What is a friend?

So… I’ve been struggling to figure out what friendship is. It seems like something most people figure out on the playground, but I’m still working on it. Clearly I’m a late bloomer. 🙂

A couple of weeks ago, I read a post on the Gospel Coalition blog – written by Mark Driscoll about friendship. You can read the entire post by clicking here. It’s actually a series, but Part two hit home the most for me. You can also go back and read this post I wrote a couple of weeks ago about friendship. Basically, in my attempts to be friendly to everyone, I’ve caused everyone to expect deep, mutual friendship with me… that I can’t (and unfortunately never intended) to live out.

First, we need a working definition of what a friend is. A friend is a trustworthy peer with whom we mutually choose to lovingly live by pursuing intentionally, giving privileged access, and serving for God’s glory and their good (Mark Driscoll wrote this in Part 2).

Okay… problem 1

I don’t trust very many people, I pursue everyone in range, and people believe I’m giving them privileged access when I’m not.

For those of you who haven’t figured it out, Katie (that’s me) has a problem trusting and yet is capable of telling the entire world what she’s struggling through without allowing any access to her heart.

I remember one Sunday prayer thing in particular, when I told my entire church (people I called friends) that I needed prayer because I’d lost my job, my dad had a heart attack, my sister was having pretty serious health problems, my brilliant A+ nephew was getting into trouble at school, and some lady claimed to be the illegit child of my great-grandfather.

I said it all matter-of-factly and didn’t shed a tear.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Also, all it takes is an instant for me to disengage my heart, while it takes hours to engage. There are a few people I automatically trust because they’ve respectfully taken care of my heart for years. With most, though, I will tell them everything and show them nothing.

Sooo… when I tell people things about my life, they assume that we’re bonding, when really I’m just giving a factual report so they’re up to speed.

Another part of this is that I believe in genuinely appreciating EVERY person I’m with, when I’m with them. It’s flattering when someone genuinely looks at us and tells us that we’re wonderful. It’s heart-warming and encouraging. That’s why I do it. Because I believe we should see God in every person we talk with, and we should build them up. The only problem is that other people aren’t doing that. Other people use body language and whatnot to communicate their disinterest in people, which is a cue that there isn’t going to be a friendship. So I guess the question is, how do I continue to enjoy everyone while still communicating that there is going to be something closer to an acquaintance than a deep friendship.

…life invariably includes friendshift, which is when a relationship changes from a friendship to something more or less.


…we are to be friendly toward all but only friends with a few. As a pastor, this is a vital distinction. Simply because we are friendly toward dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people does not mean they should each expect a piece of our birthday cake and a seat at our house for Christmas.

Okay, I’m not a pastor or a pastor’s wife, but this one hit me pretty hard. I’ve really been trying to include everyone in the cake. In my brain: “Aaaah! I don’t want to be a jerk. Here, take my piece! I don’t even like my birthday and I certainly never wanted a piece of my cake. Take it. Just don’t be mad at me.”

…we only have a few true friends. A real friendship takes so much time, energy, emotion, and sometimes even money, that we can only have a few true friendships… we may only have one or two truly close friends, as that is all we can handle. This explains why Jesus had only three close friends (Peter, James, and John), despite having a working relationship with the other disciples as well as fans numbering the tens of thousands who wanted to be his friend. Such people chose Jesus, but he never chose them as his friends or gave them the access he did the three.

Question: does it necessarily have to be insulting to people I don’t chose to let in? The disciples definitely argued about who was the 1st among them, and I’m wondering if that’s inevitable. In that post I wrote awhile back, I included a little about how I’ve been accused of having people compete for my friendship. Is there a way that I can avoid that? I know I could be less warm and kind to the people I don’t intend to be really close with, but that goes against my belief that we should be warm and encouraging to everyone.

I don’t get it! I’m frustrated and sad. How do I do this?

*In part three of the series, Driscoll makes this comment about how his reader probably will disagree with him about something because the reader is young, idealistic and naive. I read that and cracked up, because it’s exactly the root of my current struggles 🙂 but, oh what a way to be… way better than being old, cynical and overly suspicious.


10 thoughts on “What is a friend?

  1. I can definitely relate to the feelings your are expressing in the post about being able to share everything with everyone!

  2. Pingback: What is a friend? (via Still Growing) « OneSingleLady

  3. I would love to keep this brief, but it’s generally not a strength…

    For the first twenty years of my life, I was Mr. Social Butterfly. As a college student, I found myself plastered all over the school yearbook, made a point to know every student on campus, and established myself as the cool church camp counselor and junior high leader at my church. God blessed me with a ridiculous people association skill that allowed me to remember the names of kids that I hadn’t seen in a year, and this was special to them.

    All this was fine until I encountered my own personal problems. I would sit in my dorm room to stew, and not a single person would ask what was wrong. My phone never rang on the weekend. I would communicate my spiritual issues in a group setting and was met with cricket chirps. Like being the “football player’s girlfriend,” I became the “youth ministry mascot.”

    The further my faith grew, and the more I became aware of the idols in my life, I resented being the mascot. People would come up and say “hi” with whom I barely had a relationship. But they thought they knew me. Some message I had preached, some crazy bus song I had led, or some time I sat and listened to their problems defined me as their spiritual hero. The greater the “legacy,” the less people actually wanted to hear what was truly on my heart — they didn’t want me bursting their bubble of who I was supposed to be. So I began to deny my feelings and wishes completely.

    [A “friend” later told me that she never fought for my heart because it was assumed I was popular enough, and someone else certainly had it covered.]

    I gradually made efforts to drive people away. I focused on pursuing holiness and made myself the opposite of cool. I’d preach a cutting message and leave the scene before someone could talk to me. Deep inside, I wanted to be friends with all these people, but I knew that they wanted the mascot, and I couldn’t do it anymore.

    When I first started sharing my writing (my one refuge of truth), my mascot friends gradually slipped away. Being honest made them uncomfortable; they didn’t like the “new” me. But there were a few friends that not only engaged in my loneliness — they shared it with me. I resisted it like mad at first, because I had become so accustomed to removing the emotion from the pain of my problems. But they remained persistent. For the first time in my life, someone allowed themselves to minister to me. They allowed the mascot to be broken and imperfect.


    I’ve heard this lie in ministry before: that we shouldn’t pick favorites. Truthfully, others will continue to feel entitled to know your heart fully, particularly if they see you as a solution to their problems. For most, this path is cozy. We can find co-dependency in being useful, and they can benefit from our wisdom. But inevitably, our tank will be left empty, and these acquaintances will do little to fill it.

    So where’s the line? I think the two words in Driscoll’s definition that distinguish friend from acquaintance are “mutually” and “trustworthy.” Whether acquaintances approach you with entitlement or not, if they are not mutually pouring in, you owe them nothing of your heart. Similarly, if they have not established trust through a life of integrity, you owe them nothing.

    The hardship comes from trusting others when we’ve been burned in the past. We’re not born trusting people slowly, so I’m assuming that you have good reason to be skeptical. If you harbor unresolved pain, the trusting is going to be a difficult choice, regardless of a friend’s suitability. Guard your heart against those that would zap you dry, but wade through the baggage to invite those that understand the value of your trust. It’s worth it. If you can surround yourself with a few friends that serve as a blessing and a grace to you, they will earn the right to help you through further residue, which will help you discern these matters in the future (and offer the support to say “no.”)

    One last note: if God has gifted you to be a mobile instrument for his use, there will be no end to the acquaintances that flow in and out of your life. [You use the word “gypsie” in the other post — take heart: this is actually a grace God grants a select few to serve an apostolic purpose that cannot be served by those with deep attachments to community. Receive it with joy.] Living in the Facebook world, we’ve taken the natural and healthy separation of moving on and given all loved ones full access to the present.

    I want to offer you permission to place this expectation behind you. God will provide the life-long friends that will be present as you hop from project to project. As for the others, enjoy these acquaintances for God’s due time, but rid yourself of any guilt in moving forward.

    • A.W. – Thank you SO much for taking the time to write a comment that wasn’t brief. 🙂 Brevity is overrated.

      I can’t begin to tell you how much what you’ve written has brought solace. Even though I knew a lot of the things you’d written, it’s such a different thing to believe and trust in those things I know. And it’s good to know that I’m not alone in struggling with this.

      So, thanks again.

      One last thing on your one last note – no one has ever mentioned this grace to me before. So many times, I’ve lamented my relationship to community because I’ve seen other people being rooted and grounded, while I never reach that point. I can be in a church and form deep, loving relationships that I enjoy, but I never seem to mourn the loss of them the way others do. I’m going to have to think and pray more on this, but I’m definitely grateful that you mentioned it.

      Thank you.

      • For sure: pray on it. I was comforted by reading the practices of the early church, particularly during Paul’s first sending:

        While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 13:2-3)

        Antioch was the first church in which Paul taught, and is said to be the first place that the disciples were called Christians (that is to say, they were distinguished from Jews living according to the Law). I have to believe these people always held a dear place in Paul’s heart, as he would have in theirs. But when he had been with them a year, the Lord saw it fit to send him, and the people obediently released him.

        Ephesians 4:11-16 offers an awesome picture of how each leadership role plays its part in the building and maturing of a faith community, even while only two of the five roles are specifically grounded in that community (pastor and teacher — arguably evangelist depending on the ministry). The other two roles are essential for the start of new works. While the American church often limits its understanding of new works to other continents, God is very much in need of “gypsies” to serve as catalysts in the regional sense.

        There are two distortions of these gifts that can play into the enemy’s hands. The first I’ve already addressed: feeling guilty about moving forward while the majority have a lifelong commitment to a specific work. The second is the sin of bailing before the Holy Spirit has granted release. Those with this grace are typically prepared by God to move forward even before they are sent, which offers a peace in obedience when they are asked to move (I’m assuming you’ve experienced this phenomenon). Jumping the gun can disrupt His preparation. Paul stayed with some communities for a year — others for much longer. It is encouraging that you have placed the weight of your church decision in prayer, because only He can give you this peace and grace in moving to your next venture.

        And if writing isn’t the perfect “gypsie” profession, I don’t know what is 🙂 Allow God to rest His desires on your heart to know the specific way He would have you serve. Until then, practice obedience in His general will: the word of God that is common for all men and women. I pray for His perfect timing.

  4. Here is my view on friendship. Like any relationship it takes work. I have a very close friend that I prayed earnestly to God for. I had recognized that the people in my life at the time, I did not trust enough to rely on or felt that they were there for me which left me very desolate. My friend was someone I knew before and we lost touch and it took a lot of effort for me to make it work despite us being on the other side of the country. True friendship requires trust and the ability to be vulunerable with someone else. These were traits I had to put into practice. It is so easy to be on the surface with others but for any true relationship you have to put alot of work into it. God provides the opportunity and you provide the muscle.

  5. Katie, I can’t begin to tell you how timely this post was for me; after having a discussion about this exact topic late last night, I woke up to find this post waiting for me with my morning coffee. It was so spot on that I was a little bit creeped out. So, thank you for sharing this (in a highly engaging way, I might add). It is a question that has sat in the back of mind for some time now, never earning my full attention, and now I feel that it’s time to tackle it.
    So, I have a question for you. You don’t have to answer it if you don’t want, I don’t know what proper blog etiquette is and maybe you aren’t supposed to ask questions in a response. This is my question: in Mark Driscoll’s blog, he says “there are people with whom we do not choose to do life but are simply in our life (e.g., family, coworkers, neighbors, classmates).” He is saying that we can choose to “do life” with family or choose not to. Having been brought up to believe that the bond with family is sacred, that family should always come before friends, and having spent a good deal of time beating myself up for not being a good sister, daughter, granddaughter, niece, etc… this surprised me a great deal. I know you have worked through some of this before too. So I was curious what your take on family might be. Do they get the first of our time, money, and attention? If you do choose not to “do life” with them, how does that really work? Is that cutting them out of your life? Is that wrong?
    Thanks again for the post!

  6. I’ve definitely spent A LOT of time trying to figure this stuff out, and I don’t have any idea what the right answers are. All I can tell you is what I’ve come up with for myself.

    I can’t think of a single place in the Bible that says we ought to put family first. I think the Bible actually says something really different from that. I look at passages like chapter 3 of Mark. Verse 35 says, “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother”, and there are others that I know you know, like the one about whoever does not leave father and mother and brother and follow Me is not worthy of Me (I don’t know where that one is, but I think it might be around chapter 10 of Matthew).

    So, when I think about who I give myself to, I admittedly put the Johnsons at the top of my list (above the family I was born into). Although we don’t spend so much time together because of the geographical gap, I give all of my heart to them. I only understand God as Father because Dave is the dad who chooses me. I only understand femininity because Lisa is my model. Generally, I don’t think about my relationships with my family as doing life or not doing life with them. I think of it more in the context of who is the right person for any given moment, and progressively more frequently, my family isn’t just not right for the moment, they are absolutely wrong for it. Still, I make myself available to them when they seek me out, which, to be honest isn’t, all that often. I seek them out every-once-in-awhile – especially for things I think they are perfect for. For example, when I get angry, I like to revert to my softball days and take my aggressions out on a bucket of balls. My family are perfectly suited for that, and it’s a moment I reserve for my mom.

    The Crossing certainly got the majority of my time, money and attention, which bothered my family a lot sometimes. But you all were my brothers, sisters, etc… because you are seeking God and loved me beyond what I ought to be loved.

    The complication for me is the commandment to honor father and mother. I do my best to work through my issues with them without ever dishonoring them, which is a fine line to walk.

    I don’t think it’s wrong to cut family out of your life, but drifting slowly away is more my style. I felt like cutting them out of my life would be burning bridges I didn’t want to burn, but I suppose my bridges might just fall apart from disrepair anyway 🙂 I also don’t necessarily think things with my family will always be this way. I’d love for things to be better than they are, but none of us seem able to make that happen now, so I’m trying to be patient while hoping to the future… however, I’d be lying if I said I’m doing anything to build a good future with them.

    I don’t know if that answers anything, but I don’t think you owe family more than others because of biological ties. And I don’t think it’s wrong to place your loyalties elsewhere. How to do it without dishonoring them is my dilemma.

    Hope that helps. 😦

    I personally find family to be the most difficult aspect of my relationship with God.

  7. I think it’s hard to understand Biblical principles of honoring parents, because our culture has handed us a raw deal. That’s not to say that we should disregard the commandment to honor as irrelevant, I just think it makes it complicated.

    Parents once owned and appreciated the responsibility of raising children; their offspring were seen as a blessing and not a burden. In scripture, the common practice was for children to stay under the protective head of their families until they were married, at which point they would seek comfort and protection in their spouse, ending the child’s obligation to their previous family for the sake of their own.

    Here’s the question: if parents have given up the blessing and responsibility of truly comforting, protecting, and discipling (not just “disciplining”) their children, does that dismiss us of the obligation as singles to serve parents more traditionally? The concept of unbound singles was relatively foreign to the ancient world — part of the reason why Christ’s words were so piercing. But we have this world today, for better or worse, where most of us are without human covering. Sounds like another task for the church: similar to widows and orphans, to provide a covering to those with none.

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