friendship


last supperAfter the men had gathered for their last supper together, Jesus made a shocking statement to his followers.  In the light of who he was–mighty God, the Messiah, the Christ and Savior of the world–Jesus’s announcement is a total departure from the relationship mankind had previously experienced with God.  He said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:13 and 15).

building friendshipAs we contemplate and meditate on this astonishing declaration, our hearts must swell with joy and acceptance of our new exalted position of Friends of God.  This friendship must change us, however.  We come to understand the depth of the riches of God and the depth of his love for all people, releasing us to love in a new way.  Friendship has become a holy endeavor, initiated by God and perfected in His love and sacrifice.

With that in mind, as we approach people, there are some caution signs attached to friendship.  Here are nine Don’t’s of developing a committed friendship.

1.  Don’t wait for others to reach out to you.  Our lives must be an extension of God’s heart that is always ready to receive the broken-hearted, the lovely and the ugly alike.

2.  Don’t share just facts with your friends.  Share feelings.  Let people know YOUR joys and sorrows.  Your hurts and misgivings.

rejected friendship shirt3.  Don’t expect everyone to like you.  I learned that people either love me or hate me.  There is no in-between.  This became a valuable lesson in maturity.  I’m no longer hurt by folks who don’t know me but who reject me.  It’s a fact of  my life.  And harshly speaking, it is a fact of your life.  Not everyone wants to be friends with us.

4.  Don’t expect your friend’s friend to be your friend.

5.  Don’t be quick to voice your own opinions.  Some–perhaps many–things are best left unsaid.

6.  Don’t harbor unforgiveness or bitterness over offenses.  Peel away the hurt of a careless remark.  Stomp until dead the pains of neglect that come into every friendship.

7.  Don’t share negative information about others.

8.  Don’t expect a friend to be your source for love, significance or security.  Only God can give you that.

9.  Don’t let a friend take the place of the Lord.

In dealing with persons who are mentally challenged, it is vital to understand that they often do not have the cognitive ability to understand the fine nuances of friendship.  This means that certain boundaries may be necessary for you to set.  In the opposite direction, you may experience that their responses to  your friendship overtures may be overlooked.  Friendship with a person with special needs is a great privilege and joy.  Their friendships are worth taking the time and energy to develop.

smile of friendship Since there are three levels of friendship–causal, close and committed–it should be our goal to move as many friendships as humanly possible from a causal to a committed friendship. There is means that there are at least 10 things that each of us can and should do in nurturing a friendship grow.

  1. building friendship1.  Recognize you need friends.  It’s the first step that leads to better and more secure friendships.
  2. Look for others in need of a friend.  This may mean reaching out to people whom you might otherwise pass over.
  3. Ask God to bring a faithful friend into your life.
  4. Be approachable by smiling at others.  At times, I’ve been to that I look stern when I’m not aware of my expression.  This means to me that I must be more aware and adjust my facial expression.
  5. Speak to others by name.  Learn names and say the name often.
  6. friendshipListen attentively to others.  Look at the face of the speaker and keep your eyes on the face of the person speaking.
  7. Give genuine compliments and encouragement.  Ge caught noticing the good things in a person.
  8. Ask open-ended question.  Is your daughter feeling better?  How is the job?
  9. Help others verbalize their feelings.  You don’t seem quite yourself today, are you feeling all right?
  10. Look for the kernel of truth in your friends’ criticism.

I’ve learned a great deal about friendship living within the mentally challenged community.  In general, these are people who give of themselves without reserve to people they preceive as an authority figure.  With the slightest encouragement, you become their friend for life.  Yet, shifting on the other foot, they find interacting with their peer may be more difficult.  Within Special Gathering, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we endeavor to help our members establish valued and long-lasting friendship with their peers.

Robert Lewis StevensonRobert Lewis Stevenson expressed an important sentiment regarding friendship.  He said, “So long as we love, we serve.  No man is useless while he is a friend.”

Jesus, however, lifted friendship to a new and holy level when he spoke to his disciple before they moved quickly to the Garden of Gethsemane.  This was during a time of great joy on the part of the disciples.  Jesus’s Messianic processional into Jerusalem had occurred only four days before.  Yet, Jesus knew that within 24 hours he would die one of the most cruel deaths known to mankind.

last supperDuring the passover supper, Jesus spoke.  He said, “Greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business.  Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”  (John 15:13 and 15).  While the world values and understands the importance of friendship, Jesus put it into a different category.  He is our friends.  We are the friends of God.  We have access to the most confidential communications that develop within the Godhead.  At this point in time, friendship became a holy act of God’s love extending into the world.

In addition, because we are friends with God, his love through us can embrace every individual.  Therefore, we can be lavish with our friendships.

Studies and common sense tell us there are three levels of friendship.  They are casual, close and committed.  Casual friends are people with whom we have only occasional contact. Nevertheless, there are common interests.  We are probably concerned about each others’ personal problems.  Yet, a lack of contact determines that there is little that we can do for each other or about our daily missteps or misgivings.

The second level is close.  With these folks, there is regular contact.  We are willing to be vulnerable, though there may be little opportunity to test that vulnerability.  There is some shared knowledge of abilities and character qualities.  You share interest with a close friend.  In addition, there is sensitivity to the likes, dislikes and weaknesses of each other.

In a committed friendship, the two friends enlist each other to devoting quality time.  There is mutual value in this nonverbal contract.  While the qualities of a close friendship exists within a committed relationship, there is also freedom to correct flaws.  Each person experiences the joys and risks of transparency.  For a committed friendship, there is mutual enrollment at this level of friendship.

friendsWithin the mentally challenged community, there is often a lack of intellectual ability to distinguish between a casual friendship and a committed friendship.  Relationship boundaries are blurred.  I don’t allow my members to call me “Mama” or “Grandma.”  These titles denote a closeness that I can never achieve in their lives.  I’m not their parent and I never will be.

When a man or women within our cloistered community attends five or six days of retreat or camp, they almost always will be paired with a volunteer whose intellectual abilities falls within the “normal” range.  The volunteer’s main task during the week is to become friends with the person who is mentally challenged.

It becomes an important week within the life of both the volunteer and the person who is intellectually disabled–but it is not a time in which a close or committed friendship can be developed.  After a week of “hanging together,” sleeping in the same cabin and sharing mealtime, there is a bond that issues into a friendship but unless it is taken to the next level, it can never progress beyond the boundaries of a casual friendship.  This does not mean that the volunteer cannot feel a sense of value that will change his life forever.

It is much like a short-term missionary experience.  We vacation in another country, working hard while experiencing the joy and sorrow of a people for a week or two.  Then we go home, leaving the consequences, the commitment and hard day-to-day endeavors to the people who live in the country where we visited.

As we approach Camp and Retreat Agape that is held at the end of May, there is an anticipation of the work that lays ahead.  There is also knowledge that lives will be changed.  We see our members leaving camp who have renewed their vows to the Lord through the worship experiences.  We ask our volunteers to hang out with our members,though no one is assigned to any particular person.  Therefore, the friendships which develop and deepen are typically within the membership.  Our members “hang loose” with each other and talk for hours.  They fish and share the joys of catching the big one.  They do things that may be off-limits to them most of the year.  They drive go-carts and go on boat rides, play pool, work on crafts and traverse the water slides.

Friendship is a delicate ballet of hard work, commitment and time.  Within the confines of the Church body, friendship should not be taken lightly because of Jesus’ injunction to us.  “You are no longer servants.  You are my friends.”