As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. – Proverbs 27:17 (NLT)
One of my main prayers for myself over the past couple of years was for meaningful friendships. My journal entries from this time are full of things like, “If God really cares for me, why would he let me feel so lonely and alone? Why wouldn’t he surround me with loving people?” As difficult as this time was, it did have the benefit of drawing me closer to God, and as my dependence on him grew I started to see answers to my prayers.
A helpful piece of advice that I stumbled across during this phase was that if you’re feeling lonely and desiring community, look at the people who are already in your life. The truth was that I did have beautiful people around me — lots of them — I just didn’t feel connected to them. I needed to put more effort into nurturing these friendships rather than sitting back and waiting for things to grow. A friend of mine has often quoted the advice given to her by her mother — if you want to have a friend, you need to be a friend.
For many years I didn’t prioritize my friendships. I lived as if I didn’t need people and they didn’t need me. I figured that I could do the best job taking care of myself, so I put my head down and worked hard to get where I wanted to be. Sadly, relationships were more often a nuisance than a blessing, an inconvenience rather than a gift.
But I was forgetting that true, honest friendship is holy and straight from heaven. Jesus surrounded himself with a group of people he did life with. He even called us his friends (John 15:15). This means that having friends is not just an added bonus if we want life to be more fun and interesting. Friendship is God’s brilliant idea of how things here on earth are supposed to be.
As I’ve started to take my relationships more seriously, which, for me, means putting a whole lot more effort into showing up and being open and honest, I can see Proverbs 27:17 becoming true for me. I am growing and changing because of the people in my life, not in spite of them.
I’m learning that my friendships are an integral part of my walk with God and not something separate. God has things to show me about himself and he wants to use the people in my life as his messengers. I like how Bob Goff puts it: “Next to grace, I bet God thinks having us need each other was one of His best ideas.” God’s glory is in each one of us (John 17:22), so if I want to see God, one of the best places to look is in my glory-filled friends.
Yet for beauty and goodness and truth to grow from our friendships we need to do some dirty work. There’s all that pride and envy and insecurity and the tendency to judge which creep into relationships and choke out the good like weeds in a garden. As those things get yanked out, there’s more room for God and his light to shine through. There’s more room for that life-changing love to flow through.
My prayers for my friendships have changed a lot over this past year. Now I pray, Lord, open my eyes. I know you’re all around me, please help me to see! Surprise me. Give me clarity of vision. Show me where you are alive and active in the people in my life. I want to see your glory in each person that I meet. Amen.