Then Jesus said to them, ‘Suppose you have a friend, and you might go to him at midnight and say “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.” And suppose the one inside answers, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of your friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.’ Luke 11:5-8.
This little parable is often overlooked but I think it speaks volumes of our world today. I can’t be the only one who finds making friends harder as an adult than it was before. It’s all very well asking everyone to play as a child but we all too easily pass it off that now people are too busy, my friends all live far away and there just isn’t time for that kind of care free fun and friendship any more. But surely, made in the image of a triune God, we were made for relationship, isn’t that why we crave it, despite how busy we are? My question is, when did we grow up? When did the idea of friendship become an impossible task? And more importantly, what do we do about it?
It’s hard. We know that, people are messy and relationships take time, something that very few of us have, and despite trying to fast track them, it never seems to work, but something that struck me is how important it is to ask for help. I don’t mean in a needy, self-help kind of way, I mean in an open, relationship-building kind of way. How often we think that being a friend means we have to be the one offering help. I ask for help a lot. Sometimes, it’s because I really actually need help, but often it is because it values other people and praises their skills, or because while I could do something on my own, someone else could do it better or have more fun doing it, sometimes it’s simply because I’d rather be doing whatever I am doing with someone else. I was recently watching an interview about the millennial generation and how, for so many reasons, and often through no fault of our own, we are a generation of incredibly low self esteem. This is something that is fed into us by society every day whether that be through parenting, schooling, technology, whatever, I’m sure we’ve all heard it said that we live in a world of instant gratification, entitlement and burnout, none of which help us build relationships. I think we know that friendships take sacrifice, we just can’t imagine why anyone would want to sacrifice anything for us. But isn’t that the beauty of the gospel? Isn’t that the essence of relationship? If Christ thought you worthy of sacrificing all for you, then it’s time to take up our position as his child and replicate that relationship. Christ bought relationship through sacrifice, there’s no other way.
Let’s be shamelessly audacious in our relationships. Don’t be afraid to be a burden. When we worry too much about being a burden to others we are effectively saying I can probably get by on my own, no wonder this generation is being pushed into anxiety. Let’s not assume that asking for help means weakness, incompetence and neediness, let’s value others for who they are and what they can bring. I have been called strongly independent before but I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. I’d much rather be interdependent, after all, we all have something to offer.
This means we have to learn to trust others. It’s no secret that this generation are far more connected with social media and the internet. We all know that the internet can answer pretty much all of our questions at the greatest ease and we’ve learnt to trust Google, YouTube and Alexa. It’s amazing how many times I’ve asked a friend how to do something and they’ve suggested watching a YouTube tutorial. It’s true, Google, YouTube and Alexa are most often more correct in these situations, and definitely more efficient. But do you ever stop to think how much simple conversation we have lost because of it? Simply wondering over the unknown. Have you ever been in a conversation where a question has been posed, Google is inevitably consulted and the conversation immediately falls flat? We can trust Google to give us the right answers but it seems like a very narrow definition of trust if we haven’t yet learnt to trust our friends. Is trust always based on being right? It seems to me that what they’re really doing is making us more scared of looking stupid. Giving us a sure fire way to be proven wrong.
In a busy, time restricted world, we also don’t want to be an imposition. At least, we say we don’t but what this often means is we’re really scared of rejection. If the shameless audacity in this parable in Luke fills you with dread and makes you cringe, you’re probably not alone. But, if there’s something I’ve learnt from this busy generation it’s that nine times out of ten, people would actually rather have people come to them than have the bother of going out. It’s so easy to believe that if people don’t invite you, it’s because they don’t want to see you. But, despite what our minds might tell us, I would suggest it’s worth the imposition. Remember when we used to ask someone to be friends? Remember when we asked if we could go round for tea? And it worked? Think of the audacity of that! Be bold, if people don’t invite you, invite yourself. This parable seems counter intuitive because deep down we are scared of the response this man gets, but let’s not forget how this passage continues:
So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Okay, this parable isn’t exactly primarily an ABC of how to make friends but if we are going to build meaningful relationships, we need to be able to take risks. If a relationship is worth pursuing, it’s going to take sacrifice and not in a kind of coming-with-it-all-together, knight-in-shining-armour, answer-to-all-of-your-questions kind of way, it’s about sacrificing the things that are harder to give up. Our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses, our genuine attention. My relationship goals for 2019? Don’t be afraid to be a burden, make the imposition, learn to embrace rejection but carry on anyway. To be shamelessly audacious. To return to the simplicity of the playground. And how to return the favour? Friendships are hard, but I strongly believe they are worth the effort. My prayer for this year is to try in some small way to live up to the kind of friend of one of my favourite authors, Jane Austen: There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not in my nature.* 🙂
*Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen.