Chad and I have spent most of our married life in cities far from our families. During our first two years together, we were almost 900 miles from our parents and siblings, and we quickly learned that our friendships were going to be an essential part of life. We have shared victories and failures with dear friends through the years, celebration and mourning, laughing until we were all gasping for air, and learning big life lessons that we never saw coming. It’s hard for me to even put into words what these precious people have meant to our life.
Yet, in the middle of all of the beautiful, when lives intertwine it’s not always neat and tidy. Sometimes we have to speak hard truths to each other. Sometimes misunderstandings happen. And awkward conversations. Sometimes we have to say I’m sorry. And sometimes we have to figure out how to forgive, even when we don’t necessarily feel like it. Friendship can be complicated. But, it’s always worth the risk.
This is a theme of Christine Hoover’s new book Messy Beautiful Friendship. There seems to be a friendship trend happening in Christian publishing, and this tells me that relationship issues are heavy on the minds of women everywhere. As a pastor’s wife I often hear from women that they don’t know where they fit, that they feel left out or lonely. There are plenty of books out there about self-esteem, but I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such a practical guide to real friendship as the one that Christine has laid out here.
She wrote the book for Christian women who need a “fresh perspective” on friendship, and I think she presents that perspective quite well. She spends the first part of the book exploring reasons why friendship as adults can become so complicated. She points out that part of the problem is unrealistic expectations: “When I am disappointed with my friendships and I take time to dig a little deeper in my heart, I inevitably find that I’m looking for my friends to relate to me as only God can… People are not fillers for a present God, and God is not a placeholder for future friends.” Friends aren’t meant to be our sole providers of a sense of worth–once we relegate them to that job, of course we are going to wind up hurt and disappointed. She warns against stoically deciding that God is all we need (thereby failing to pursue friendships) and against turning to God only when we are feeling like our friends have let us down.
One of the more frustrating things that I see in church life is that the very same women who feel isolated and lonely rarely take steps to nurture relationships, but simply give up and place all of the responsibility on others to engage in a friendship with them. I was so happy to see that Christine addresses this very issue. Using Paul’s definition of Christian friendship in Colossians 3:12-15, she writes, “Paul certainly goes beyond vacationing together and making small talk and waiting for someone else to initiate. He exhorts us to actively pursue being patient, forgiving, loving, and being thankful for others as we relate to them. The focus is on what we give to others, not what they give to us.”
Part two of the book focuses on issues that threaten friendship. Here she talks about how past hurts and insecurities can hold us back. How a lack of vulnerability can make us hard to get to know. In this section, she begins to build a practical picture of what a good friend looks like. A good friend knows and loves Christ. She seeks to get to know others. She is generous in showing others the kind of friendship she wants for herself. She seeks to think the best of others instead of the worst. Christine starts to lay a foundation here that causes us to examine ourselves and consider what kind of friend we really are.
Part three is the section where she really begins to get into some practical advice for friendship seekers. She advises us to take initiative in forging friendships, being vulnerable enough to share ourselves with others. Imperfect hospitality should be another important part of friendship building. Are we willing to welcome people into our wild and chaotic lives, laundry piles and all? At the end of this section, she even recommends naming all of the friends in your life and gives some suggestions for places to look around you for friends that maybe you haven’t even stopped to acknowledge as such.
Part four of the book is simply entitled, “Being a Friend.” Christine gets into some absolutely essential details of building deep and lasting friendships here. Some of these are things that honestly might have been no-brainers at one time, but maybe it’s our technological society that has caused us to forget some of these truths of friendship. Christine provides crucial instruction for those who struggle to maintain friendships, and they are things that our world seems to have forgotten, with social media bringing out the narcissist in most of us. She writes in depth about listening. About reaching for friendships that are two-way streets, where we ask questions out of genuine interest and truly listen to the answers. About speaking sweetly to our friends, with words that carry grace and truth and kindness and patience. About diving into difficult times with people, praying for each other, speaking the truth in love, using social media to enhance our friendships, and dropping our unrealistic expectations.
This section tells the touching story of Christine’s friend Claire, and how Christine was able to walk with her through a cancer diagnosis and eventually her death. It’s a powerful story of the “real” behind true friendship. She writes about what an honor it is to enter into the adversity of another person. It’s inspiring to read about Claire, especially after seeing that Christine dedicated the book to her.
Here we also see a more in-depth discussion of different ways that we place God-sized responsibilities on the shoulders of our friends, and how that will always lead to heartache. She writes: “Jesus stands between us and our friends. This is a safety valve for all of our hearts. If we turn that valve off, we suffocate our friends and weigh them down with our expectations, because what we crave can only be met in Christ.” She shows how this type of idolatry is sin and how it will always lead to “dysfunctional friendships that are rife with conflict.”
.The final section of the book is about receiving friendship. True friendship means that we have to depend on each other. We have to ask for help when we need it. We have to be willing to accept a wound from a friend that is spoken in truth and love. We have to appreciate what is in front of us. She closes the book with a helpful trick for doing away with ungratefulness in our relationships. She says that when she is getting grouchy and whiny, she stops for a moment and imagines what life would be like if she didn’t have the friends that are currently in her life. (Note: this trick works for husbands as well. When you start getting frustrated and annoyed, just imagine how you would feel if this were your last day together. It’ll help you drop your bad attitude in no time.)
There is so much more in this lovely book that I could tell you about. I highly recommend it for anyone who cares about friendship. And, that’s all of us. As a sidenote, if you are a pastor’s wife, you’ll relate to many of the situations that Christine finds herself in. You can buy Messy Beautiful Friendship here. Buy a couple of copies and send one to a friend. We will all benefit from considering Christine’s practical advice and wise reminders of what real friendship looks like.
Christine was kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of her book in exchange for an honest review.