Wednesday, March 1, 2017

If You Feel Like a Horrible Friend

I'm eight years old and walking in the most beautiful garden I've ever been in. It's not our garden. It's our neighbor's garden. I honestly have more memories of our neighbor's white farmhouse with the wraparound porch than I do of my own childhood home.

I'm walking alongside a manmade pond sunk inside large boulders. I am running my fingers along petals of the brightly colored roses, drinking in their scandalous scent and carelessly popping tightly wound sugar snaps. I am singing a hymn.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry,
everything to God in prayer. 

This song still takes me back to that garden. To that small, chubby little girl body. To the dreams that were so alive. To the smells and sights and sounds of peace. There was peace in that garden. And Jesus was my friend. I never doubted it at that age.

But as I grew up and got braces and hips and attention, I waffled in this understanding and unlatched Jesus's hand from mine and inserted a scepter into his palm and pushed his eyebrows down into a furrowed look of disapproval.

I tore off his crown of thorns and replaced it with a sparkly crown of prestige–which forced me to cower in its reflection while I lied and cheated my way through adolescence.

But now, Jesus the friend is back. Only through the seeking of his hand again–of running my anxious worry-worn fingers along the dark hallway and waiting until I feel his wrist. His pulse. And his fingers catch mine.

Through the process of reintroducing myself to Him and of finding that old garden friend, I have learned something beautiful about friendship. Not about friends. Or about hanging out. Or about checking in. But about friendship. Sisterhood. Kinship. Family.

As women, I feel like friendship is something we fear. It's something we desperately want, but run from. We fear that we will be seen. That our flaws and cracks and masks will fall, that we will have to apologize and let people in. That someone may see that we are hot messes, and we can't possibly let our guard down that low.

I mean, what will they think of us? What will we think of ourselves?

Understanding the friend nature of God, seems strange. Maybe not even important in the shadow of headliners like almighty and sovereign. But it is essential if we are going to be doing life together, if we are going to be sisters and brothers in Christ, if we are going to learn anything about trust–we must embrace the fact that friendship isn't flawless.

Even Jesus showed up late to one of his closest friend's funeral. "Late" is generous. He simply didn't show up. And Lazarus died without him.

That's one of those friendship non-negotiables right? I'm dying. Get here. 

But no.

Instead, in the Gospel of John, we see the most beautiful picture of what it looks like to gracefully follow in the footsteps of essential friendship. To not always do what is expected of us, to the glory of God.

In John 11 we see the only time that Jesus is recorded crying. And not just crying, but weeping. What is often overlooked in this part of the story is a Gospel blueprint for friendship. I've often jumped too quickly to the truth that this is evidence that Jesus was emotional and fully human and felt as deeply as we do. That is beautiful. But there is more to be discovered here.

In verse 35, those two words, "Jesus wept"–also the shortest verse in he Bible–usher in the subtle intricacies of true friendship. Of loss. Of death. Of grief. Those don't seem like words that we associate with friendship, and yet these are the indicators you're walking the road of a gospel-centered relationship, not a self-focused one.

When the news reached Jesus that his friend Lazarus had gotten very sick, the Bible says, "he stayed two days longer in the place he was."

Can you imagine? If your close friend was dying and you could save their life would you choose to wait? Why would Jesus do that? What does this story reveal?

When Jesus arrives, Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days.

Lazarus's sister, Mary doesn't even leave the house to greet Jesus, swallowed up by her grief. But the other sister? The type-A sister Martha? Bless-her-heart, she rushes out to confront Jesus. To call him out; to give him a piece of her mind, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

And then she stops.

Martha looks into his eyes. She sees that this isn't a delayed visit. This isn't an accidental oversight. That there is purpose here. But what could it be? She realizes that her Jesus is still Jesus. Her anger quickly evaporates and she continues, "But even now, I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you."

Faith. Mustard seed in size. It was enough.

"And Jesus said, where have you laid him?"

"Take away the stone."

"Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?"

"Lazarus, come out."

And he did.

This is a miracle that proved Jesus had authority over the ultimate demise. Death. He had to perform this miracle to foreshadow his own victory over death on a cross. To fulfill the prophesy in Isaiah 25:8, that says, "He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces." 

But it also reveals that Lazarus's death served a purpose, even if it cost Jesus something personally. It cost him good standing in Mary and Martha's eyes. It caused him grief. It caused him to exercise intense self restraint in the midst of unfathomable sadness: the impending loss of a loved one.

Jesus wanted to be with his friends while they grieved and he wanted to be there while Lazarus passed, but instead he waited. In obedience, so that the Glory of God could be revealed. So that the miracle could happen. So that the impossible was possible.

Jesus was dedicated to God's will, even to the point of losing a friend. Literally. To the point of losing respect. To hurting people who had high expectations of his ability to perform. This is what we must understand about being friends to one another: sometimes we have to make God more important than friendship.

And when I say sometimes, I mean all the times.

God's glory is more important than me looking like a savior in someone else's eyes. We can not save someone's life. We cannot raise things from the dead. We can only point them to the Great Comfort. To take their hand and pry their fingers apart from fear and interlock them with timeless words; to press them into the presence of an Ancient Spirit that heals wounds we fumble even to splint.

To remind them, "The Lord comforts Zion, he comforts all her waste places and makes her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song." 

I'm eight years old and walking in the most beautiful garden I've ever been in.

I am running my fingers along petals of the brightly colored roses. I am singing a hymn.

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privelege to carry,
everything to God in prayer. 

Friendship is flawed. Jesus is not. Friendship starts and ends there.

We're in this together,

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