One of the wonderful things about the Church is the community we share. In Christ, God has knit us together, and instead of admonishing us to become a community, he tells us that he has already made us into one. In John, we read that our unique love for one another is what will set us apart and show that we are disciples of Christ.
I recently attended a women’s breakfast and listened to a talk on friendship, specifically the masks that we have a tendency to hide behind. It seems that despite our bond, many in the Church are feeling lonely and disconnected. Over the last year I’ve spent much time evaluating and praying through my own experience with loneliness, and have sought to dialogue with both men and women, hearing their thoughts and desires for our brothers and sisters. From this, two principles have come to define how I seek out and approach friendships.
1) Dig deep from the start. The popular assumption is that before a relationship can move into a posture of worship, prayer, and confession, a sufficient amount of time needs to be spent in ‘casual’ fellowship. It follows that the friendship will then come to a level of comfort where expressing emotion and vulnerability can take place. This is not impossible, but in my experience the opposite has more often been true. I have found that the sooner a friendship boldly makes Christ the center of the relationship, the deeper the roots have grown.
Lore Ferguson gives a beautiful illustration here:
After dinner worship, twenty-five people, most transplants from elsewhere, some strangers, all sinners and saints, we sang and some wept. And then confession. The right of the gospel is confession, one to another, and oh how often we forget that holy act of worship. Strangers confessed doubt, fear, weariness, rejoiced in a hope that does not disappoint, and then became friends.”
Sharing in these ways can remind us of, and strengthen, our common bond. Engaging in the practices of prayer, worship, and confession together will lead us to a greater want of Christ, and mutually shape our desire for him. While not every relationship will experience the same level of depth, as believers in Christ we already have the bond that we need to feel safe with one another. We are united in Christ, and because of this we have grace, forgiveness, and compassion for each other.
2) Focus on extending friendship. If you let it, loneliness will turn inwards, become selfish, and rob you of your joy. It will convince you that the blame belongs on others for not serving you well, and you will forget about your exhortation to serve others well.
Galatians 6:2 tells us this:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
Experiencing loneliness gives you an empathetic vantage point that not everyone will share. You understand what it’s like to pray for friendship, and you know the difficulties that come with this longing. What is a thorn to you can become a blessing to others.
There are many walking in your midst that carry heaviness. Do what you can to lift their burdens – ask questions, encourage, make yourself available, offer to pray. This may mean that we worry less about how to remove the mask we’re wearing, and we shift our focus to seeing others remove the burden of theirs. But in the words of John Piper, doing this “will bring you more satisfaction than if you became a millionaire ten times over.”