Making Safe Friends
When my family traveled from our small-town home to Tucson for a doctor’s appointment or a back-to-school shopping trip, we always stayed overnight with my mother’s best friend Bea Solley. There we would find a fun lady who was busy cooking for us, and a card shark. Bea loved to play cards. She had an easy laugh, wore bright red finger polish and was always creatively engaged with a new sewing project.
From a tender age I made Bea my shopping mentor. Bea received the magazine, Consumer Reports, and she read it from cover to cover. She often cautioned me that the cheapest item was not always the best bargain. Bea taught me to do my research before I made a purchase. When I got engaged Bea is the first person I called. Gary and I were overwhelmed at the thought of buying a diamond ring, but Bea knew which jewelers in Tucson were reputable. Bea could keep a secret. After my mother died I learned Bea had never told my mother that she was the first person to know I was engaged. Bea was careful with people’s feelings.
But, the greatest gift Bea Solley ever gave me was her daughter, Gerry. Gerry Solley Johnson has been my safe friend for 61 years. She is not my oldest friend but she is my longest friendship. She used to change my diapers. Like her mother before her she always protects me and supports me because Gerry loves really well.
Safe friendships like Gerry’s would turn out to be very important in my life. Because, as a pastor’s daughter I moved frequently and would eventually go to six schools in six years. Being the new kid in school was tough, but Gerry’s kindness was constant.
Today I believe people are hardwired for friendship. Quality relationships are critical for you to enjoy a long and healthy life. I want to give you three biblical realities about safe friendships.
A) If you want a safe friendship, you need to realize you were created with relational needs.
Genesis 1 is one of the most significant Trinitarian passages in the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity is defined as: one God in three persons. That God could be one and still exist in three persons has often been called a theological mystery.
Trying to understand a theological mystery is different than trying to solve other mysteries. For example in a murder mystery there is usually only one question you are trying to answer, “Who did it?” The wonder of a theological mystery is it can be understood at one level and then with more meditation a theological mystery can be comprehended at a different more profound level. So, it is not that the Trinity is so mysterious it can never be understood; it is that it can always be understood at a deeper level with more time and spiritual maturity.
Beginning in Genesis 1:1-2 you already see evidence of the doctrine of the Trinity,
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” ESV
So, you start with God, and then specifically you see God the Holy Spirit hovering over the face of the deep. In John 1:1-3 Jesus is also revealed as being a part of the creative force at work in the beginning.
Now if you skip down to Genesis 1:26 you will see this phrase,
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’”
In this passage God uses phrasing like ‘us’ and ‘our’ when describing himself as he moves to create the human race. This verse is another trinitarian reference.
Father God as the first person of the Trinity is—God who is for you. You need to know God as your Father, because you need to know God is on your side. If you struggle to relate to a loving benevolent Father you are missing the compassionate care God wants to shower on you and the wonder he wants you to know in him.
Jesus as the second person of the Trinity is—God who is with you. Jesus is Emmanuel, which means “God with us”. The second person of the Trinity, God the Son, took on a body and became a man. He can now walk alongside you through your sorrow, for Jesus has first-hand experience of what it feels like to suffer because of the sinful choices of others. Identifying with God the Son who has felt the same temptations as you (Heb. 2:18) is a vital part of your comfort and healing.
The Holy Spirit as the third person of the Trinity is—God who is within you. God the Holy Spirit lives within you. The Christian life is impossible in your strength, but as you surrender to the power of God that lives within you the life of God flows through you. You must know the indwelling God the Holy Spirit to be able to have this life empower you.
The reason this is so important to understand in friendship is humans were created in the image of the community and fellowship enjoyed by the triune God. The Trinity never experiences competition within the Godhead. The Holy Spirit has never said to the Father, “You know, Father, that Jesus is just getting too much attention.” It has never happened. They always enjoy sweet fellowship together, and they created you with a relational need when they created you in their loving image. And, this need for safe friendship predates sin or the fall of man in human history.
So, it doesn’t matter how many failures you have experienced in relationships; you will always need to try again for fellowship. You were created to need lasting relationships. Part of learning to find and keep safe friendships is to understand you were created to enjoy the same loving community enjoyed within the Trinity.
B) If you want a safe friendship, you need to recognize Satan will try to destroy your relationships.
You were created in the image of God for lasting community, but Satan is going to try to destroy all your friendships. On many occasions Satan attacked my mom’s and Bea’s friendship. But they both fought hard to forgive each other and also to forgive us kids, because sometimes we were the source of their conflict.
I love the blatant honesty of the Bible because in it you clearly see how common it is to experience relational conflict. From Adam and Eve’s marriage, to Cain and Abel’s brotherhood, to Noah and his extended family’s dysfunction, to the servants of Abraham and Lot fighting over who would get the best pastures for their flocks. Don’t forget Saul’s jealousy of David, or Mary and Martha’s frustration over who would help in the kitchen, or the competing disciples of Jesus. And lastly remember Paul and Barnabas arguing over whether they should take John Mark on their second missionary journey. Surely, missionaries never argue? No, according to the word of God they do. Satan has continually schemed in human affairs to cause doubt of God and distrust of others.
C) If you want a safe friendship, you need to trust God to use what Satan has intended for evil.
When Paul and Barnabas had their huge disagreement, eventually two missionary trips were planned and taken (Acts 15:36-40). Take comfort in God’s ability to get glory from Paul and Barnabas friendship struggles. If your flaws and disagreements can further the kingdom, cannot God use anything?
Not all relationships can be rebuilt; some behaviors have severe consequences. But all offenses can be forgiven. The pain you feel from a destroyed friendships is tied to unforgiveness. Sometimes you will have to wake up and purposely forgive every day for a year, but keep forgiving, because forgiveness is a process. Forgiveness is your key to being freed from the emotional pain.
It is very encouraging for me to think about the Apostle Paul, a godly man I admire, who wrote half of the books in the New Testament, and yet he was wrong about John Mark. Barnabas as an encourager wanted to give John Mark a second chance. If Barnabas had not stood up to Paul you might have never seen a written copy of gospel of Mark. As the first gospel writer, John Mark would prove to be a trailblazer.
How might Paul and Barnabas’ story reshape your view of relational failure?
How is forgiveness relevant to a safe friendship?
Becoming Christ-like in your mercy is one of the ways God desires for you to reflect his image on this earth (Luke 6:35-36). God in his goodness created you to enjoy safe friends. It was part of his design from the very beginning. Satan will always try to destroy these very relationships. Your challenge is to trust God with the outcome of all your relational conflicts. When you suffer a failed friendship you have a unique opportunity to grow and show more of God’s mercy. In surrendering the outcome to God you will truly know what it feel like to be remade in God’s image.