By Wendy Alsup
Over the last year, I have come to realize that I have had a shallow understanding of Christian friendship and community. I’ve watched people come and go out of my life, but I’ve also watched myself come and go out of others lives. I am coming to a strong conviction that God has called me as His child to bear long in friendship. To endure, pursue, and forbear long term with friends through the hard as well as the good. And especially to forbear when the hard things aren’t just what has been done TO them but also what they have done to others or themselves by their own sin. Abandoning someone as they work through their sin seems more and more like the most un-Christlike thing I could do. To me, it seems like abandoning our confidence in the gospel.
But I’ve noticed that as I work through what it means for me to be an enduring, listening, persevering friend to others, I grow in my own longing of it for myself. I want to be known. I want to be heard. I want to be listened to and asked follow up questions that reflect that someone really heard what I said and cared enough to process what it meant to me.
I opened myself up on a few occasions the last few months that had very painful results. In one particular instance, I told a friend about the recent loss of a loved one. And to be honest, in a comparison of tragedies, what I shared with her seriously eclipsed the things she was complaining about to me. I didn’t mean it to be a comparison. I was just trying to be honest with her about where I was at. She said she was sorry to hear that, didn’t ask any follow up questions, and proceeded to tell me about a party she was going to. It’s hard to put into words how hurtful that was–realizing that I didn’t really matter to her. That she felt no burden to walk with me through my loss. I opened up to her about the most pressing issue on my heart, and she didn’t even notice.
But the Word of God is alive, and powerful, and fully equips us for every issue we face. Here was my Scripture reading the evening that happened.
17 Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. 21 “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” 22 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered.
23 Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” 24 When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Here Jesus opens up about the pain He will soon be enduring. And no one seems to even try to process it. Instead, a disciple’s mom asks if her son can have the honored seat in heaven. After my own experience, I can only imagine how this cut Jesus after all He had shared with them.
But Jesus’ response is so gracious. He still loves them, serves them, and teaches them. I felt both embracing love and strong rebuke from God as I read that passage. He embraced me with the idea that He understood the pain of not being heard. He embraced me by showing me in Scripture exactly what I needed to feel equipped to deal with my own hurt. And He strongly rebuked me by showing me His example of grace in response. I felt both heard by Him and exhorted to continue in endurance with my friend. I felt called to be like Christ.
And lest this sound like I am the only one who doesn’t get heard, I have become increasingly aware through this journey of the many times I don’t hear my friends, or my husband, or my children. Too often, I am the friend who talks over others concerns instead of asking follow up questions. But God is growing me in this, and I am thankful for the journey.