In a world where women can unfriend each other with the swipe of a finger, how do we find friendships that we can trust to last? What does the Bible say about the fear of feeling awkward and being rejected, left out, or hurt (again) that often keeps women from connecting in lasting friendships with each other?
Bible Gateway interviewed Lisa-Jo Baker (@lisajobaker) about her book, Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships (B&H Books, 2017).
What are the two biggest obstacles that prevent women from connecting?
Lisa-Jo Baker: Two statements that we all probably say at least once a day but are two of the biggest obstacles to real connection: “I’m fine” and “I’m so busy.”
Nothing is riskier or more vulnerable than cracking open the doors of our messy, guest-unready homes, let alone the doors of our actual lives. We get so used to being neatly packaged people and stories and families that we can forget how to be anything but “fine” when someone asks. Because, deep down, there are messes much messier than the dust bunnies or gritty dishes. There are fears and doubts and despair and broken places that cut so deep it takes the breath away.
And so we wrap them up in pretty packages of “I’m fine,” like lipstick over trembling lips. We smile at birthday parties and playdates and in our cubicles. We smile at church during worship and when the pastor shakes our hand. We nod and smile and say we’re fine, the kids are fine, work is fine, marriage is fine, just fine, thanks for asking. And all the while there’s this big, messy, gaping wound bleeding raw right through our perfectly fine outfit that we hope no one notices. All the while desperate for somebody to care enough to see.
Fine is so dangerous, isn’t it? Fine means the end of a conversation; the beginning of nothing. Now it’s time for the battle cry that if truth can set us free, it’s best to start living in those places. Maybe going first and admitting our un-fine isn’t a weakness, instead it’s a gift to the women around us who can finally exhale and admit their un-fine too.
Similarly, it’s brave and counter cultural to refuse to utter those three words we say without even thinking, “I’m too busy.” I don’t want to be too busy. I want to be available.
I’m a realist; I know it’s impossible to be available to everyone. But to the few God has trusted me with? The friends who do life with me and my people? I owe them my availability.
One of the ways our world of the fast and furious Internet hurts us is that so often our schedules and attention spans don’t have enough time to give each other uninterrupted hours of conversation. We’ll starve on a diet of conversations limited to 140 character Tweets, text messages, or Facebook quips. We need soul food conversations. The kind that don’t cut you off because they have another meeting to run to. The kind that lingers.
It’s taken me years of these kinds of conversations for the truth to permeate my paranoia about my house or my hair or my life—true friends will always make time and space for each other. Period.
What does the Bible teach about friendship?
Lisa-Jo Baker: When I breathe in and out, there it is, right beneath my ribcage, the promise that I’m capable of friendship because my very existence—20 breaths per minute—is drawn from the breath of the God whose entire existence is a living, breathing fellowship of three.
Friendship was breathed into our DNA at the very beginning. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” John 1:1 (NIV). In the beginning. A perfect, triune friendship. Intimate. Safe. Beloved. Complete. And then God, out of the overflow of this full and satisfying relationship began the work of creation. And on the sixth day, God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness….So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female” Genesis 1:26-27 (CSB).
And God breathed his own breath into us. Into us God breathed the desire for companionship. Into us God breathed the gift of community. Into us God breathed all the capacity for believing the best about each other, loving others more than ourselves, and making ourselves wildly vulnerable without fear of betrayal.
What are some examples of friends in the Bible?
Lisa-Jo Baker: In Luke 10, Jesus tells the story of a man who gets mugged and left for dead on the side of the road. (Or maybe in our case, the woman who gets beat up by the verbal attacks of the Internet, her roommates, the other mothers on the PTA, or her church family.) And instead of offering help, Jesus describes two people who literally looked the other way and kept right on walking. Two people who, according to their job descriptions, should have been the first to stop and care and comfort.
Instead, it’s the one person Jesus’ audience would never have expected who stops and loads up the stranger, takes him to the nearest hotel, and pays for his room, food, and care. The Samaritan is the unlikeliest helper in this scenario because he’s the one that Jesus’ audience—the Jewish religious elite, the famous, feted, and privileged—had ridiculed, rejected, and cut out of any invitations to participate in worship at their most sacred sites.
The Samaritan is the one person who would’ve been justified in holding onto his bitterness and rejection and ignoring the person in need of a friend.
But instead, the Samaritan in Jesus’ story physically embodied the second greatest commandment. Without judgment, without squeamishness, and with wholehearted generosity, the Samaritan loved this stranger/neighbor as himself. And myself doesn’t want to be left alone when I’m hurting. Myself doesn’t want to be rejected, uninvited, or abandoned. Myself desperately wants to be seen and feel connected and have people ache with me when I ache and celebrate with me when I celebrate.
That’s the heart-of-heart of biblical friendship—being willing to be a neighbor in the heart sense of the word is being willing to connect with the people that God puts in our path. It’s doing life together, especially the hard parts. It’s choosing friendship on purpose.
How should we follow Jesus’s friendship example?
Lisa-Jo Baker: Jesus sank his entire self into just 12 friends. A small circle. A circle that included hot heads and doubters and friends who would fall asleep when he needed them most. Friends who swore they’d never known him and sold out his friendship to people who wanted to kill him. Twelve men who were horribly imperfect, constantly misunderstood him, and were often inconvenient to him in the worst ways.
But Jesus didn’t leave, unlike, or unfriend a single one of them. Not even when they deserved it. Not even when they swore they’d never met him, didn’t know him, despised what he stood for. Instead, he kept on keeping his promise first made through Moses in Genesis, that he would never leave or forsake his people (Deuteronomy 31:6 (CSB)). Jesus kept on being a friend right up to, through, and across the bitter finish line and then continued to pursue them across the span of his own death and life again.
In his final prayer, his heartfelt correspondence with his Father God on the night before he would die, he testified to his own faithfulness as a friend to the 12 men he’d called by name: “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12 (ESV)).
Facebook might try to teach us that friendship is defined by how wide and far and massive our reach, our circles, and our name. But if we’ll only let Jesus’ example remind us that the kind of friend we are will always be measured by depth, by commitment, by being determined to keep trying over and over again.
Jesus could tell his Father in no uncertain terms, that as far as it was possible for him, he had kept the faith and the friendship of every one of the men entrusted to him. Even Judas had been included right up until the moment he chose to quit Jesus, not the other way around.
What are the friendship lies we tell ourselves and how can they be overcome?
Lisa-Jo Baker: The Internet has complicated our relationship with an already complicated fear: the fear of missing out or being left out, the fear of being excluded, rejected, or ignored. And the lie that it was done on purpose.
To decapitate the lie of being left out, we need to find its head. And if I pried open my heart, I believe I’d find two venomous fangs buried deep in that soft tissue pumping all the poison of a lifetime of the same message in a million different versions—the message that I’ve been left out on purpose—into my bloodstream and around my body with a vengeance.
I’m in desperate need of an antidote when I can’t trust my own heart. This is not a secret and it shouldn’t be a surprise. The ancient prophet, Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is more deceitful than anything else” (Jeremiah 17:9 (CSB)). There’s no one better at lying to ourselves than ourselves.
How many times have you opened Facebook or Instagram only to catch a glimpse of an event you didn’t know was happening in your town and that you weren’t invited to? Or that a friend was in the area and didn’t ever reach out to you? How many times have we translated those images into the assumption that it was done on purpose? That the failure to connect or invite or include was because we were somehow found lacking? How often have we jumped from a photograph to a full-page story in our own heads that stars us as the excluded victim?
But God is a heart-knower and he can liberate us from our hearts poisoned by the enemy’s lies. “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind” (Jeremiah 17:9 (NIV)).
The great doctor, the great healer, the tender psychologist has the antidote to the lies we believe if we’ll only let him treat us. David—the shepherd, the youngest of seven sons, the poet and king, the musician, and the worrier like you and me—wrote, “You delight in truth in the inward being and to teach me wisdom in my inward paths” (Psalm 51:6 (ESV)).
Jesus—the way, the truth and the life—is the only one who can open up your secret heart and gently extract the fangs of poison that are lodged there; the only one who can decapitate the lie wrapped tight around our poor, gasping hearts. He’s promised that he will and we can hold him to it: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26 (CSB)).
As the new heart does its work, pumping life and truth through us, hurt from exclusion will be drowned out by a new message: that, while it may have hurt when you didn’t get that invite to what “everyone else is doing, it feels so good to finally realize you’re good enough and worthy even without the invite,” as Alecia, an (in)courage blog reader, says.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?
Lisa-Jo Baker: In the writing of Never Unfriended, Bible Gateway was an invaluable resource. It was my go-to for unpacking the layers of context behind each verse I share and coloring in more historical details for my readers.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Lisa-Jo Baker: There’s no sugar coating it. Friendship can be terribly hard work. So I really appreciate the Bible being super frank about that. In fact, Jesus’ own brother wrote these words explaining just how hard it can be to live out healthy friendships—I feel like he really gets it:
Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. James 3:17-18 (MSG) (emphasis mine).
And often it’s that very hardness that makes us think we’re doing it wrong. But the thing is, that hardness is a compass pointing us in the direction of what we’re doing right. Because it means we haven’t quit yet. It means we’ve decided to stick. It means we’re choosing not to unfriend with the swipe of a finger, but instead to give the gift of the do-over. It’s so worth it. Because it becomes the gift we didn’t realize we’re actually giving ourselves.
Bio: Lisa-Jo Baker has been the community manager for www.incourage.me, an online home for women all over the world, for nearly a decade. She is also the author of Surprised by Motherhood, and her writings have been syndicated from New Zealand to New York. She lives just outside Washington, DC, with her husband and their three very loud kids, where she connects, encourages and champions women in person and through her popular blog, lisajobaker.com.