Friendships: Initiating, Responding, and Subtle Rejections
There are more people in my life toward whom I have warm feelings than there is time for me to have intimate relationships. More than anything, I have concluded, relationship -- that is, friendship -- is a product of time and attention. Passion, connection, mutual commitments and mutual interests, mutual ways of approaching life, the happenstance of where one lives and works and exercises and shops . . . these all can give birth to friendship, but it is time and attention that sustains friendship.
I find it relatively easy to be the one to initiate friendship, and to initiate the time and attention that nurture friendship. I think this is a product of genetics and good life experience. I was fortunate to have the parents I have with their love of people, and have been fortunate in the life I have been given and the richness of it. I have been blessed with good experiences with people that give me less fear of rejection and more expectation of mutual enjoyment of each other. Life is -- more than anything else to me -- made up of the people with whom I am friends.
My walk with Jesus has also been a big part of my life with people. As I was celebrating Good Friday (yes, celebrating) I was struck with the degree to which He has just always been there, and the way that He spurs me toward reaching out in friendship to others. He keeps reaching out to me, and the love He shows me is instructive in how to love others. I think that is the first place that the Holy Spirit works: He changes my natural responses to others and "trains me up" in all the ways of loving that will bring real joy to my own life and to the lives of others. And prayer for others is the cornerstone of that in my life.
For most of my life He has truly been the "Hound of Heaven", and my relationship with Him is wholly due to Him seeking me out over and over and over again, as I kept trying out other avenues of meaning and satisfaction. I have been observing, though, that He doesn't initiate nearly as much these days as He used to. He seems to wait for me to notice the "disconnect" in my walk and seek Him out when I get busy with other distractions (good and bad). I wonder what it is like to show Yourself in all Your glory and perfection to someone again and again, and still have them ignore you and chase other things?
But when I walk in to my house intending to spend time alone with Jesus, and plop down to do just that, He shows up and all is forgiven. He keeps showing Himself in greater and greater ways to really be REAL and TRUE and SATISFYING. And I wonder at myself that I can know Him and still go hours ignoring Him as I do at times. And I wonder even more at those who know Him and yet go more than hours -- they go days or weeks or years -- and ignore what they know from experience. Only Jesus satisfies, and secondary joys satisfy only as they flow from walking with Jesus and enjoying Him and obeying Him.
I think about my own friendships and how they flow: who initiates, who pursues, who pulls away . . .
My closest friendships all have mutuality. I am usually the one who initiated friendship at the very start (although not with all of my friends!) and may be the one who chases the friendship for periods of time, but there is always the ebb and flow of pulling back and being chased by my friends. There are times of less contact and times of more contact, but it is not one-sided over time. A good friendship requires both friends to want to connect. A good friendship requires both friends to initiate the time and attention that build friendship. A good friendship is never passive on one side for long, or it is, by definition, not a real friendship.
I wonder how much our God is like that. It fits what I see in scripture and life. He is willing to pursue. He is willing to chase those He loves. But a response of love from us is not passive! It becomes passionate enough that we chase Him, too. I think that's what the ancient creed was after as it said "if we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." Friendship can stand any wound that can be forgiven and still have the friends re-engage in a mutual interest in each other . . . but friendship cannot withstand the wound of disinterest and permanent disengagement. It is simply a matter of definition, and nothing else. God can forgive faithlessness in one who shows persistent (if flakey) interest in Him, but He will not keep chasing one who shows consistently over time that he really doesn't give a yawn about knowing Him.
The filter of limited time and passion produces the same fruit in our "friendships". Those whom we feel warmly toward but who show no inclination to "chase" our friendship will fall by the wayside as will also those who feel inclined to "chase" a friendship with us but for whom our own emotions are not as passionate as they are for others. The friendships which stand the test of time in my life are those that are mutually desired enough that when one pulls back, the other takes over the role of "pursuer". And this has nothing to do with romance or sex . . . I am talking about my friendships with women and my friendships with men that are platonic.
Rarely do I choose to walk away from a friendship deliberately. What happens instead is that a pattern develops over time that shows that my interest in a friendship with someone is not really matched by my friend's interest in a friendship with me, and so there is never a moment of "rejection" on either side, but rather just an unnoticed "moving on" as I invest myself where my interest is reciprocated. Nevertheless, all those little signs of greater interest in other things than me are indeed subtle acts of rejection. They are just a kind rejection, and not an "in-your-face" rejection.
That's what happens to Jesus with most people too, isn't it? Most people don't decide against friendship with Jesus. (Just look at the statistics about how many Americans consider themselves "born again"!) Most people just practice the "kind rejection" of spending their time and attention on other things. Nevertheless, it is indeed rejection, over time.
This Easter my response is this: I will learn to really walk with Him. I will learn to hear His whisper even when I'm distracted. I will pursue Him.
After all, He has pursued me for a very very long time!