BFF bracelets. Matching outfits. Inside jokes. Sorority pledge class pictures. Bridesmaids. The many seasons of friendships.
My view of friendship has been evolving over the decades. These days I find myself most thankful for my forged friendships, the relationships that have been tested through suffering and awkwardness, tension and time.
All friendships, from close acquaintances to seasonal sisters, are gifts from God. In them we learn how to love and lose, how to fight and forgive. However, in early adulthood (I hope I still fit in that category), I am learning that we get the best window into God’s heart from friendships that have been forged through the fires of pain, disappointment and conflict.
I remember underlining the phrase “Conflict breeds intimacy” upon first reading Dan Allender’s treatise-like book Bold Love. Likewise, I remember the first time I heard someone quote Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
Both phrases were pithy and poetic, concise and clean.
While these phrases have been proven true over the years in my life, the processes they describe have proven far more painful and awkward than I could have ever imagined in my youthful naivety. No wonder people steer away from conflict, avoiding honesty and vulnerability: it is neither sterile nor scripted and leaves us deeply uncomfortable.
Yet, conflict, when handled biblically, can forge friendships in a way that few other things can.
Friendships that have been fought for, wrestled with, prayed through and cried over can show us God’s mercy, grace and forgiveness in profound ways.
When thinking of friendship in the storyline of the Bible, two pairs come immediately to my mind: David & Jonathan and Jesus & Peter.
David and Jonathan are considered the poster boys for Christian friendship, and well they should be. Most of us just assume that theirs was a natural friendship marked by comfort, ease and constant caring. However, when we consider the facts of the situation of their friendship and use a little Spirit-bounded imagination, a storyline of conflict and complex care held together by a covenanted love emerges.
We know that Jonathon eventually supported David’s becoming king, even to the point of rescuing him from the murderous plots of his own father. However, we must remember that Jonathan was a human being, just like us. As such, we can bank on the fact that he had ambitions, insecurities and fears and wrestled with jealousy, disappointment and pride.
We read “the soul of Jonathon was knit to the soul of David” (1 Samuel 18:1) with awe and celebration. But we also must recognize that there is life under and between these lines. There must have been some hard conversations laced with tears and miscommunication between these two men in the process of their two souls being knit together. For David to become king meant a loss for Jonathan, one he surely accepted and welcomed through through a divinely-guided human process.
Luckily for us, we get a little more of a glimpse, Biblically-speaking, into the process that forged the New Testament friendship between Peter and Jesus.
While Jesus called all His disciples friends (John 15:15), He consistently invited his young, impetuous friend Peter into His critical moments of both joy and suffering. Peter spent his life preaching and pastoring in the name and power of Jesus and died a gruesome martyr’s death for His sake. Friendship.
Yet, this friendship was forged in the fires of failure and loving confrontation and forgiveness.
Even after his epic thrice fold denial of his friend, Peter leaps into the water out of joy when he first sees the Risen Christ on the beach. It’s as if for a brief moment, Peter, relieved at seeing the dear friend he thought dead, forgot about the lingering conflict between he and Jesus.
Jesus, the friend who sticks closer than a brother introduced in Proverbs, does something bold in that critical moment. He neither sweeps his friend’s series of denials under the rug nor allows them to remain a wall of tension between them; rather, He walks Peter slowly and lovingly back through the conflict, not to shame him, but to show him the depths of His forgiveness (John 21).
Out of this uncomfortable conflict emerges a forged friendship to His Savior, one that compels Peter to a lifelong covenant commitment to Christ.
Forged friendships are neither cheap nor convenient. They are costly and hard won; they weather seasons of palpable tension and awkwardness; they expose our humanity and our limitations.That being said, forged friends sharpen us in ways few other instruments can.
Here’s to fire-tested, forged friendships that point us to the One who was tested on the Cross and arose more beautiful on the third day.