Last Sunday at Central we talked about the importance of having encouraging friends around us and of being encouraging friends ourselves. Most of us, I think, have an innate understanding of how valuable good friends can be. Too often, though, we stop short of telling our friends how important they are to us.
I wonder why that is? True expressions of friendship or even love can make us feel vulnerable. It’s easy to worry that our feelings won’t be reciprocated—that we’re more invested in the relationship than our friend is.
It’s a shame, really, that we aren’t more forthright with one another about how we feel.
Two weeks ago I had the chance to attend my 20-year high school reunion. I went to high school in Virginia so I don’t have many opportunities to see the friends I grew up with. In fact, I only see some of the people that I consider my very best friends every five years or so.
I’m discovering something, though, as I get older. Old friends—even if you rarely see them—are the best friends. Time provides a depth to relationships that nothing else can. And it’s more than nostalgia or memory that connects old friends. Shared experiences from when we were younger gain significance as the years go by because the same experiences that initially formed us continue to shape us as we get older.
Through shared experiences, we form, at least in part, a shared identity. But long-lived friendships forged through shared experience are an increasingly rare commodity. As we become a more mobile society, distance separates and friendships fade. I wonder if we fully realize what we’ve lost as 20-year or 50-year relationships become less common?
As a pastor, I wonder how our growing transience affects our churches, particularly as people become less identified with the congregations they grew up in and instead seem constantly to be on the search for something new.
I wonder if we would all be better off if we valued the inherent depth and strength of our lasting relationships more.
The Bible speaks to the value of long-term relationships.
Scripture reminds us that God has known us our whole lives—even since before we were born (Jeremiah 1:5). The depth of God’s relationship with us goes beyond even that of our nearest and dearest friends—even beyond that of our families.
The moments and experiences we share with God go back to the very beginning. And our earliest experiences with God gain significance as the years go by because those early experiences continue to shape us even now.
The Bible also reminds us that God is always with us. We have no closer friend, no stronger ally. God has shared in every experience that forms our identity, so God knows how to be for us better than anyone.
Some compelling strains of Christian theology even argue that God not only participates in our relationships, but that God is actually formed by God’s participation in our relationships. That God’s ultimate identity of love incarnate is in the process of being formed and set through God’s shared experience with us—through the work of the cross that is not yet finished. That the God who was and is and is to come is in the “process of becoming” just as we are in the process of becoming and just as God is in the process of becoming fully known.
God, of course, is more than a friend. But God is never less than a friend—a partner, a helper, someone who knows us deeply in a way that only a lifetime of relationship can account for.
Sometimes I wonder if we would all be better off if we valued the inherent depth and strength of our lasting relationships with God more.