After we’ve packed the cooler, dressed everyone in bathing suits and sandals, double-checked the bag for diapers, towels, tissues, Band-Aids (for blisters), sunscreen, and more, and then loaded every last item and person into the mini-van, we have the same-old chat with our girls as we drive to Busch Gardens, the amusement park near our home.
First we begin with the safety reminders, about strangers, about wandering away from us, and what to do if you get lost.
We finish up with the “friends speech.” It goes something like this: You are sisters. God designed you to be best friends. Don’t ditch your sister so that you can ride in a boat or car or dragon or whatever with some random stranger who you’ll never see again. Sisters ride together.
This last speech generally elicits the most protests. My girls are friendly people. They like to meet new kids and form what they are certain are life-long bonds of friendship while standing in line at Busch Gardens.
So, it was no surprise that during our spring break trek out to the amusement park, my middle daughter stood in line for a ride and then announced, “Mom, I made two new best friends!”
Not just friends. Best friends.
And how did she know these two new girls were now her bosom buddies for life?
“They told me their names, Savannah and Julia.”
That was it. The loyal bond formed simply by exchanging names.
Friends, best friends, nice people you’ve only just met, a stranger whose name you’ve learned, sisters, the person you thought was your close friend but who gossips about you behind your back . . . it’s a mesh of relationships they haven’t quite figured out yet.
Identifying true friends is a skill only learned over time after experiencing both hurt feelings and faithfulness, betrayal and loyal love.
A mentor once told me that women were designed for deep friendship. Every one of us needs a Ruth and Naomi relationship, not just casual acquaintances whose names we know after a few minutes of standing in lines of life together.
Unfortunately, life is busy, complicated, hectic, and hard, and investing time in those loyal friendships seems an impossible task.
Yet, Scripture tells us this is one investment that’s worth making.
We need a friend who loves sacrificially, and for whom we likewise will sacrifice. Jesus commanded us to “love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:12).
We need a friend who remains faithful even when we’re at our ugliest, worn-outest, saddest, and yuckiest, just as it says in Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”
And we need something else.
We need a friend who is not afraid to get dirty with us as we live this resurrection life.
Jesus stood at the entry to the tomb of his close friend, Lazarus. He heard the weeping of others around him. His own tears trailed down his cheek. The crowd scolded him for not coming earlier and healing his friend while there was still time. The pragmatic folks complained about the stink of death and decay wafting out of a reopened tomb. Mary and Martha shot hopeless, hurt-filled glances in Jesus’ direction.
Undeterred, Jesus demanded, “Lazarus, come out!” (John 11:44). The shocked crowd watched as the dead man emerged from the grave, living, breathing, and walking—alive.
But he moved slowly, maybe a little like a mummy in a sci-fi horror flick that plays on Saturday afternoon television. He didn’t leap out from the tomb and dance before the Lord with all the joy of a resurrected fellow.
Instead, “the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:44 NIV).
Chris Tiegreen reminds us in One Year At His Feet: “When Jesus raises us out of our sinful state of death, there is something left to do before we run free. The grave clothes must go” (p. 21).
That’s something Lazarus couldn’t do on his own. Jesus instructed others to come alongside him and unwrap the linen bindings, the remnants of death and the grave that still had him hindered, trapped, and blinded.
That’s the church’s job. That’s the job of a loyal friend, who patiently strips away all the habitual sins, guilt, shame, false beliefs, hang-ups, terrors from the past, and hurts that trip us up and slow us down.
Sometimes we simply require a love that doesn’t give up on us.
Sometimes it takes someone holding us accountable with truth and lovingly showering us with grace when we struggle with the ugliness of sin. Proverbs 27:6 tells us: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (ESV). Only a true friend skips the flattery and digs past the superficial chicanery of niceness in order to challenge us with a truth and encourage us to change.
Only a friend tells us when they see some of the grave clothes stubbornly stuck to our skin and then lovingly and patiently unbinds us so we can live in the freedom of new life.
We need a friend like that. We need to be a friend like that, who brings grace and freedom to another.
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2012 Heather King