Have you ever had something you thought was a true friendship, exciting and full of fun only to fizzle out after a few months? Or worse abruptly turn into animosity? One morning you’re close like salt and pepper but the next morning you’re mortal enemies.
It’s painful. But it happens even in your church pew.
How I Lost Most of My Christian Friends in 10 Years
A couple of years ago, I lost a number of very close friends. Our lives took opposite directions and we grew apart. These guys were important to me as they had stood with me during my difficult times. It was a painful loss.
I tried to reconnect with them through social media. And for a while, I was convinced our friendship had reborn. But this hope soon fizzled out when I wanted a small favor from them.
They were truly not my friends anymore, just a bunch of acquittances I chatted with often on WhatsApp.
After observing my pain, my ever wise wife quipped, “Christians are so fake on social media. Especially, the one Christian friend you have known for many years.” She was right, as always.
Likes, comments, shares and texts are cheap. They can easily cover pride and envy. Peter advised (1 Peter 4:8), “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” Love not cheap social engagement should cover pride and envy. This is the gospel way of nurturing lasting friendships.
The Number One Reason You Are Losing Friends
As I thought of my loss, I learned an important lesson. People often say your true friends are the people who stand by you in tough times. But my experience have proven otherwise.
[Tweet “Likes, comments, shares, and texts are cheap because they can hide pride and envy.”]
This is what happened.
I lost a dozen friends when I wedded my beautiful wife (my wife lost all her friends but two on our wedding day). When I was awarded a fellowship to study in the US, I lost more friends. Today, I can count all my remaining friends in one hand.
It’s easy to stand by someone who’s suffering, bereaved or lost a job. But it takes true Christ-like friendship to endure a friend’s success. A true Christian friend fights the wiles of pride and envy, for the sake of sustaining a gospel-centered friendship.
I remember while struggling with my research in grad school, a friend successfully defended his dissertation. I was happy for him but envious at the same time. The chasm began to grow like continental drift.
My friend had no idea of what was going on in my mind. The haunting jealousy and the ceaseless anxiety.
I asked God to help me fight the envy. I went out of my way and called my graduating friend. God helped me understand that envy can be fought by sharing in the joy. As he poured his relief and excitement, my growing jealous and envy melt like butter on a hot stove.
That friend has become very close to me. Even when he got a job while I failed to get one, it never created a wall between us. His successes have become my success.
The cost of true friendship
True gospel-centered friendship is not cheap. It’s deeper than Facebook likes, shares, comments or tags. I have learned this the hard way.
To cope with the pain of losing close friends I created a personal mantra:
Some friendships are for a reason but some are for a season.
Here’s the deal.
I know this statement sounds cute and true. But it’s rubbish. It’s deceptive. It assumes all friendships are bound to end when the reason or season concludes. It’s a lame excuse for avoiding deep friendships.
But theology is best practiced in community. True friendships doesn’t only give you a social life but it nurtures your knowledge of Jesus Christ while glorifying God. God called us into a fellowship with him and with one another.
But fellowship with one another sometimes means making friends. It means having one or two people you get very close to like Paul and Barnabas, Peter, James and John, the Marys, David and Jonathan, Elijah and Elisha or Job, Elihu, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophah. It requires you to be vulnerable and accountable.
And this is where the problem begins.
How do you make friends? How can you make a friendship that honors God? Importantly, what it is the role of a Christian friendship in following Jesus Christ in the 21st century?
[Tweet “A true Christian friend is someone going where you’re growing and growing where you’re going.”]
1. Avoid easy friendships
Have you ever met someone who liked the same music, same sport, same color and sane everything? If you were shopping for friends, you probably leaped with joy. Thinking you finally found a lifetime friendship. But did that friendship last?
Easy friendships are often based on surface issues. They’re like a high school crush. Emotionally engaging for a little while and then quickly die down in a fraction of a second. Unfortunately, such friendships don’t just die, they’re actually heartbreaking.
2. Invest in hard relationships
Frank and I had nothing in common. He was an athlete, loved sports and I thought sports were a worst of time. And he loved Chemistry and I thought Physics was more intellectually stimulating. He loved Reggae music and I thought Reggae was for pot-smoking unemployed jerks. But we met sometime in 1996 and we’ve been friends ever since.
True friendships take work and demands that you navigate your differences with grace. In time, you will find your differences offer an opportunity to celebrate each other. 20 years later, I am now into Reggae, soccer and Chemistry and Frank is now into Medical Physics, looks down on sports and he still loves Reggae though. It’s funny how it all worked out.
3. Trust God for a true friendship
Studying abroad offers several opportunities for loneliness and isolation. During my third year of graduate school, I began feeling their pinch. I remember crying to God to bring friends in my life. And he heard my prayer. I joined a Bible study group for young families. The families that were part of the group became my friends.
There’s no easy way to true friendship and there’s no lasting relationship without God authoring it. God often uses people as vehicles of his blessings. He answers our prayers through other people’s obedience. You need to trust God to give you true friends. Most of the challenges we face in our lives can be resolved easily through a gospel-centered Christian friendship.
4. A true friendship might be one-way giving
I have a friend who has also become my brother. When our Christian friendship began, he did all the giving. There was nothing mutual for more than one and half decades. He gave his time, his house, his money, his resources and a listening ear. The only thing I did was to say thank you as he willingly walked in obedience to God and sometimes at a painful cost to him.
But his example taught me about Christ-like friendship; a Christian friendship that devotes to giving without expecting to receive anything in return, a relationship based on showing love even to the undeserving, a bond that seeks to build the other through expression of the Father’s love, Jesus Christ’s grace and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Isn’t this the type of true friendship Christ called us for?