In chapter 7, Rachel touches on the raw nerve that is our experience of friendships - or for some of us, our felt lack thereof. She is very candid in admitting this is one of her greatest "psychological hang-ups". Like her, I don't think I'm very good when it comes to friendship! Like her, I had a series of significant moves as a child which severed important friendships. Like her, I have lost contact with most of my university friends after they moved on and life got busier. However, just as God has always enjoyed the personal communion within the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit; likewise, human beings made in His image have been made for community. Although friendship and community can be messy in this fallen world, one Christian counsellor entitled their book: "Relationships: A Mess Worth Making".
She begins with an important warning for this generation:
“The University of Pittsburgh found that people who use social media a lot experience more social isolation than those who use it fewer than ten times a week… Few things fuel my loneliness more than looking on social media at people I used to know with their other friends”
Much of the chapter is a meditation on Psalm 139 which tells us:
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
She comments: “I think I’m searching for THE ONE [A BEST FRIEND] but this psalm brings me face to face with the One I’m actually looking for. What we long for in a friend is most fulfilled when we find and truly experience relationship with God – a relationship that is deeper and more real than we have with anyone who we’d put in the category of friend. That’s because the Lord is a God who knows you. Often at the heart of loneliness is a desire to be known, wholly, and completely… No one knows the whole 360 degrees of my existence. Except, that is, God…. But in God we find what no friend would ever be- someone who is with us and fro us, in spite of knowing us completely. He looks at our darker parts and loves us anyway, instead of walking away in disappointment or disgust… God sticks with us through thick and thin. It’s impossible to go long-distance with God…. God is there in those moments when we feel sublimely close to him. But he’s equally there when we deliberately pull away from him… He’s there even when our circumstances are so bleak that we’ve lost all hope”
She continues by drawing six pieces of "no nonsense practical advice" for growing in the realm of friendship:
- Quality, not quantity: “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24)
- Invest where you are: “Do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you – better a neighbour nearby than a relative far away” (Proverbs 27:10) “You don’t just need Christian friends … you need Christian friends at your church, who you see once a week or more. They don’t need to be like you – a similar age or stage or background – they just have to be neighbours: they just have to be nearby”
- Love at all times: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17) “
- Forgive freely: “Whoever would foster love covers over an offence, but whoever repeats the matter separates friends” (Proverbs 17:9) “What you did or said hurt me, but I’m going to bear the emotional cost and choose to keep loving you. I’m not going to gossip about you or complain about you to other people”
- Speak grace: “One who loves a pure heart and who speaks with grace will have the king for a friend” (Proverbs 22:11) “Filling our conversations with words that are true, kind, gentle, joyful, grateful and loving”
- Be vulnerable: “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice” (Proverbs 27:9) “Just say something honest about yourself: I’m feeling… I’m struggling with….”