From Sappy Sentimentalism to Gutsy Friendship
The movie Jerry Maguire includes perhaps one of the sappiest scenes in the history of film. Jerry, separated from his wife, suddenly comes to his senses—his life is not complete without his wife in it. So, he barges into his wife’s sister’s house (where his wife is staying at the time), and in the middle of a room filled with women who see men as “the enemy,” says to her, “You complete me.” He continues on with a long soliloquy about how he loves and needs her.
“Shut up. Shut up,” she responds, “You had me at hello. You had me at hello.”
OK…either you see this as one of the most moving scenes ever, or…it makes you want to gag. Either way, it accentuates the reality that human beings are helplessly relational. The image of the Lone Ranger or the Marlboro Man who are symbols of strength and independence—people who need no one else but themselves—is bogus. John Donne spoke truthfully when he coined the phrase, “No man is an island.” We are helplessly relational. We need connection or we will die.
Why is this so? It is because we are created in the image of God—and God is Himself intensely relational. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit co-exist as a perfect, mutually-loving, mutually-supportive, in-covenant community. What this means is that we, who are created in God’s image, cannot help but need relationship—without it our lives become distorted. This is why so many people, living in a culture where over 50% of marriages end in divorce, still ache for a “significant other.” This is why so many of us are still willing to take the risks involved with loving, even though it exposes us to the potential agony of rejection and betrayal.
Friendship means self-disclosure
Sartre once said that hell is to be looked at. Our fear of being known flows out of a fear of exposure, because exposure opens us up to potential rejection. Out of self-protection we therefore keep others at a distance. The intimacy we long for is also the intimacy we fear. We are reluctant to go deep.
But biblical friendship goes deep. It takes the risk because the unshakable favor and loyalty of Jesus provides us with a safety net. The Gospel gives us the emotional wealth for self-disclosure—a form of transparency that gives two people (or, even more ideal, a community of people) consistent access to each others’ dreams, fears, loves, hatreds, struggles and sins. The difficulty with self-disclosure, however, is that we are all afraid on a deep level of being looked at, of being truly known. We want it more than anything and we also fear it more than anything. What if he rejects me? What if she uses my struggles against me? Self-disclosure is indeed risky…yet any friendship or (especially) any marriage that doesn’t take the risk is a costly counterfeit to the real thing. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Love anything and your heart will be…broken…” If you want to protect yourself from the risks of love, “you must give (your heart) to no one…the only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell.”
Friendship means enduring loyalty
Rather than being deeply committed “’til death parts us,” most of us are “committed” to people only to the degree and duration that they are useful to us. As long as they are meeting our needs at a cost that is suitable to us—as long as we are getting from the relationship at least as much as we are investing into it—we will stay with the relationship. But when a relationship becomes costly to us, we withdraw. We get a new friend, a new roommate, a new job, a new church, or even a new spouse, when the cost/benefit ratio is no longer in our favor. Rather than sticking with each other “until death do us part,” we stick together “as long as our love shall last” or “as long as I’m getting something from this relationship—as long as my needs are met at an acceptable cost to me.”
This sounds like a cold assessment, but it is true for many of us if we take a deeper look at our motivations for many of our relationships. Yet Scripture calls for relational commitments that endure…flowing from the Gospel, from Jesus’ eagerness to “stick with us” even though having us as his friends cost Him everything.
Friendship means a vision for each other’s glory
Whereas “modern” friendship asks, “What can this person do to make my life better?” a Gospel-centered friendship asks, “What can I do to make this person’s life better? What can I do to ‘enhance her glory,’ to help her be and become all she can be, as the person God created her to be and to become?” When Jesus gets into us and transforms us, he changes our entire paradigm for our acquaintances, friendships, and marriages. When we understand that all of our deepest and truest needs have been met by Jesus, our hearts are freed to love—and to devote ourselves to the good of the other people in our lives. Modern friendship treats friendship as a negotiation (I’ll take care of you if you take care of me, I’ll serve you to the degree that you serve me), whereas Christian friendship treats it as a covenant (I will stick with you even if you become costly and high-maintenance to me). Modern friendship is devoted to receiving from the other person. In a covenant, Gospel-oriented friendship, the good of the other person and the relationship take priority over our own needs and wants. And this kind of ‘one-anothering’ becomes possible only to the degree that Jesus, who ‘one-anothered’ us by giving himself to us all the way to the death, becomes our deepest and most significant other.