Do Christians make better friends?
Meet Boris, Doris, Horace, Iris and Maurice… if you dare
You’re new here (church, party, course, department).
All these people to meet! Here goes...
Plastic Boris: Boris has a big smile and a ready hug. He seems interested in you and even more interested in telling you about himself. He’s quick to sign you up on Facebook and take your handphone number. He knows some friends you ought to meet, some parties you ought to go to. Look, he’ll pick you up.
You like the way Boris goes out of his way to befriend you. But, still, this instant friendship doesn’t feel quite right.
As Boris enthuses about the things you and he can do, you begin to wonder: what did Boris do before you came along? Did he have a life? You can’t help asking: isn’t this a bit fast? Isn’t it a bit fake? Friendship isn’t like instant coffee. It needs to brew.
Confidential Doris: Doris couldn’t be more different. Where Boris is loud, she is quiet. Where Boris likes to be the centre of attention, calling over other people to meet you, Doris suggests you find a quiet place to have a chat. Doris is more cautious than Boris. She’s a good listener. She puts you at your ease. She is, you begin to feel, a sister.
Except Confidential Doris will keep pointing people out and telling you things about them that you’re not sure you really want to know - things you’re pretty sure they won’t want you to know. But Doris insists on putting you in the picture. To help your prayers.
Slowly you Glenn Myers: realize that Doris is to gossip what the BBC is to news — a reliable broadcaster. Anything you ‘share’ with Doris (she likes that word) she shares with everyone else whom she invites into her circle. In perfect confidence, of course. For prayer.
Boring Horace: You disentangle yourself from Confidential Doris and are looking around for whom to talk to next. A burly man catches your eye and walks over in a determined fashion. You both introduce yourselves.
Boring Horace is an expert on absolutely everything. He’s happy to share all this knowledge with you. If you try to talk to him in turn, he becomes rather fidgety and impatient. Horace, you realize, like a bad politician, approaches every problem with an open mouth.
Yet it’s not all bad. If you occasionally throw him a half-interested look, Horace will keep talking, and you can quietly plan your week, your homework, your shopping, or your novel. But Horace, for all his ability to run his jawbone on auto-pilot, is not one who’ll ever do that wonderful friend thing of sharing intimacies and learning together. Horace does monologue, not dialogue. And so you move on.
Delicate Iris: The first thing you notice about Delicate Iris — a rather plain girl, sitting on her own — is the sniff. She greets you, but not warmly, and explains she has a virus. You try to chat with Delicate Iris. She is not forthcoming. You serve up conversational lobs, she hits them into the net. You throw her conversational hunks of meat, she turns out to be a vegetarian. You try to think of things that could open the way for a conversation and the slow growth of a friendship, but it turns out Delicate Iris (1) doesn’t know any of the people you know (2) isn’t very interested in any of the things you’re interested in and (3) without saying anything, seems to wish you’d go away.
Does she not like you? Or is the real problem she doesn’t like herself? Anyhow, she’s leaving to catch up on some sleep.
Random Maurice: You immediately sense that clumsy, likeable Random Maurice is less desperate than Plastic Boris and more straightforward than Confidential Doris. He’s more interesting than Boring Horace and doesn’t suck all the warmth out of the room like Delicate Iris. He’s welcoming without being intrusive, kind without being controlling, amusing but not insisting on the limelight.
Except — as you later learn many times to your cost — he’s so darn unreliable. He forgets things. He muddles things up. He borrows your things and breaks them. Life with Random Maurice is fun but completely unpredictable. Arrange a meal with Random Maurice and there’s a good chance you’ll sit out the evening waiting for him. When you finally get through to him — his handphone is out of battery, so you have to go via his mother — he tells you, “I thought it was next week!”
Worse, you find that when you tell him things, he has a habit of blurting them out to exactly the people you didn’t want to know them. He has none of the falseness of Plastic Boris, none of the quiet cunning of Confidential Doris — and you could do a lot worse — but do expect to be regularly let down, stood up, and occasionally shocked, by the blunders of Random Maurice.
Do Christians make better friends?
Do Christians make better friends than these? Given that we all fall short of the glory of God, and all bring assorted smelly baggage when we enter the Christian faith, the initial answer has to be ‘no’. In this as in everything else, believing in Jesus doesn’t grant us automatic immunity from being less-than-perfect specimens. As friends, we ourselves might be a Boris, Doris, Horace, Iris or Maurice — or one of their many siblings.
But we’ve no excuse to stay that way.
Friendship is not just at the heart of the Christian life; it’s at the heart of the Trinity itself. God is One, but He is also, in some mind-stretching and language-defying way, in community with Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Friendship is more deeply rooted in God’s essential nature than the mountains or the earth or indeed the laws of physics themselves. They may pass, but friendship will remain.
The Christian life is about being scooped up into that holy friendship, that living community, that buzz of conversation and love, that is the Kingdom of God. Without us deserving anything, Jesus dresses us in party clothes, takes our arm, has a word with the doorman, and brings us right into the heart of the festivities. His unearned friendship is what redeems us. And as we enjoy His company, surely we can in turn become better friends to those around us?
We can be warm and inviting, like Plastic Boris, but also patient, developing a friendship at the other person’s pace, respecting their humanity.
We can be as interested in heart-secrets as Confidential Doris, but when told them, we keep them to ourselves, and don’t use them in power games.
We can be as earnest to give counsel as Boring Horace, but we can also make ourselves vulnerable and seek others’ advice and not hide behind a forest of words. True friends give and take.
We can be as loyal and kind as Delicate Iris would be, if Iris wasn’t so consumed by her own inadequacy and fear of rejection. Understanding our own status as Beloved, we can risk loving others.
We might even become more reliable than Random Maurice, having learnt that cheerfulness and spontaneity aren’t quite enough: faithfulness is good too.
You gotta have friends
Scratch a little under the surface, and we all need friends. Hands up anyone who hasn’t felt themselves at some time to be an outsider, friendless, looking in? (I don’t see any hands.) Our calling is to be exceptional friends.
A couple of scriptures to encourage us:
Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family. (Proverbs 18:24, The Message)
Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody. (Romans 12:15-16, The Message)
‘I’ll be there for you’ was the theme tune of Friends, that popular sitcom from the nineties. Of course we’ll fail. But let’s aim high.
Glenn Myers is a writer based in the UK. You can see his books and blogs at slowmission.com.