Quotes and inspiration from Shasta Nelson’s “Friendships don’t just happen! The Guide to creating a meaningful circle of girlfriends” Turner Publishing Company. 2013.
Have you ever tried to make friends when your life was in turmoil?
It is a challenge to say the least.
On the first day of orientation to Divinity School, I was eager to make new friends.
These people would be my future colleagues after all.
After that first day of orientation I returned to my new apartment on the second floor of a three floor house, each with a separate apartment on each floor.
The house was surrounded by reporters.
It was then that I learned that the woman who lived in the apartment above me had gone missing.
For days no one knew where Annie Le had gone –
but she had left her cell phone and purse in the science lab where she worked, so something was suspicious.
On what was to be her wedding day they found her remains:
she had been brutally murdered.
Hearing her mother’s cry was the most heart wrenching sound I’ve ever heard.
Understandably, I was in shock too.
Div. School orientation was not nearly as much fun.
Given the shock and trauma of Annie Le’s murder, I couldn’t quite be happy and outgoing.
New colleagues would ask me to go out for dinner and I was too scared to go out at night.
New friends would be chatting about where to buy groceries when all I could do was replay the sound of Annie’s mother crying.
While my colleagues, future ministers, were kind, we weren’t quite close enough yet for me to share the full trauma of the experience. We were hardly even contact friends, let along committed or community friends.
Needless to say, making friends was a challenge.
While friends certainly can help us through times of trouble,
We don’t seek friends in order to have “more people to take care of, more people whining and complaining in (our lives), and a few more people who have unmet needs that overwhelm (us).” (127)
As Shasta Nelson says, “we seek out friendship because we want to feel more love, increased happiness, and increased hope. We crave positivity.” (127)
We don’t cherish friendships because they bring us stress and headaches,
We cherish friendships because they bring us joy, hope and positivity.
How do we add positivity to relationships when we are experiencing hardship?
Our scripture today comes from the prophet Isaiah, writing in the early Persian period.
The Jews have been in exile from the Promised Land.
However, history is about to change and they are about to return from exile and rebuild Jerusalem.
Isaiah predicts God’s blessings to come and shares how the people are to get there.
Let’s listen to Isaiah 55
Isaiah proclaims that joy is on the way. There will be singing! Nations will flock to Israel with honor!
People might be thirsty and without water now, but joy is coming.
At that time food and drink were symbols of wisdom, so
The author’s command to buy drink and bread is a metaphor for the people to seek wisdom.
So, Isaiah is calling the people, and us, to seek wisdom and follow God’s ways to joy.
When we are amid hardship – exile, loss, illness – we can follow God’s ways to joy.
And if we want to add positivity to our friendships, we ought to follow God’s way.
Positivity and joy does not necessarily mean rolling over in belly laughs.
Shasta Nelson defines positivity as, “being as honest as we can about our reality, holding it with gentleness, and engaging in the real process of moving to an authentic place of greater wisdom and healing.” (129)
Shasta gives 5 tips ways to add this positivity to friendship.
Now, maybe it’s because she was a pastor for many years, but her 5 ways are all used by Jesus!
Jesus used Shasta Nelson’s 5 Ways to add positivity to friendships!
Or more likely,
Shasta Nelson looked at the way of Jesus and saw 5 means of adding positivity to friendships.
1 – Affirm
Give your friend compliments, not just about her pretty scarf or stellar homerun –
But also about fears overcome, goals reached, peace held.
Jesus is a pro at affirmation.
He calls us beloved children of God.
He forgives all sorts of sinners:
People who commit adultery, steal money when collecting taxes.
Jesus called each one into God’s embrace.
Notice – he doesn’t say all behavior is good,
He overturns the tables of temples and criticizes the Pharisees for being too strict.
Not all behavior is good,
But Jesus affirms and encourages people to embrace loving and good behavior and praises them when they do.
As our bff, Jesus affirms that we are each created in God’s image,
fearfully and wonderfully made, beloved children of God.
And so he eats with outcasts, touches those who are untouchable by society, and sees those the world ignores.
Nurturing a friendship with Jesus involves giving thanks and praise for God’s creation – including ourselves!
2 – Ask Meaningful Questions –
Don’t just talk about the weather.
Ask to hear stories.
Research has shown that people who spend more time telling and hearing stories or engaging in substantive conversation are happier. (136)
Jesus was a pro at story-telling.
He shared one parable after another.
He got his friends to think.
“Who do you say that I am? What do you think?”
As our bff, Jesus invites us to share our stories in prayer and also to listen to his stories –
The parables of the Bible as well as his life story of death and resurrection.
Nurturing a friendship with Jesus involves reading the Bible stories and sharing our stories today.
3 – Validate Feelings
“validating feelings creates safety, trust, and acceptance.” (139)
All positive things!
“Validating someone’s feelings doesn’t mean we agree with them; it means we’ve heard them, we understand how someone could feel that, and we accept them right where they are.” (140)
I see Jesus validating feelings when he goes to Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus.
It is pretty clear from the story that Jesus knows what he is going to do:
Jesus is going to raise Lazarus up from the dead.
Even though Jesus knows what is to come, he does not brush away Mary and Martha’s tears.
He weeps with them.
Jesus will always know more than us, yet Jesus also understands our feelings.
He has wept at the loss of a friend.
He has suffered betrayal and isolation.
He has experienced joy and love.
As our bff, we can bring our feelings to Jesus and trust that he understands.
We can bring our anger, our confusion, our sadness, our joy, our pride.
Jesus will not diminish or negate the feelings, he holds us right there where we are.
After Annie Le’s murder I cried a lot. It’s wasn’t thinking and crying, just crying.
In those weeks of tears, I often felt a warm presence surround me.
It was gentle. A Holy presence.
Not trying to make lemonade out of lemons, just sitting with.
Jesus just being there, validating the feelings.
It was a healing balm, bringing comfort in that stark time.
4 – Create Memories
“Shared memories are glue.” (141)
Church members smile when they tell me of
The time Lil Saunders broke a table because she was dancing on it – again.
The time you all cleaned out, cleaned up, and repainted the entire Woodward house.
The time your youth group’s car broke down.
The time Xena hurt her foot at Silver lake and requested a piggy back ride all the way up the hill back to the lodge.
Memories create a common story – an experience to point back to in joy and say, “yes, we were together through that!”
Jesus was particularly talented at creating memories.
He had a bit of an advantage.
He could whip up some pretty incredible miracles like bring sight to a blind man and the ability to walk to one paralyzed since birth.
As our bff today, the miracles may not always be so instant and obvious.
Maybe it’s a relative stranger – a common friend- taking you out for lunch.
Maybe it’s someone sharing a special song with you.
Maybe it’s hearing just the right song on the radio or seeing something in nature that reminds you of one who has died.
We nurture our friendship with Jesus when we acknowledge the miracles and take time to make memories together in worship, on retreat, or in church activities.
5 – Add Laughter
Jokes. Inside jokes. Knock-Knock jokes.
Not gossip. Not put-downs.
Jokes that connect and unveil truth.
Jesus was a funny guy.
His parables were filled with humor, most of which is lost in translation and takes a bit of time and explanation for modern audiences to understand.
We can nurture laughter in our friendship with Jesus in our prayer life –
Prayers do not need to be solemn to be holy.
Notice the funny “coincidences” of life.
Watch some Christian comedians on youtube.
Allows ourselves to laugh.
Positivity is vital to our friendships – friendships between people and our friendship with Jesus.
Affirmation brings positivity.
Meaningful Questions brings positivity.
Validating feelings brings positivity.
Creating memories brings positivity.
Laughter bring positivity.
By bringing hope and healing, positivity enriches our lives and deepens our friendships.
Often friends can bring such positivity – hope and healing to our lives.
Yet, Jesus is our BFF – no one else;
Jesus may use friends to comfort us,
but no friend is God alone.
The Anthem we just heard said it well – Jesus is my friend:
“When I am sad to him I go, no other one can cheer me so”
“Beautiful life with such a friend, beautiful life that has no end; eternal life, eternal joy, Jesus is my friend.“
May we sing with joy, for Jesus is our rock, our bff, our anchor in the storm. Amen.