We all have friendships. These can include genuine healthy ones, social media friendships, idolizing friendships, self-seeking friendships, and other friend-ish relationships. In her book Friend-ish: Reclaiming Real Friendship in a Culture of Confusion, Kelly Needham skillfully points us toward true biblical friendships. She shows us the beauty and necessity of biblical friendships and the ways friendships can assume the wrong place. With good-hearted and wise counsel, Kelly helps us see friendship as God intends it to be.
Hope you enjoy this excerpt from the book. —Randy Alcorn
When you are in friendship to give, you hold friends with open hands. Though this is one of the most challenging aspects of selfless friendship, it’s one of the most important. Because at the end of the day, we have no right to demand commitments from other individuals. While local churches do provide a committed community for us to be a part of…, as friends, inside or outside the church, we are individuals who answer to God.
Therefore, Christian friendship calls us to cultivate deep and meaningful relationships without individual obligations. This is the scariest part of friendship for most people. For many, it feels safer to wait until someone has committed to us before we share our hearts. But…the Bible gives us no space to create commitment or obligations in this arena. This is why Jesus must be our stability. It is our friendship with him that enables us to cultivate depth with others while remaining open-handed.
I have several really close friends who have recently moved away. We used to live five minutes away from each other, and now two of these women are on the other side of the Dallas-Fort Worth area (read: one hour away) and one is now twenty-five minutes away. Their respective moves have had a huge impact on the way we enjoy our friendships. The time and frequency with which we meet has been drastically reduced, something I’ve often grieved. But I have no right to demand that they continue to be present in my life in the same way they did when we all lived in the same town. I must hold them with open hands by allowing them the space to be obedient to God and to cultivate new friendships locally.
This happens all the time as friends of ours make familial transitions, get married, and have children and grandchildren. With each new season there are new responsibilities. And so with each new season there are new limitations and priorities. Our job in friendship is to be givers, seeking to fight for our friends’ obedience to God in these priorities, not take away from them by demanding they meet our needs.
The most Christ-like thing my friends have ever done for me is encourage me to obey God in new seasons by being flexible in what our friendship looks like due to the new responsibilities God gives me. They are only able to do this because their worth does not come from our friendship, but from Christ.
Our friends do not answer to us; they answer to God. He is their king, their Lord, their first loyalty. It is not right to put ourselves above God in others’ lives. If, in God’s purposes and sovereignty, he changes their season of life, their availability, their responsibilities, it is our role as a friend to encourage and support that, even if it means a loss for us. This is the sacrificial love we are called to in friendship.
Being open-handed also means we allow our friends to have other friends. We do not own them; they do not own us. They do not belong to us. So when and if new relationships crop up in their lives, we can celebrate that, not grieve it. And when seeing our good friends cultivate new friendships produces insecurity in us, we run to Jesus and take another drink of living water so that we can continue coming to the arena of friendship with a spirit of giving, not taking.
If being this open-handed in your friendships feels terrifying, it may be a sign that friends have too high a place in your life. When our souls are well fed at the fountain of living water, we can continue extending friendship through the ebb and flow of these life changes.
But being open-handed doesn’t mean being unemotional. The loss of a good thing is always worth grieving, and friendship is a really good thing. When a friend moves away, tears rightly reflect the value of that friendship. When new responsibilities in our lives limit our connectedness in certain friendships, sorrow is normal and good. Good friends grieve to be separated. As David wept to leave Jonathan, so we should grieve the losses we experience in friendship, but those losses should not undo us. Healthy friendship grieves with open hands, allowing and encouraging our friends to go where God leads. It’s when we tighten our grip and demand our friends stay near us that we can know our grief is not flowing from a good place.
Learn more about Kelly's book Friend-ish: Reclaiming Real Friendship in a Culture of Confusion.