In the high school cafeteria, battle lines are clearly drawn. Groups have staked out their tables, identities have been fixated and the ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ exaggerated theme in teen movies has just enough truth in it to sting us. Young people know who their friends are and just as importantly, they know who their friends aren’t.
Growing older, this doesn’t seem to change for a large demographic of American people. We fuss about Facebook drama, we spend time exclusively with those of a similiar socio-economic status or lifestyle. We may have acquired a new best friend or your friendship has stood the test of time, still be holding onto the BFF locket from middle school. Besties rule!
As a Christian, this makes me uncomfortable. The way friendships are defined. The way we put people in boxes. The way our social lives are carefully regulated within circles of familiarity and the way we let some in and keep others at an arm’s length.
It’s natural to develop a comfortable vulnerability with certain, like-minded people. It’s natural to enjoy the company of some people more than others. It’s natural to share the deepest part of your heart only with one or two very trusted, dear souls. What isn’t natural is extenuating the battle lines of high school… demarcating some people as “friend material” and others as not worth your time.
As Christians, I don’t think we are called to be friends with everybody. But I do think we are called to alter our understanding of friendship and evangelization. Writer Heather King nails it:
“We’re called to speak to people to whom we often don’t feel like speaking; to refrain from surrounding ourselves with people “just like us,” whose thoughts, ideas, and actions we can more or less manage and control; to share not just with the poor, but with the rich, the mediocre, the irritating, the Republicans, the Democrats, because we never know who the poor are. We never know whose heart is hemorrhaging. We never know who needs a kind work, a smile, a helping hand.”
In my adult friendships, I’ve learned many valuable lessons. I’ve learned that I can’t please everyone. I’ve learned that in spite of my best intentions, I have let my friends down. I’ve learned that I can’t spend all my time with the people I most want to. I’ve learned that I am called to deepen my understanding of what different layers of friendship means for a person of faith.
Young people experience friendships in basically two dimensions. It is very transparent who you love, who you like and who you dislike. There are “best friends”, “close friends”, “friendly acquaintances” and then everyone else. As one grows older, it seems like new dimensions of friendship open up. People come into your life for reasons sometimes not immediately apparent, and they have something unique to offer you… or you to them. Other people have access to a very limited, but very personal part of your soul that no one else does… yet you wouldn’t join up to go out shopping or watch movies together. Still other people exist with whom there isn’t a mutual attraction or interest in a personal friendship… people you would’ve ran away from in high school. Yet there is a need to be served here, a heart to meet, a hand to hold. Equally important, but often unseen, is that such people are able to sanctify you in a way your dearest friends can not. They are the sandpaper smoothing out the rough spots on your personality.
To be Christ-like, we have to open up all of ourselves… frankly to everyone. We have to be willing to raise a few eyebrows by sitting with people with whom we aren’t comfortable. We have to challenge assumptions about cliquey groups that tend to form in our communities. We have to reach past age, family, clothing styles, financial status, lifestyle preference and neighborhood to be all things to all people. We can’t be best friends with everyone. We simply don’t have the time nor the emotional reserve to do so. But we can be open to opportunities for authentic conversation, a searching smile or an exchange of ideas.
Closing ourselves off to people… crossing our arms and avoiding eye contact… or worse, keeping the relationship constantly at stiffly defined nods and fake smile status, limits our experience of who the Creator is. Every single person united under any place together is carrying around hidden sorrows. Every single person reflects, in a specific and unrepeatable way, some tiny part of the face of God that no one else on the planet ever has or ever will again. Search for Him in all people, and what we find may be more that we ever could’ve hoped for.