What kind of a Friend are you?

In many relationships ‘mind-reading’ can be a vicious destroyer. This is the tendency to have conversations in our head and predict or presume what the other person thinks, feels, or how they will respond. Instead of communicating what I think and then allowing them the freedom to respond, I play it safe and assume I know anyway. Of course the ‘second-guessing’ or ‘presuming’ strategy is both insulting and arrogant and it undermines the integrity of the friendship.

When we observe Jesus with his disciples there are moments when it may have been easier to say nothing at all. I suppose Jesus could have kept quiet about what lay in the future and allowed circumstances to unfold regarding his death and the anticipated violence surrounding that unique event. Instead he discussed with his friends the road ahead and they had to come to terms with the fact that this season of sharing their lives with Jesus was coming to an end. True to form Peter had the guts to protest and verbalize his struggle which caused Jesus to respond sharply, “Get behind me satan!” Words that cut deep as well as communicated the tension he was experiencing as he chose to head in a direction that would be excruciatingly painful.

Jesus was not calling his beloved friend and disciple ‘satan’, he was identifying a force that was mischievously confusing Peter that he was probably unaware of at the time. Jesus’ love and compassion toward Peter after this encounter demonstrated that his commitment to their relationship was totally beyond question, and unwavering. That’s the nature of true friendship.

In the past year I have encountered at least two occasions where people have attempted to delineate friendship in restrictive terms. Meaning they were happy for a friendship that ‘played golf and had fun’ but closed the door if the relationship included ‘talking into my life’. There is no such division in Jesus’ relationships with his disciples. Their ability to talk positive and negative truth to one another was the very fibre of relational honesty and integrity he insisted upon that would be the source of massive strength in the years of trial and pressure that lay ahead.

The most rewarding friendships are those where we can be ourselves. I desire to be a friend that is ‘unshockable’. I want to be loyal and a support to someone no matter what happens in their lives. Sometimes communication will mean confessing that I have no idea what to do or say. Acknowledging even that bewilderment will be appreciated. Our stuttering presence, a cup of coffee, or a walk along the beach in silence can be the pearl of great price (our company speaks louder than we know). The priority is not having the answer or necessarily even ‘fixing the problem’; it is about keeping company along the way.

Jesus did not rescue his disciples from experiencing his journey to the Cross or having to live through the stress of that time with all its turmoil, fear, and uncertainty. Perhaps our friendships become stuck or plateau when we withhold ourselves or attempt to protect each other from the difficult parts? One of the most helpful bits of advice I ever received was the exhortation to allow other people to take responsibility for themselves.

Within the context of friendship we are each responsible for what we do and how we feel. If someone’s words trigger an emotional response in me then I have to ask why I feel/react/respond so deeply? Instead what often happens is we blame the other person ‘for making me feel awkward.’ That’s the beauty of true friendships. They are the outcome of inviting others to share in my life even though sometimes it may be tough going.

Jesus was always taking responsibility for his friendships with the disciples. Almost immediately after he had told them that he would be heading up to Jerusalem to face suffering and possible death he encountered then walking along the road arguing about who was the greatest among them. When he learned what they were talking about he did not create a fuss and berate them for not showing him more sensitivity. Instead he cut them some slack and let it slide, realizing that they had not yet understood or really processed what he had shared.

Surely the most poignant moment in Jesus’ friendship with Simon Peter was on the shores of Galilee after the resurrection? Simon Peter abandoned Jesus at his time of greatest need and was devastated by his failure to be the sort of friend he promised to be. When the flames burned hot he ran away. Many friendships would have ended right there, reduced to coals and embers with disillusionment or hurt held onto forever in clenched fists.

Simon Peter’s vulnerability was obvious and unmistakable as he stood before Jesus dripping wet wondering what was going to happen.

Jesus models committed friendship as he grabbed the initiative to find Simon Peter and talk to him. He didn’t shout and point fingers or draw attention to his obvious inability to live up to brave words. There was no need to assert his power or to posture. Instead he offered a meal and demonstrated his unconditional love by serving Simon Peter’s needs before they tackled the awkward topic of loyalty and broken trust.

What kind of friend are you? How transparent? The more opaque we are in our relationships the more room we give for mischief, misunderstanding, and misery… I’d rather walk with Jesus and Peter any day…..

John Cox

Christian Author

One comment

  • How very true all of that is John. It is so very easy to do a friend’s thinking for her/him. I believe we all need to attempt to do as Jesus did and give our friends some slack.

    The most wonderful friends to have are the ones who can listen to anything I confess to and not be judgmental. Being transparent with friends is very freeing. Hey, Jesus knows it all anyway.

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