Honestly, I had to take a good long look at my friendships in the past year or so. Having moved to a new place, new church, and no job outside of the home for the first time in my adult life, I felt alone.
I had to be honest with myself. What am I really looking for in a friend? A sounding board? A yes-person? Someone who would get me without lengthy explanations, or, rather, attempts at explanations? Someone who gets all my references – literary, scifi, theatrical, musical, artistic, academic, whatelses… because let’s face it. I’m so well rounded. I need well rounded friends.
It was horrifying to look at myself. I had those moments like when you look in the mirror and realize you have a giant zit and about two minutes before you have to actually be seen by people other than your kids. I hated it. I hated myself. I am a terrible friend. I said as much to my husband. And my dear, sweet husband (who does actually get 99% of my references) looked at me lovingly and held me in his arms and said something like, Well, now you know.
I could have been furious. I could have been outraged and blast him in some unhelpful ways with references he would definitely get 100%. But then as we talked about it, it became painfully clear. A good friend – a good husband, too – is one who sees us as we are and loves us all the same. But he/she doesn’t stop there. When we are a good friend, we invite each other into our hearts. We say come in and take up space. And while you’re at it, make suggestions and feel free to clean up some stuff! Help us put stuff away. Help us see with new eyes what we’ve been looking at all our lives, and still don’t always see clearly.
This is friendship. Friendship is art. It’s the combining of things that weren’t together. It’s the repopulating of a space until it explodes with new life and meaning. It’s the reality and fantasy worlds colliding, making messes, but also almost simultaneously making beauty. It really is Messy Beautiful Friendship. The way it all comes together is that we each take a brush, a color, a bunch of colors, and we work together to create something different and challenging and new. It takes time and skill and patience and commitment. It’s worth it. Every time.
Why? Because we think it’s worth it. Real life gets at us and starts to make us wonder if it’s worth it. The effort of getting together. The pain of ironing sharpening iron – true friendships that get at your soul and is willing to poke holes in you where you need them poked. Sometimes friends are the worst. Just like the art of a hammer and chisel on marble, it’s messy and awkward and loud and sometimes annoying and we just want to put it down, walk away, and never step foot in the studio again.
So don’t. That’s right. Don’t do it. Don’t do real friendships. Keep your life simple and easy, or at least easier than it is with friends. Because what life is really about is… well, what is it about? What are you left with? A great career? Maybe you just really like helping people. Well, good. Help them all you can… on your own… and then when your reserves run out, or you hit a bad patch… what then?
Or maybe just rely on your spouse for EVERYthing. Maybe your spouse will be and do and say all that you need for the rest of your lives. Don’t get me wrong. Your spouse should go a long long way. But what happens when that isn’t go so well? What then?
The messy part of friendship is all the beautiful part. When you’ve put in the hard work, you get the easy stuff – you get the phone calls and helpful advice. You get the encouragement, the random notes and gifts, the balm for your broken soul. You also get the accountability of one who has taken the time to know you. You get a depth of accountability, not a more generic sense that you are held accountable to everyone and community and family and church. You get a person’s face in your face. The face of someone you know, someone who knows you and loves you still. The face of someone who isn’t just there to criticize or hold you to rules. The face of someone who is totally for you and cares about your face for all time. A beautiful face.
It occurred to me at some point that what I really want is everyone else to be better than me. I want everyone to be a better friend than I am. I want other people in my life to do a better job at keeping in touch or remembering important events, past and future, in my life. I want people to ask the right questions at the right time. I want people to have a sense when I need them most. I want friends who are family and family who are friends. I want the best in people and for people, but mostly by people in my direction.
And what that really points to, eventually, is what I really want is Jesus. The friendship of Jesus – astounding! – is messy. It tears us apart to make us whole. It tests our limits to show us his strength. He pushes our buttons, because he knows them all, and forces us to reconcile what we want to be with what we are. I want a friend of sinners – I must be a friend of sinners. I want the friend that would give up his life for my sake – I must give up my life for others. What it starts, what I didn’t see coming, is that he makes me a better friend. He pushes me to serve better, to love better. And it must make me more gracious with others, pushing and pulling each other with kindness and strength and with each other’s best in mind. Our friendships become beautiful works of art, sometimes making a mess, but always framed in the perfecting work of the gospel. What a friend we have in Jesus! What friends we have because of Jesus!