Do you feel like you can be honest with your friends about anything? Or are there some things you just can’t share with them? You know it would hurt the friendship or strain the relationship somehow.
I’m not talking about secret sins or vices (though confession is certainly important in friendship). What I’m talking about is honesty at the risk of disagreement. Maybe you’re the only one of your friends who questions the inerrancy of the Bible, or who doesn’t think women should be ordained, or who believes it’s ok if the government allows same-sex unions, or who is a committed Calvinist. If you have any views with which your friends might disagree, can you talk about them?
In my experience, this hasn’t always been the case in my friendships. I have learned, over time, that there are certain taboo topics that cannot be raised. Depending on which circle of friends I am in, I’ve learned to avoid voicing my complete thoughts on subjects that would earn me an accusing look that says, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were on that team.” Immediately, I’m made to feel like less of a pure Christian. By voicing my opinion or question, the entire legitimacy of my salvation suddenly falls into question.
And just to be clear, this experience has transpired with both conservative Christian friends AND liberal Christian friends. And I’m sure I’ve even done it to others as well.
When we respond to theological questions and opinions in a manner that draws relational lines in the sand, we teach one another to be less honest. We also learn to only be friends with people who are as closely aligned with our own views as possible, which stifles growth and can be a deceptive form of intimacy.
Now that is not to say we shouldn’t be friends with people who share the same values. As Christians, the Bible tells us to fellowship with other Christians, not for the sake of feeding off one another’s same-mindedness, but to encourage, affirm and guard one another’s faith. Christ-centered fellowship is crucial for discipleship.
But most of us will never find anyone, including our own spouses, with whom we will ALWAYS agree. So the question is: Are you using your differences to increase the depth of your friendship, or are you avoiding tough conversations, thereby resulting in a superficial intimacy?
I recently heard a theologian commend Catholicism for promoting a unity so strong that Catholics can fight with another without causing division. I kind of like that idea. What if we loved one another so well that we could fight about something (respectfully, of course) without fear of being rejected as a friend? This kind of honesty has got to exist in marriage if there is to be any intimacy or trust in the relationship, by why not friendship too?
Christian friendships of this type require two things of us:
1. The courage to be vulnerable when you’re in the minority. It’s scary to put yourself out there when you think others will disagree with you or judge you. But if you never do this, then your friends don’t really know you either. In the interest of authentic relationships, be the first to set an example of soul-bearing intimacy.
2. Be the kind of friend with whom others can be honest about themselves. Be humble. Listen. Don’t make snap judgments. Even if your friend confesses an opinion you consider to be the most blasphemous thing you’ve ever heard, they’ll never talk to you about it again if you proceed to explain exactly how they’re wrong. We need to love other people so profoundly that they feel the freedom to openly process their thoughts and questions. When we do this in community we make accountability possible, rather than forcing people to mull over their ideas in unmonitored isolation.
Talk about this with your closest friends. What exactly is your relationship based upon? Unwavering agreement on all issues? Or unwavering love for God and one another? In John 13:35 Jesus said that the world will know we’re his disciples by our love for one another. Love has never implied the absence of conflict, but the transcendence of it.