From Pseudo to Authentic Friendship

We tend to throw certain words around pretty loosely.  Words like “awesome,” “super,” and “totally.”  We totally use language to communicate our super awesome ideas.

Another such word is “community.”  Like many concepts, there is nuance and variety to this word, including a spectrum of types of community that can range from “pseudo-community” to “authentic community.”  In our heart of hearts, we long for the latter.

When Jesus put together his closest followers, we see the beginning of a community characterized by unprecedented, powerful experiences of God that bonded the twelve of them as friends. They also argued and competed with each other.  But they also learned to be reconciled and trust each other.  Just as Jesus called that community together, and as scripture describes authentic friendship, God is calling us to authentic communities of friends today.

But we know that many friendships are pseudo-friendships, relying on superficial agreement rather than authentic connection.  Pastor Aaron introduced us this week to a concept from the late great Scott Peck, who claimed that in order to move from pseudo-friendships to authentic ones, we have to be willing to enter and endure what he called the “Tunnel of Chaos.”  Sounds fun, right?

This is the process of “getting real” with one’s friends, facing conflict, asking hard questions, and being vulnerable.  Many people enter the tunnel but just as quickly claw their way back to the safety of pseudo-friendships.  But those who can initiate or accept an invitation into the tunnel are willing to take the necessary steps toward authentic friendship — a sister or brother whom one can trust and rely on in a way that only authentic friendship makes possible.  A fulfillment of our deep longing for true community.

For reflection:

  1. Is there someone in your life with whom you’d like to initiate more authentic connection?  What simple act could you take to invite that person into the tunnel with you?
  2. Have you ever been invited into more authentic friendship?  Did you accept, and what was your experience?  Did you decline, and what has that been like for you?
  3. God is always ready to empower us — Consider praying this week specifically for God to guide you and empower you to risk entering into a more authentic friendship.

In Grace,

MM

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Seeking to Understand

(Today’s post is by UPPC minister of youth, Rob Clark!)

This Sunday we addressed the topic of “seeking to understand” in our befriend series at UPPC.  Our primary scripture came from Job 2:11-13, because it’s a picture of friendship that many of us desire.

We began by giving a brief theology of the church: the church is described in Scripture as a family with God as Father, and us as adopted siblings.  We used Ephesians 1:4-5 as a baseline: Ephesians 1:4-5 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”  This gave us the framework for the message.

As siblings, we are called to seek to understand one another—even those who are on the outside of our sphere of friendship.  We looked at the story of the bleeding woman from Mark 5:21-43 and noticed two things: 1. Jesus was in a hurry to heal Jairus’ daughter, but still took the time to stop and listen to the story of the bleeding woman.  2. Jesus gave her a new title—from unclean to “daughter”.  The title is significant because he identifies her as a fellow sibling whose story has value.

But the key is to notice how Jesus interacted with this woman’s story. He listened to her.  He didn’t constantly interrupt her story with his own experience and advice—although he was obviously qualified to give it.  He didn’t throw a bible verse at her in hopes that would alleviate her pain.  He listened.  Which is one of the main keys in seeking to understand. Listening is the first key to understanding.  The second is to ask good questions.  We identified three good questions to ask those that we desire deep friendships with:

  1. To take a note from Jesus, the question, “What do you want me to do for you?”
    1. In other words, dig into how you can be more supportive. What areas in our friends life where we can be a better friend?
  2. How are you doing, really? –look for specific things in the persons life to ask about.
  3. From Gotman—who you heard a lot about during the marriage series. He often encourages us to ask open-ended questions starting with, “how have you…”
    1. How have you changed in the last year?
    2. How have you changed since you’ve had a kid?
    3. How have you been supportive lately to your spouse?
    4. How have you been coping with your loss?

 

However, when it really comes down to it, asking good questions only works to deepen the relationships once we are in a place with our people that allows for us to ask these kinds of questions.  The reality is that good questions are just words.  If we want to have depth and intimacy in our relationships, we have to convince someone that we can hold their pain.  That we won’t just give an easy answer or throw a bible verse at them.

You can’t expect people to undress in front you unless you undress in front of them.  Once we are vulnerable with someone, it creates space for them to be vulnerable with us.  It comes down to having a hospitality of the heart—which essentially means we have a space where we create it to be welcoming and inviting for someone to share.  And this hospitality comes from doing our own work– to be on our face before the Lord recognizing our own brokenness and willing to be groomed by him.

If we want the kinds of friendships demonstrated in Job, we must first seek to understand ourselves, and then seek to understand the other by earning the right to ask good questions, by cultivating a safe place–being vulnerable with the ones that we want to be to be vulnerable with us.  But, to do that, it requires us to be able to connect with our own brokenness.  I love Henri Nouwen says when talking about hospitality in his book, Wounded Healer, “What does hospitality as a healing power require?  It requires first of all that hosts feel at home in their own house, and second that they create a free and fearless place for the unexpected visitor.”[1]

 

It starts with feeling at home in our own house.  Being connected to the brokenness within us.  And out of that, we can then connect with the brokenness of the other by creating a free and fearless place for them to enter in to.

 

Ultimately, this is what we need to do:

  1. Create a hospitality of the heart—a place that is safe for pain and brokenness to be held.
  2. Show that we are willing to go there ourselves.
  3. In that place, ask good questions. And as those questions are being answered, remember how Jesus interacted with the bleeding woman.  With posture of being quick to listen and slow to speak.

 

[1] P. 95-97

Overcoming Fear & Prejudice

“God, I thank you that I am not like sinners.”

This paraphrase of the words of “prayer” from the Pharisee character in Jesus’ parable, found in Luke 18:9-14, can be called a lot of things.  Pompous.  Arrogant.  Proud.

Prejudiced.

This word, which denotes passing premature judgment on someone, is a buzz word in our culture.  In the case of this Pharisee, his prejudice is obviously about other people—he doesn’t know those sinners, right?  But he is also acting as his own judge, ironically letting God know, “Hey, you can take the day off!  It turns out I’m innocent!”   For him, apparently it’s easier to put on the armor of prejudice than it is to face the reality of his own brokenness.

Turns out we can be prejudiced about others, and even ourselves, just like this Pharisee character.  But judgment about others and ourselves is reserved for only Jesus Christ: “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).  Paul offers an ingenious explanation of this in his letter to the Corinthians:

“I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (from 1 Cor. 4:1-5)

The good news is that this means we are free to befriend the whole world.  Think of it — when we meet people who are different than ourselves, even if those differences contradict our values and beliefs, we can still be free of passing judgment on them.  Moreover, we can be free of any judgment others may pass on us.  Finally, we can even be free of judging ourselves, which we ultimately lack the wisdom and objectivity to do, just as we lack those qualifications for judging others.

Of course we are still told to be wise and discerning: “Judge correctly” (John 7:24).  But it is possible to exercise unprejudiced discernment, which takes everything into account without presuming to pass final judgment on anyone.  And it opens the door to worldwide friendships.

For reflection:

  1. Have you ever been constrained by prejudice?  Either prejudice you hold about others, or vice versa?
  2. Have you ever had a prejudice about people that you later were able to overcome?
  3. In what ways does fear lead to prejudice?
  4. Character takes practice — what can you, or someone you know, do to practice living without fear or prejudice?

Many blessings,

MM

 

Pitfalls and Antidotes

“A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.”  (Proverbs 17:17)

This morning Pastor Aaron shared an article from the Boston Globe on a new threat to middle-aged men: loneliness.  And if people who are middle-aged struggle with loneliness, it appears the challenge increases the older we get.  According to one study, about 1/3 of all adults in the US over 60 are living alone.  Over 80?  There’s a 50/50 chance you’re living alone.

It’s tragic that in seasons that bring some of life’s greatest adversity, so many people are going it alone.  There are several pitfalls to real friendship.  But the good news is that there are also answers.

  • Pitfall: Fair-weather friendship.  If, as the proverb says, a brother or sister is born for adversity, then why do so many feel alone at those very times?
    • Antidote: Exchange convenience for commitment.  We all need to have friends who do this, but we all have the ability to be those friends, too.
  • Pitfall: Busyness.  “Haste leads to poverty,” says Proverbs 21:5.  Overscheduling is a huge cause for nominal friendships because it friendship requires the time to walk life’s journey together.
    • Antidote: Set it and forget it.  Hey, if we’re going to live highly scheduled lives, why not schedule time for friends, too?  Don’t wait for that time to just appear — make it a priority.  Set it in the calendar, and when the time comes, enjoy it!
  • Pitfall: Lack of initiation.  When you were a kid, did you ever try to play on the teeter-totter with someone who didn’t do their part?  You just ended up sitting there…not teetering or tottering.  One-sided friendships can be like that.
    • Antidote: Recognize and respond to ‘bids.’  Bids are the little ways people indirectly ask for attention and validation.  Kids say “Mom, watch!”  Friends might say, “Dude, check this out.”  Giving our attention is a great way to take friendship initiative.
  • Pitfall: Conflict avoidance.  Proverbs 27:6, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”  No one like conflict, but they happen.  And a friendship that can’t address them is likely to stay superficial.
    • Antidote: Ask for feedback and insight.  Even when we’re not in a time of conflict, we can open the door to constructive input from our friends.  If they are in fact the ones who know us best, their insights should be valuable to us, even if it hurts a little bit to hear it.

For reflection:

  1. Which of the four pitfalls are familiar to you?
  2. Do any of the antidotes seem challenging?
  3. What do you think are some causes and solutions to the problem of loneliness?

Many blessings,

MM