True Belonging: Friends

Our first move as a young family came in 1999, and when we were able to buy our first home computer, it meant I had a way to stay connected with all the people I’d left behind in Houston. I’d get excited to see my inbox full of waiting messages until I realized that all the FWDs were not “letters” from my friends and family but a quick forwarding of something they’d read and shared. I learned to quickly skim titles for repeating stories and hit delete.

But, there was one email that floated about in those days that has stuck with me through the years. Ironically, I quickly dismissed the ideas in “Friends for a Season, Reason, and a Lifetime”  as not applicable to me because I naively thought all my friends were for a lifetime.

Then we moved again a year later, and the further I got from my hometown and high school, the more distance I had from college and first job friends, the more I began to realize the truth of that article. 

Some friends are for a season — for the thirteen months we lived across the street from each other, for the two years we studied for seminary together, for the years we cheered or sang or worked together — the friendship was good and right and treasured. But then the season’s over…

Some friends are for a reason — for the friend who helped me navigate the stress and volume of work of being a high school English teacher, for the friend who made living in a sorority house fun, for the friend who challenged me to think about my faith more deeply in that lonely year — the friendship was a gift from God and appreciated. But then the reason moved on and so did we…

Some friends are for a lifetime — these are few and far between because, simply, it takes two. When miles and busyness separate us, to remain close we must both remain faithful. And that is rare and hard, and when we find that person, it’s oh-so worth it. 

I’ve thought about this article a few times this past year in the wake of our most recent move, wondering which friends would fall into which category, yet trying hard not to put much thought or worry into it. Because I’ve learned the truths of that email. 

In the search for true belonging, I acknowledge that friendships are necessary and desired — even if they aren’t all friends for a lifetime. Instead of lamenting the losses of friendships past, I am learning to savor the memories and look forward to new ones.

Photo by Laura Louise Grimsley on Unsplash

How Jesus Did Friends

One particular friend and I investigated friendships a few years ago to create an entire women’s retreat around what we learned from Jesus. Seeing how Jesus handled and leaned into friendships became another benchmark in my understanding of how to look at, handle, and hold friendships.

First, Jesus had friends in the masses. For instance, He had the seventy-two that He sent out (Luke 10:1-23). These were people He gave the message He’d been sent to deliver and the power He’d been given to cast out evil spirits and heal broken bodies. He trained them, loved them, and trusted them enough to give them a most special assignment. Yet we don’t know their names. Any conversations had with the seventy-two are generalized and collective. These friendships have purpose and are valued, but these are not the friends we pull aside to share our deepest, darkest secrets. There’s just not that kind of intimacy with large groups. 

Second, Jesus had his beloved Twelve — THE TWELVE. We can even start to name them but get lost somewhere in the Bartholomews and Thadeuses. These Twelve Apostles were hand-picked, chosen, and called by Jesus Himself. He knew them well and shared much with them. He spent quality time with them and made sure they were as ready as possible with His message and mission before He left. And despite all the time Jesus spent with His Twelve, He didn’t share much with the group about Himself — His inner life. He loved them dearly, but He wasn’t vulnerable with the Twelve. Likewise, we’ll have close friends that we love hanging out with and even share some things with. But we won’t reveal all.

Third, Jesus had The Three. You can name them. Peter. James. John. You know them best of all the Twelve, and it’s through their stories that we get to know Jesus the most intimately — because He was most intimate with them. He invited them to the Transfiguration (Mark 9:2–3), to witness the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Luke 8:49–56), and to pray with Him the night of His betrayal (Matthew 26:36–38). If friendships were kept in concentric circles, these three would be Jesus’ inner circle. These three men saw Jesus at His best and lowest. They were the most poured into and prepared for the work to come. And they each played an instrumental role in the building of the Church. We, too, can have an inner circle — one, two, or three with whom we spend the most time, energy, and heart. They hear all and love us anyway.

Jesus demonstrated true belonging. Yes, to Him! But also with the people around us. The lesson I most needed to learn in my 30s was that I couldn’t be a “best” friend to every person I liked. It’s just not humanly possible. And I was wearing myself out trying. 

How I’m Doing Friends

Over the years, I’ve been learning to welcome and treasure friendships as they come and go. Yes, grieving at the end of special ones — to death, to moves, to change — but also celebrating the time and treasured memories we shared. 

I’ve also learned that not everyone needs to know my every thought and feeling. I need to take Jesus’ lead and be discerning with whom I divulge my deeper places — and it needs to be mutually agreed upon.

Perhaps most recently, I’ve appreciated the friends who reciprocate, the ones who reach out to me as often as I do to them. And when friends don’t consistently contact, I refuse to take it personally or get offended because I’ve learned most women don’t do that on purpose (although it’s good to be aware of those who do). And, with my friendship “circle” perspective, I acknowledge not all are in the inner circle, which grants me much needed discernment.

These friendship lessons have become valuable to me in this season of searching for new friends and gracefully allowing those “friends for a reason” and “friends for a season” to gently move into another space of heart and mind. Always loving them. Always treasuring them. But being okay with looking forward instead of backwards. And, as a Two on the Enneagram — one who deeply values relationships — this is soul work. It requires a connection with the Spirit, a healthy dose of humility within myself, and a trust in the Father I love so much.

Looking Way Ahead

And then there’s the comfort of thinking about heaven — where everyone who ever lived and loved Jesus will gather. A place of safety. A place without pain or deception or selfishness. A place of true love. A place of true belonging. For this Two, eternity looks like relationship heaven! Haha.

It is with utmost pleasure that I share with you that one of the symbolic meanings of the pomegranate is eternal life! (I sincerely hope you’re smiling and not eye-rolling). 🙂 So, not only will I be feasting with all my friends at the heavenly banquet table, but I’ll be reaching for the pomegranates that eternally flourish in every season (Revelation 22:2). 

Art captures so much beauty and truth, and it often employs visual symbolism to communicate deeper meanings — like eternal life. Here are exhibits A and B for your viewing pleasure:

Exhibit A:
In 1483, Italian artist, Sandro Botticelli, painted “Madonna of the Magnificat.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, spoke great words of praise, entitled “The Magnificat” (Luke 1:46-55), during her stay at her cousin Elizabeth’s home early in her pregnancy with Lord Jesus. Botticelli’s painting portrays Mary holding a pomegranate in her left hand, pointing us to the eternal life gifted to us through Jesus, the One whom Mary brought into the world and watched leave it. Just as she held the pomegranate, Mary also held onto the hope of seeing her child and Lord again in eternity.

Sandro Botticelli’s “Madonna of the Magnificat”

Exhibit B:
In 1475 AD, Domenico Ghirlandaio painted this fresco titled, “Announcement of Death to St. Fina.” Notice the pomegranates on the table above the dying girl’s head. Serafina, as the girl was known, died at just 15 after suffering a paralyzing illness and losing both parents. She knew true suffering, and the pomegranates in this painting point to the truth that she would soon know new life.

Domenico Ghirlandaio’s “Announcement of Death to St. Fina”

Friendships can be the beautiful places of earthly belonging our hearts desire, but let’s keep Jesus as our truest desire because Jesus at the center of a friendship is the best way to truly belong.

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  • In your journal, take some time to process with Jesus where you are in your friendships. Identify one next step you can take to find or make one friendship truer, deeper, more centered on Christ.
  • I added a new song to our Belonging playlist because — well, you’ll hear. It’s perfect for our series. It’s “Just As I Am” by Taylor Tripodi. Taylor is new to me — a young worship leader from Ohio — but this song absolutely captures so much of our journey together. Listen. You’ll thank me later. 😉
  • Only two weeks left in our series, then we’re going to behold Advent!! Think about a friend you can invite along for the four weeks of Advent. Then invite them!

Featured photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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