Seeing as it’s the holiday season and most people are full of cheer, why not start a series on friendship? It might be nice to take a break from delving the deep caverns of sexuality. It’s not necessarily a lighter subject, but maybe one that people will feel less inclined to hide from their Facebook feeds.  (Facebook tells me how many times my posts are hidden, and it’s always pretty funny to see.)

As I’ve grown older I’ve valued and sought to understand friendship a little more–it’s nuances, it’s ebbs and flows. Being married, without children, and in my late thirties, there are opportunities for me to grow friendships that might not be as readily available to those with kids. I’ve often wrestled with the effects of barrenness in my life (which I am still believing will change), so after investing in my relationships with God and family, my friendships are naturally of great importance.

Even when you have time to focus on and invest in friendships, one area that can be difficult to maintain is relatability. I thought this was my Achilles heel, but over time I’ve learned that it’s actually an area of great strength. It’s so easy to relate to those who see the way we see, and who have life experiences like our own. Jobs, family, faith, losses, victories, etc. all color our friendships. However, when you haven’t been dealt a similar hand in life to those of the people around you, and when you face the reality of your circumstances, there’s a real tendency to compare. Instead of being able to easily relate, you have to do some work. In fact, sometimes it can take a LOT of work to stay connected. You’re forced to assign values to people based on how much you’re putting in compared to how much you’re getting out, and to make decisions about where to spend your time.  Will I value the friends who value me regardless of who they are, or will I continually look for the “better fit” that’s less challenging to maintain?

As I said though, the lack of relatability that I once thought was a weakness has led to many strong, wonderful friendships, and I’ve learned to really enjoy others in all walks of life. Once you break that need to compare, it frees you to connect with people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, etc. You identify the things in life that truly link us together besides status or circumstances. It’s easier to see the common good. Yes, it takes more effort than a friendship with someone who’s just like you, but that effort is what makes us grow. The pressure to measure up or to fit into a friendship more comfortably will probably never go away entirely for many people, and of course there can be many layers in such a relationship, and not everyone has unlimited access to your heart. But I can honestly say that the effort I’ve put in has paid back many times over.

In this season of my life I actually have many more friends who are similar to me than not. Perhaps moving to the South and attending a smaller church has something to do with it. These friendships are wonderful, and I’m so thankful for them. I still sometimes find myself in the presence of those who think very differently than me though, and these growing friendships (both Christian and not) are what keep me stretching in empathy and love. Without diversity your environment will be sterile and without growth. It might be a bit of a weird comparison, but there’s a reason God made it so that people and animals from the same family can’t properly breed; even in nature, diversity is the key to adaptation and strength.

Perhaps surprisingly, (and perhaps a good reason to hide this post after all), I have a list of friendships that spans most of the social gamut, including a mix of religious beliefs, ethnicities, economic positions, career paths, etc. I’ve got conservative Christian friends who love K-Love, and “less-conservative” Christian friends who would burn the next Left Behind script if it fell into their hands. Christian friends who sport some hefty tattoos that they got both pre- and post-Jesus, and Christian friends who don’t allow musical instruments during worship who also are the most extreme Calvinists I’ve ever met (which I love about them). Christian friends who wouldn’t be caught dead in a pub and Christian friends who secretly tell me they cuss a little. And of course, it doesn’t stop at Christianity; that list includes everything from liberal political activists to atheists to married same sex couples, etc. I place an enormous amount of value on these relationships, and every one of them I would take a bullet for and trust with my cats. And if you’re my friend, you know that’s a big deal!

I can hear someone asking how this is possible. “How can you be friends with someone whose religion and life is so different from your own?” Well I believe that if you aren’t clothed in Jesus, any friendship can corrupt you–Christian and non-Christian both. So belief systems are a dime a dozen. The value I place on people is not dictated by their beliefs, but by their actions, and how we connect for the common good.

 

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Liz Flaherty lives in South Carolina with her husband Andy. They’ve been married since 2005, and have spent the majority of their marriage ministering to and mentoring people in areas of sexual wholeness and identity. In her book, The God of My Parents, Liz shares her powerful testimony in which she faced immense grief, rejection, drug abuse, pornography, and homosexuality. Her heart is to inspire the Christian community to address these issues with love, respect and honesty.

Liz and Andy have two cats, named Paddie and Ginger.