(This is an article I wrote for Grit&Virtue and was featured there first)
Twenty minutes before our guests arrived, I realized that my pulled-pork was leaning toward the salmonella side of rare. I had lured a couple from church with the promise of tacos, so I frantically chopped and cursed everything edible in our fridge and smothered it in salsa, praying that picante could cover the multitude of sins. In that moment, I desperately wished that I could laughingly explain the situation and order pizza instead. But it was the first friend date and we weren’t there yet; so I composed myself and pretended that vegetarian tacos were my signature dish.
Developing friendships predicated on freedom, where pretenses are both recognized and unwelcome, is a life-long endeavor. Searching for this sort of friendship in any season of life is difficult, but finding couple friendships like this requires nothing short of a miracle. It’s basically dating, but more complex and often more awkward. You aren’t trying to coordinate and connect with just one other person, but rather three; so you petition the Lord to make a way in the schedules like he did in the wilderness.
When you’re newly married and on a budget eating out is a luxury. So rather than flush the monthly “fun money”, you invite the potential new friends over for an affordable home-cooked experiment instead. I say experiment because “Pioneer Woman Skills” unfortunately are not something you can register for at Target. Since you’re hosting, you’re responsible for cultivating an atmosphere for friendship to blossom, so you over-analyze the little things, “Are the Lumineers too edgy to have playing in the background, or should we play it safe with Jars of Clay?” “Do we offer wine, or will that be suggestive?” “Should we use the everyday wear plates of the plates we actually use every day?” “Patterned napkins or paper towels? We want to look like we put forth effort, but not like we’re flashy.” If this friendship is going to work, we have to be on our best behavior: “Be fun but not obnoxious, spiritual but not holier-than-thou, funny but not too off-color, and candid but don’t over-share”. This game plan requires concerted effort far beyond my husband’s and my capacity, but we want these people to like us, so the show must go on. Once the napkins are out, the table is set, the ambient acoustic dinner playlist is playing, the argument about where the forks should set is tabled for later, the curtains rise for the show.
The irony is palpable, isn’t it? If the only thing that we know we have in common with our guests is our faith, then we should at the very least connect on two things: our imperfections and our need for a savior. But for some odd reason, even though I know that they know that we know that nobody is perfect, including us, I will still try to convince them otherwise. This effort to impress is far from freedom. I long for free friendships, for both my husband and myself, but I’ve noticed that I am reluctant to let my guard down first.
I’M FINDING THAT IN THIS SEASON I’M FAR MORE THAN WILLING TO ACCEPT PEOPLE AS THEY ARE THAN I AM TO BE ACCEPTED AS I AM.
I’m finding that in this season I’m far more than willing to accept people as they are than I am to be accepted as I am. I insist that people come to the table with no pretenses, and am ready to accept it all because I want to be like Jesus to people. But in my tireless effort to please, I exchange hollow favor at the price of authenticity. I rob people of the opportunity to extend that same grace to me. If it is for freedom that Christ set us free, then let’s walk in it together. If we walk in the light as he is in the light, then let’s confess our shortcomings, laugh about the veggie taco concoction, and praise the good Lord for the innovation of pizza delivery instead.
“But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:7).
LET’S BE FREE FROM RELYING ON OUR PERSONALITIES, OUR COOKING, OR OUR COMMONALITIES TO UNIFY US WITH OTHERS.
Let’s be free from relying on our personalities, our cooking, or our commonalities to unify us with others. Instead, let’s shift our gazes from ourselves to the Divine author, who takes us as we are, and marvel at his power being made perfect in our weaknesses. Let’s make much of who he is and what he’s done and let him be the catalyst for our friendship. There’s no greater connection than that of the work of savior. Here’s to free friendships.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” – Galatians 5:1 NIV