I was in a creative writing group last week and the facilitator prompted us with the question, “When was the last time you told your story?” Gathered in a circle with pens and notebooks, we each launched quietly and individually into a time of writing around this question. I thought of what it means to tell our stories. I thought of the weight of the words, each one carefully chosen. I thought of the trust required to speak each of those words. I thought also of the opportunity for relationship that this sacred sharing affords us. To know and be known is what we were made for.
Friendship is the way by which we figure out who we are. This is you. This is me. This is where our lives connect. The song “Kindness” from ‘Songs From The Valley’ is a litany of many small, meaningful intersections of friendship. It’s not just one person, but the song was written about a whole host of loved ones, woven together in these lyrics into one fabric of friendship and support.
One afternoon, I had a friend unexpectedly fill my pantry with groceries. Another time there was a flower delivery from a friend just when I had a plumbing leak that had burst through the ceiling of my living room. A coffee gift card in the mailbox from a long-distance friend. A ride home from the airport. These are the ordinary ways of grace, and they carry me. Once I stood in the rain under an umbrella on a neighbor’s porch. I had a notebook and a pen in my hand and decided not to knock. I walked home brimming over with gratitude like the rain pooling into my shoes, and I formed the words of this song.
One of my favorite scriptures rings out like a cheerleader from the sidelines of community, “Let mutual love continue.” (Heb 13:1) Yes and amen. Mutual love is love that goes both ways. Friendship does not try to make one like the other, it just rests comfortably and separately beside. Friendship is not transactional nor does it keep score (1 Cor 13). It is freely given without strings or obligation. Friendship is the joy of shared life.
If kindness is a force that carries us, where is it taking us? I think of the story in the gospel of Luke (Lk 5) when several friends carried a sick friend’s mat up onto the roof and down into the crowd, right at the feet of Jesus. Friendship has carried me there to Jesus for healing, too.
I think of the ships and the fish and the cargo that follow the rivers curves all the way out into the ocean. Friendship has carried me long distances and opened my heart up into more vast, unsearchable waters.
I think of the wind that carries the seeds of the flower, deconstructing the first blossom to plant a dozen more, each in their own new place of reciprocating beauty. Friendship has been dispersed and multiplied like these seeds in my life, too.
Kindness is the force that carries us onward in growth. In the transformation of God’s spirit, we can not stay who we were, because he makes us new again and again. Kindness does not assert itself as a violent force, though sometimes it feels jarring. And kindness is not the same as nice-ness. To be nice is to keep from all disruptions. With nice-ness, the objective is peace, even if it’s false peace. But with kindness, the end goal is loyalty and truth. In kindness, it is the friend herself that matters most. In true friendship, temporary discomfort is a means of grace. The wounds of a friend are evidence of faithfulness. (Prov. 27:6)
One of my favorite hymns from the 19th century, by Ellen Goreh sings these lines; “Do you think He ne’er reproves me? What a false friend He would be. If He never, never told me, of the sins which He must see.” We are shaped by gentle and affectionate correction. Learning to welcome truth in the safety of a trusted relationship can be a messy practice.
But where love is mutual, as we have all hoped it would be, kindness between friends makes for an increase of beauty in the world. In this kind of mutuality, each of us can become more glorious in the particulars of who we are. In sharing our stories with each other we find out our own names and how called uniquely on our journey. To this end, there is no limit to the inspiration of friendship; teaches, illuminates and delights. And all the while, by God’s design we are carried to safety by the current of kindness.
Invitation to prayer: When was the last time I received truth from a friend that I needed to hear (even if it felt like a wound at first)? Am I tired from specific ways when I been propping up false-peace? If kindness is the current, where is it taking me? Ask God to bring to your mind a few specific moments of friendship with another person and with God himself. Give thanks for these gifts. Ask God to meet you in friendship.