs met?

Particularly when distance is an issue, Lisa-Jo advocates for “Guilt-Free Friendship” in which there is no deadline for responding to emails and phone calls, in which each agrees to assume the best about motivations, and in which the tone is always generous and forgiving.

“Guilt-free friendship is the gift that women who are secure in their own sense of acceptance can give each other.”

6.  Is it a joyful thing to me when I see that my friends are flourishing?

God is delighted when His children strive for the well-being of others.  Taking a radical interest in the people around me, making time for their needs, and actively contributing to their success is clearly friendship in action.

7.  How much time have I wasted being “fine?”

Fine is a lie that we tell out of a dusty soul.
Fine is plexi-glass protection for our image of perfection.
Fine is a deal-breaker in the economy of true friendship.
Never Unfriended challenges readers to “step out from behind fine” and offer friendship instead.

8.  Am I ready to drop comparison and competition and embrace a co-op mentality?

Jealousy ruins the joy of the jealous, but it also stifles the celebration of its object.  Better to rejoice in the truth that “there’s enough work in the Kingdom for everyone,” and to lean into the calling God has placed on my own soul than to be continually glancing over my shoulder to monitor the blessings of others with a resentful eye.

9.  What if I’m not the center of the universe?

When I become caught up in the vortex of “I wonder what they’re thinking about me,” it’s helpful to be brought to the reality that it is unlikely that they are thinking about me  . . . at all.  This leaves me free to think about them, or to look around me, to notice the “people at my table” — to practice intentional self-forgetfulness in the interest of pursuing meaningful conversations that do not center around me.

10.  Would the universe crumble if I gave my friend the benefit of the doubt?

What would happen if I believed the best about her instead of holding to the assumption that is clouding my brain at this moment?  Lisa-Jo hazards a guess that (unless a relationship is so poisonous and bitter that we need to walk away) the outcome will be positive and surprising — although it may take time and patience.  The grace of hoping and believing may have redemptive outcomes that could not have come any other way.

Friendship is hard work, but the alternative is a small, safe, and deeply lonely world.  Furthermore, God uses the crucible of relationship to reveal to us the contents of our hearts, to refine us so that we know that we are “the real deal” all the way to the core.

You were friended, ultimately and irrevocably, by the God of universe, when He took on a body and joined us here in the neighborhood of humanity.  If the life of Christ pulses within your veins and you have heard his “go and do likewise” — the next move is yours.

//

This book was provided by B&H Publishing Group in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If Never Unfriended sounds like content that your group needs for a deeper dive, you’ll be pleased to know that Lisa-Jo and (in)courage have released a Bible study curriculum to accompany the book.  Click here for more information about We Saved You a Seat.

//

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The Deep Welcome of Friendship

Across the miles they drove, journeying four hours north on washboard roads until they reached this country hill.

“We want to talk about the conference,” they had said on the phone.  “We can fill you in on the details in person.  The more you know about us, the easier it will be for you to prepare.”

I heard their words, but I was deaf to their hearts, because as the date of their visit approached, the puddle of panic around me grew deeper and murkier.  The faithless ponderings multiplied:

They’ll be sorry they traveled all this way to meet someone so ordinary.
Will they want to quiz me on my theology?
I’m sure they’ll take one look at my tiny kitchen and my beat up wooden floors and decide that I’m a mess, too.

This, for me, has been the challenge of the Christian life:  to boldly welcome others into the mess that is me, and then to trust – to trust that God will build a bridge between our hearts, and to trust that others will respond with acceptance and love.

As it happens, my new friends arrived a few minutes late – G.P.S.’s aren’t much help out here!  More important, though, when they showed up in my driveway, they did not arrive bearing an impossible yardstick or hearts of judgment.  They were not expecting me to look or to sound like a conference speaker or to live in a museum of Pinterest perfection.

We exchanged warm hugs and settled down to business.

And may I invite you to join us?
{I would love for you to continue reading with me over at (in)courage . . .}

And while you’re there be sure to sign up here to receive free daily notes from (in)courage, sent right to your inbox!

//

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Let It Burn!

“You don’t need to fast,” she said.  “Your prayers are enough.”

But I did need to fast, because her situation sounded really bleak, and God was talking to my heart about it.

 

Bev was traveling alone in Uganda when she injured her knee hurrying across a busy street.  Swollen to nearly twice its size, the knee was painful.

But the itinerary called for travel to Congo.

The schedule called for long hours of teaching and counseling.

She shared her need for prayer through the medium that brought us together:  the internet.

Bev is a warrior (and a SheLovely) whose ministry allows her to see, firsthand, the burdens women bear, sometimes quite literally. During this most recent trip, Bev saw women of all ages and sizes carry bundles of up to 100 kilos or more on their backs. These bundles are secured by a rag, wrapped around their middle and then over the front of their forehead. The women bend forward to carry the weight, but there’s no posture that will lighten the load of  trauma. In the DRC, rape is often used as a weapon of war. Women are marked as damaged goods, husbands abandon them and this back-breaking labor barely finances what’s left of their lives.

Following this most recent trip to Africa, Bev returned to her home in Australia, hair aflame, excited to share the potential for ministry among women of Congo whose whole life trajectory could be altered by the ownership of a simple wheelbarrow or by the introduction of a micro-enterprise that will enable them to provide for themselves.

“I think I need to learn French,” Bev exclaims, “and I have found a couple of women who are connected to the interior decor industry.  They are looking to source products from women across the world.”

Urgency like this comes with the realization that God has given us the ability to solve problems and meet needs in our lifetime. Years ago, Bev stood beside a crib in a Ugandan hospital, looking with grief at one of the 177,000 children living with HIV.  She heard the Spirit say, “You can do something about this if you want to,” and Cherish Uganda was born, a ministry that provides a home, health care, and education for children infected with HIV/AIDS.

Today, she envisions a ministry to women and children of Congo called Scarlet Women – because of the blood and the shame.  She dreams of building a path out of the poverty and hopelessness that her eyes have seen.

What sets your hair aflame?  What challenges you to step outside your safe routines and known ways?

Do read on!  There’s much more at SheLoves Magazine . . .

Capture

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Greet One Another with Grace

I lived south of the Mason-Dixon just long enough to be introduced to the word “Hey” as a greeting – not long enough, however, to become accustomed to it. Here in New England, “Hey!” is the word we use to get someone’s attention, as in, “Hey! You can’t pahk heah!” A simple southern greeting would stop me in my tracks on campus, as I waited for the rest of the sentence.

These days, I’m stopping in my tracks when I read the greetings in Paul’s New Testament letters. There were no “throw away” words in his writing – they all carried weight, and he was very aware that his written words were carrying the weight of grace to his readers:

  • grace that would enable them to be peacemakers in times of intense persecution;
  • grace to boldly refute false teaching;
  • grace to forgive so that relationships could be restored.

Maybe that’s why every single one of Paul’s thirteen epistles opens with the words “grace to you” and ends with the phrase “grace with you,” as if his readers could carry the truth of God’s great love and forgiveness with them when they finished reading his letter.

Is it possible for mere words to be so consequential?

In my world of hurry, I have mastered the quick hello, the cheery smile — and the averted eyes. It’s “Destination, Ho!” even on a Sunday morning when, supposedly, I have gathered together to do my part in strengthening and encouraging the body.

With hair aflame, can I really take the risk of asking, “How are you?”

What if they actually want to tell me how they are?

In detail?

Without literally using the words, what would “grace to you” sound like in the paper towel aisle at Wal-Mart? In the hallways of a Sunday-morning church? I am pondering the notion that my greetings, though not inspired as Paul’s were, can truly mediate grace to my sisters in Christ.

Jesus is never recorded as having actually used the word grace. He just taught it and lived it, so whether I find in my heart sufficient grace to pour out to others depends on whether I am faithfully taking the unconditional grace He offers to me. When my mind is occupied with odious comparisons, grace-filled words of greeting will stick in my throat. “I’m so happy to see you! Tell me how you’re doing!” will never find its way to the open air if I’m suffocating it behind judgment, impatience, or discomfort in my own skin.

Like Paul, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” Trusting that this is true, and that God is at work in me, I find grace to hold a sister’s gaze and to hear her heart, to scribble down an important date or a prayer request, to pray on the spot for an expressed need.

I’ve been asking God to open my heart during the brief moments I spend chatting with my friends. They’re busy too, and maybe they’re even wishing I’d move along and let them get to their Sunday school class or finish their shopping . . . but maybe they’re hoping for someone to stop for a minute to see their pain and to hear their story.

Living in a nation where Rome’s brutal customs mingled with Israel’s preoccupation with measurable and highly visible righteousness, Jesus chose to address the seemingly trivial topic of greetings in His Sermon on the Mount. It seems that He wants me to offer greetings of grace to people I’d rather not even see!

“If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (Mt.5:47 ESV)

Greetings of grace make for peace, so there’s no ducking behind the Cover Girl display at Target or pretending to ponder the missionary bulletin board in the back of the church when I run into THAT person. If I open my heart to give a grace-filled greeting, I demonstrate that I am a daughter of a grace-filled God who daily pours out grace into the life of this impatient wife, sharp-tongued mother, fretful blogger, fitful worshiper, and inconsistent pray-er.  As God’s grace is set free to transform me, I am praying to become an instrument of transforming grace in the lives of others.

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Conversation at the Door

Some of our most important and profound words are said in doorways.  Because someone is leaving, words spoken at the door are often more consequential, more weighty.  Time is short and must not be frittered away.  An entire evening may pass filled with light conversation and meandering stories until it’s time to say goodbye, and suddenly the flow of words gushes into the streambed of relevance.

In Just Show Up, Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn are standing in the door together, and this record of their words is raw and real.  Kara, author of The Hardest Peace, writes from the perspective of a cancer patient in her final days.  (Kara passed away in March 2015 shortly after the book’s completion.)  Jill speaks as a close friend who has offered her hands and her heart in service to Kara and her family.  What emerges from their shared writing is a chronicle of the painful, long good-by called cancer, many reassuring and sometimes humorous stories about the agony and the awkwardness of a friendship in which cancer is the unwanted third wheel, the helplessness of watching a dear friend suffer, and the need for both parties to put all pretense aside and fall into the rhythm of God’s choreography.

This pouring out of words about friendship and suffering would be enough if that was all that lived between the covers of Just Show Up — but it’s not, for in the way of showing up, Jill and Kara learned valuable and practical lessons about loving and saying goodbye:

  • The uncomfortable dance of giving and receiving help can be relieved somewhat by clear communication.  Being specific is key.  For example, rather than vague “call-me-if-you-need-anything” statements, offer to grocery shop, to provide transportation to appointments, to assist children with school projects.
  • When you provide a meal, use disposable dishes.  Suggest that the family place a cooler on the front steps so that meals can be dropped off unobtrusively without impacting family time.  Ask for guidelines on family food preferences and allergies.
  • Don’t visit when you are sick!
  • Put your giftedness at the family’s disposal. If you are a skilled photographer, offer to take pictures of the family.  Put your organizational skills to work managing their mail or other details.
  • Don’t become overwhelmed or neglect your own family responsibilities.  If you add a caring role to your life, subtract something else to make room for it.
  • Mourn the loss of your relationship as it used to be, but then find a new normal.
Jill and Kara drew from the wisdom offered in an LA Times article called “How Not to Say the Wrong Thing,” which described a series of concentric circles with the name of the person who is suffering in the center.  From there, place the names of family and friends with this in mind:  the closer one is to the person who is suffering, the closer their name goes to the center ring.  Using that as a guide, the key is this:  “Comfort in.  Dump out.”  For example, Jill did not complain to Kara’s family at all (about anything), but Kara’s husband was free to be honest with Jill about his struggles and observations regarding Kara’s decline.  As a general rule, if in doubt, err on the side of comforting instead of dumping.
In a way, what we have here is a devastatingly practical book on the theology of suffering and the sovereignty of God.  With tears, protesting the suffering, and mourning the brevity of Kara’s life, both Kara and Jill assert the truth that “suffering is not the absence of God’s goodness.”  Kara’s suffering and the process of dying were the cause for mourning, but also the occasion for finding “the smallest good and expand[ing] on it.”  Kara made the choice to be transparent about her suffering and to live her final days in a community that wrapped her in love and that continues to support and to love her family.  Just Show Up is the story of suffering being redeemed, “of God showing up in the midst of community here on earth.”

This book was provided by David C. Cook in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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