The messiness of Friendship...And the hope Christ brings to it

I just got back from dinner with two of the most beautiful women I know – Sarah Springer and Carrie Schwender. These women make me want to stay in the Czech Republic long term just so that I can journey with them for a while. I get sad sometimes after hanging out with them because I don’t know how long we are going to stay here and I worry sometimes that we won’t stay here very long and that I will lose their friendship… I feel like there is so much I can learn from them – they challenge me and encourage me in so many ways through their open honesty of their own struggles and victories and they allow me to process through my own thoughts and feelings in ways that truly stretch me. I feel honored that they would share their lives with me and allow me to share my life with them even not knowing how long I’ll be here. They are wonderfully gracious and caring women and I really do thank God for their friendship.

Tonight we talked about the book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. At its heart it is a book about friendship and love and all the messiness that can come from each of our desperate (often selfish) desire to be loved and approved of. Even in those rare moments when we are selfless in our love and affection for another human being it’s still messy because no matter what we are separate from each other, we carry our own baggage into the relationship and so does the other person, we will misunderstand each other and read into things that which is not there – and this book really shows that messy side of friendship very clearly.

As we talked about the book tonight I was reminded and brought back to our conversation on Sunday…. A few Sundays ago we started doing something as a church community called storying – basically the idea is that we work through the stories of scripture chronologically reading the story and then retelling the story as a community and then dialoguing about the story and what we see in it. The only rules are that we can’t talk about or bring into the discussion things we may know (or think we know) about the future of the story or the characters – we can only talk about what’s there in the story and what we know from that little glimpse of events (we can also bring into it past stories but not the future). (For more information on storying). It sounds like a really simple activity and at first I have to say I wasn’t so sure about it but it has been an amazing experience the past few weeks as we’ve discussed the creation story and the story of the fall. The group comes from different cultures and different backgrounds and they bring different view points and insights to the story but I think what I’ve loved the most is that it’s hasn’t been clean and clear cut – the discussion is messy at times and we often end the discussion with a lot of questions still remaining. People haven’t tried to read things into the text really, we’ve just accepted it and talked about it and what struggles we have with it. It’s been a beautiful thing to struggle through scripture together as a community and allow each other to rejoice and be encouraged by what we learn about God and ourselves through the stories and also allow ourselves to struggle with the things we don’t understand about God or humanity. Anyway…. Last Sunday we talked about the fall and really delved into the story of Adam and Eve’s disobedience and the story of all of our disobedience and turning away from God. We talked a lot about the immediate effects that Adam and Eve’s decision had on their relationship with each other and with God – they felt fear and shame and they hid (from each other in putting on leaves to cover themselves and then from God in hiding in the bushes). And someone made the comment that maybe they felt shame because for the first time they had the ability to judge and be judged – up until this point only God had judged, only God had said if something was good or not good – but now Adam and Eve have the knowledge of good and evil, they have the knowledge of what is good and what is not good and they know that they are vulnerable to judgment from each other and from God. And almost instantly they do begin to judge themselves (they realized they were naked and that was not good so they covered themselves) and each other (Adam judged Eve [and God] by blaming her and Eve judged and blamed the snake). And isn’t that what we all do so often in relationships – we fear that we will be judged, we feel shame knowing that in many ways we deserve that judgment and we are capable of evil, capable of the not good, and so we hide from each other and we hide from God and then we blame each other and judge each other in an attempt to avoid and hide our own guilt and vulnerability. Love and relationships were forever changed – gone were the days of naked, honesty without shame.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan shows that instinct to hide for fear of judgment and that quickness to judge the other to avoid our own guilt through a story that is captivatingly set in a time period of great struggle and brutality. But, really even in a very different setting and time period it is relatable – love and friendship is messy.

But there is encouragement… relationships are messy, but God is gracious. I find encouragement knowing that through Christ’s life and death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us God restores our relationship with Him and with each other. Does that mean that love isn’t messy anymore? By all means, NO! But, He does give us the strength to strive for a more selfless honesty and openness in our relationship with Him and with one another – He has taken way the fear of guilt – He has declared us righteous and loved and beautiful – He has shown us the way of love through His perfect example and He gives us the ability to walk by His grace in the way of love as well. And we can now look forward with hope and joy to that day when we will be perfectly united with Him and with each who journeys towards Him.

Beauty of friendship grow between us Friendship; without guile without malice without striving Goodness of friendship grow between us Friendship; with light with wings with soul sharing Be the eye of each friend of my journey to bless and teach each one The eye of the Father be upon us The eye of the Son be upon us The eye of the Spirit be upon us The eye of the Friendly Three be upon us forever. Amen. - Celtic prayer of friendship, author unknown


Rejoicing in the journey –

Beth Stedman