Too Lazy to Love?

Today’s blog is written by another best friend of mine, Tyler Chernesky. He helps pastor a church in Kansas City, and his insights on friendship are so important especially in a distracted age.

When I was in college, I discovered the captivating German board game Settlers of Catan.

My friend and roommate, Wes, introduced it to our house. Soon, we were hooked.

We’d play together late into the night. Rivalries developed. Tensions flared. And it was a blast.

Then, one day, we discovered that Catan had an online world – PlayCatan.com – where you  could play Settlers anytime, anywhere with strangers from all around the world.

No longer did we have to wait until all the roomies were home to get started.

No longer did we have to clear the table and bust out the board.

Now, we could play catan online.

The truth is: it wasn’t long until I became an addict. I logged on to PlayCatan as soon as I woke up and didn’t quit until bedtime. I was on it all the time.

I played Catan while my roommates shared stories about their days.

I played Catan when I was back at home, visiting my parents.

Wherever I was, I played Catan.

And, one of my little habits during those days was to take a screenshot as soon as a Catan game ended – to celebrate a victory or to document a loss.

One morning, I looked in the folder where I stored these screenshots, and I realized that I had over 750 screenshots of completed Catan games.

And it was then that it hit me.

I’d allowed myself to get so wrapped up in this online world that I was missing the life that was happening all around me.

I was giving my roommates, my parents, and my classes only partial attention. I was settling for online diversion when I had real life people to my left and to my right. I had allowed something insignificant to keep me from what matters most.

Have you ever been there?

Have you ever been so caught up in something trivial, in something addictive, in something that starts satisfying but becomes an all-consuming habit?

Have you ever been distracted?

The answer, if you’re honest, is: Yes, I’ve been distracted.

And that’s okay! Distraction is a human phenomena. Distraction happens.

And it’s happening with greater and greater frequency in our increasingly busy and connected world.

The problem is: Distraction destroys depth. It keeps us so busy skimming the surface, that we never take the time or effort dive down for more.

And distraction destroys  friendships in two key ways: 1) Distraction can keep us from good friendship, and 2) Distraction can make us stale in friendships.

Distractions can keep us from taking time and making effort to cultivate soul-enriching relationships. And distraction can plague relationships we already have – focusing our attention on topics of conversation, and cultivating habits of interpersonal relation that ultimately lead to shallow connection.

So how do you combat distraction?

Here’s what I’ve learned: It starts with rest.

Unplug. Stop. Breathe. Sit. Listen – to your own heart, and to God.

Where do you need to slow down? Where do you need to dive in?

What habits of behavior or habits of conversation are keeping you from intimate relationship?

What relational connections are you missing because you’re too wrapped up in things that do not matter? What friendships need revitalized ways of relating?

Distraction makes us miss what matters most.

As you think about your life and friendships during these 31 Days for Friendship, what destructive distractions need to be minimized so that the goodness of friendship can grow?

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Perhaps the World Ends Here

A poem by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

The Fruit of Friendship

Today’s blog is written by a best friend of mine, Charissa Birnbaum. She’s high energy and a true friend to all. 
I traveled away from home for about three weeks recently and, for the first time in my life, I was sad to leave because I was actually going miss my friends. I’ve never had relationships like this in my entire life, which screams volumes to me about the weight of impact one person can have on another. As I personally felt that weight while I was abroad, I had to take a step back and think about the kind of friend I was to my friends. If people can leave such an impact, what was mine going to be in the lives of my friends?
While oversees, I met a man who shared the most brilliant analogy about friendship I had ever heard. “Friends are like fruit,” he said, “Some are soft like a peach: easy to know and easy to befriend. Some are like oranges with layers that require you to pull back slowly and carefully. Others are like coconuts, and it’s going to take a lot of effort to crack them open.” With most people, I think I’m like a banana. There’s a little bit to peel back, but it’s pretty easy to do and doesn’t take a *bunch* of time (See what I did there? Banana jokes…I’m full of ‘em!) I respond best to people who put a little effort into peeling me back, but I’m willing to offer up whatever personal information you want whenever you’re ready to ask for it.
If I’m a banana, it can be natural for me to hang out with other bananas. But soon enough I’m going to look around and have a *bunch* of friends that look just like me, talk just like me, and empower me to stay exactly how I am. And that’s no fun. Can you imagine the perspective I’d gain if I took the time to crack open a Jackfruit?! From the surface, bananas and jackfruits have nothing in common. But did you know that when a jackfruit is ripe, it smells like bananas and pineapples? And did you know that both fruits actually originated from the same region? I’d never know how much we had in common if I never put in the effort to crack Jack.
What I’m trying to say is that the best friendships might be hidden under an exterior requires effort to get past. The most life-giving relationships are often formed with people who look, think and act differently than us because they cause our perspective to widen and our view of the world around us to come into clearer focus. Love isn’t one-size-fits-all, even in friendships.
It’s natural to approach others as if they receive love and view the world the same way as ourselves. But what if we became learners of each other? What if we sought the opportunity to love old and new friends based on their unique design and made it our mission to know them for who they are instead of taking the easy route past them because they aren’t like us? I want to be sensitive to my sensitive friends and bold to my bold friends. I want love to have its way over my preferences so that I can appreciate and celebrate God’s image-bearers with enthusiasm!

Friendship With Jesus in Marriage

Today’s blog is written by my best friend, Katherine Marlin. She’s an amazing friend who I truly wish could be friends with all the people I know. She loves well.

Marriage & friendship is an interesting topic and one that could go fifty directions – so I thought I may give thoughts on one: friendship with Jesus in marriage. Friendship with Jesus is something I didn’t expect to grow within marriage. I don’t mean I thought once I got married I wouldn’t grow spiritually. I mean I didn’t really expect the hard things in marriage to reveal another side of friendship with Jesus that I wouldn’t see anywhere else. This new friendship with Jesus happens before the uncomfortable conversations or after the big arguments – the times when Chris and I have a difficult discussion and there is no one else to call upon but Jesus. In those moments, I literally reach the point of crying out to God through tears and gasps and barely can get out “God, help me.”

You may be thinking, “wow, their marriage must be terrible” – but honestly, it’s not and it’s actually pretty amazing. This hasn’t happened all that many times – I could probably count on two hands when I’ve reached these points. But these times still stick with me. I can vividly remember the most recent time six weeks ago. It was terrible and beautiful all in the same breath. We had both said some things we regretted saying, in tones of voice we regretted using. I left our bedroom and bawled, sitting on the couch in the dark. Those next few minutes alone asking God to help me, to help us, took me another step deeper in intimacy with the Lord. In that moment, and in moments similar to that, I am pushed to the point of belief that Jesus is all that matters.

When the closest and dearest thing to me has failed me, I still have Jesus, and He is more than enough. I have thoughts in my head that if our marriage is going to be awful now because of this fight (which is a terribly dramatic thought for me), everything will be ok because Jesus loves me and knows me and chooses me over and over again. Jesus understands me when Chris misunderstands me. Jesus loves me when it doesn’t feel like Chris loves me. Jesus chooses me when Chris is pushed to the point of having to make that decision over again. The comfort from this sentiment alone makes moments like these completely worth it – to get to a point in my soul where I am convinced again Jesus is all that matters. Friendship with Jesus is a relationship that remains when all others fall short – when your friend lets you down, when your co-worker demeans you, when your kids disrespect you.

I love how the Passion translation describes our new uninhibited access to God through Jesus “And now we are brothers and sisters in God’s family because of the blood of Jesus, and He welcomes us to come right into the Most Holy Sanctuary in the heavenly realm – boldly and with no hesitation! For He has dedicated a new, life-giving way for us to approach God. For just as the veil was torn in two, Jesus’ body was torn open to give us free and fresh access to Him! And since we now have a magnificent King-Priest to welcome us into God’s house, we come closer to God and approach Him with an open heart, fully convinced by faith that nothing will keep us at a distance from Him.” Hebrews 10:19-21.  This access to God, this friendship with Jesus, this community with the Holy Spirit, is an unshakeable and reliable force in our lives that won’t ever let us down – if others please us or fail us, may we continue on deeper with the Lover of our souls.

 

Living Without Walls

Today’s blog is by one of my best friends. Chris is wise and a GREAT friend. 

If you were to come to my city, Las Vegas, the first thing you would see is the Strip. That four-mile stretch of well-lit hotels, casinos, and bars that is world-renown for providing excess in whatever you could want. However, if you ventured off the Strip with me to “normal Vegas”, you’d find normal grocery stores, normal banks, and normal restaurants. The one thing you might not find “normal” is our neighborhoods. Instead of nice picket fences surrounding houses, you’d find concrete walls. This interesting façade indicates an uglier truth of Vegas: loneliness. We don’t just lead the nation in addiction and suicide because of our casinos, but because of our walls.

We all put walls up when we’re scared or insecure. The problem with walls is they not only hold fear and insecurity in, but also keep intimacy and friendship out. The kind of friendship that lets you relax and that lasts through storms. Although I wouldn’t ask him for marital advice, the biblical figure, Solomon, has great things to say about tearing walls down and building friendship up. Here are three things I’ve learned from him about cultivating lasting friendships:

  1. Friendship Is Fundamental   9Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: 10If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

You’ve probably heard this verse most often at a Christian wedding, but I love it for friendship! Solomon takes common imagery of the day and advocates friendship is both effective and safe. However, he uses the word “pity” for anyone who doesn’t have that bond. The first step in cultivating lasting friendships is the desire for them. Otherwise, your pursuit for them will dwindle at the first sign of resistance.

  1. Friendship Is FoundOintment and perfume delight the heart, And the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel. – Proverbs 27:9

Today, anything can be made sweet. Even the most bitter drink (coffee, in my opinion) can be made sweet (see: Frappuccino). What’s interesting about this verse, though, is when Solomon penned it sugar had not yet been discovered. That means anything that was sweet in Solomon’s day was not made, but found. He says friendships are similar. There must be some common value, interest, or experience that you build a friendship upon. Don’t hear me say complete similarity is necessary, but there must be a base of commonality.

I pastor a church in Las Vegas and one of my best friends here is Emaurie, our worship pastor. I like sports; he’s artistic. I’m from the suburbs; him the city. I’m Type A…he’s definitely not. I teach; he sings. I have a buzz cut; he sports dreads. But yet there’s a deep friendship between us. It’s one founded on love for Jesus and expanded on the shared experience pursuing Him in a dark city. CS Lewis said, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself”.

  1. Friendship Is ForgedBetter is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. – Proverbs 27:5-6

This might be the most foregone point of the three because today, we tolerate least what offends us most. However, I’ve found an absolutely essential key to cultivating lasting friendships is healthy conflict. The picture of a blacksmith comes to mind as he “forges” metal. Every time he swings the hammer into the distressed steel, it gets stronger. What would happen if he swung his hammer at distressed glass, though? Would it get stronger? Of course not, because the chemical compound in steel promotes strength in conflict, while that of glass promotes a shattering. Choosing friendships forged in steel means all parties allow constructive criticism and refuse to move into offense from it. This is possible only when you know the other person loves and has your best in mind. And that reality lived out in friendship opens you both up to the refining process of healthy conflict!

I want my life to be void of walls that bring loneliness and full of lasting friendships that bring life.

The Gift of Going Second

Right now many women on Facebook are going public about the sexual assault they’ve experienced. When I woke-up this morning and checked Facebook, I was stunned by all the women sharing about their experiences. Being in a sorority and on a college campus in the 2000’s, I heard countless stories about friends who were victims of sexual assault. It happens everywhere; not just on college campuses, but it is definitely prevalent there. These stories are not new to me, but when you see such a large number of people in your network sharing, it’s overwhelming. It’s truly an epidemic.

They’re posting two words: Me too. Some are sharing more details or that it wasn’t just once. It’s not just millennial women either. Truly, they aren’t just women. Sexual assault and harassment victimizes men, too. We all lose when we pretend it isn’t happening and when victims are afraid of speaking out. Especially in terms of sexual assault and abuse, it’s usually a silent suffering. It is often shameful for a victim to speak about it. That’s why most women stay quiet.

But today, on a very public platform, they’re telling of their experience. They are sharing because someone else went first. The first woman (or man) to speak gave them the gift of going second; the opportunity to say, “Me too.”

Today it’s about sexual abuse and assault. October is infant loss and miscarriage awareness month, so women are sharing about that, too. It’s lonely when you think you’re the only one with that experience. Then the loneliness can lead to shame. You can begin to believe that your experience is unique, and you’re the only one. But when others start talking, and you realize that you’re not alone, you become more confident in sharing about your experience. You then free others up to do the same, knowing that you’ll be met with acceptance, and not judgment.

Thankfully I don’t have a personal sexual assault story or an infant loss or miscarriage story. But friends close to me do. Even if it’s not the exact same experience, when they’ve shared,

I’ve become more courageous about sharing about my deep hurts, too.

Vulnerable friendship gives that gift. The gift of saying, “Me too.”

Friends who have shared about the struggle to become pregnant have allowed me to share about waiting in my singleness without feeling shame about my own longings. Instead of living in isolation about whatever I’m walking through, I can choose to share and be met with acceptance and love.

It’s tempting to live in surface level friendships with people, but relationships where you bear each other burdens and invite your friends to do the same are where friendship is best. If we really want to fight against loneliness, it’s vital that we share the deep parts of our heart, even it’s hurt and pain.

It’s been devastating to see the stories shared today. It will continue to be difficult to hear them. But there is great power in sharing not only to create awareness, but also to connect vulnerably with others.

20 Questions to Ask Your Friends

If you were on death row, and were about to eat your last meal, what would you want to eat?

Follow-up: Why would you be on death row?

How do you give and receive love?

What are you asking God for?

What are words that you want to be true of you?

Follow-up: What needs to change for that to be true?

What’s saving your life right now?

How do you know that I really love you?

How do you most experience God? (In community, in worship, in nature, etc.)

What are five things that are always in your fridge?

What’s one of your favorites? (Favorite anything.)

If you won the lottery, what’s the first place you would shop?

Next year looks better because…

I’m most like my mom/dad because…

What’s the best news you’ve heard this week?

If you would have one meal with any person dead or alive, who would it be?

What did you want to be when you grew up?

What would you super power be?

I want to be taken more serious in the following area…

What do you dream of doing?

What would your best friend say about you?

What’s a great story that best defines who you are or who you want to be?

Vacationing With Your Friends

I come by my love of both friendship and vacation honestly. Growing up overseas in a tight-knit expat community, almost every vacation we took were taken with other families. Not only did we vacation together, but we went to school with and lived in the same apartment building as most of my parents’ best friends. In a 31 floor apartment building, we didn’t have to travel far to spend time with one another.

In so many ways, it was like being in college, with late nights and the intimate friendships that you can only build when you see each other multiple times a week and often without make-up on. Once you add in the way that a shared expat experience bonds families together because you literally don’t have anyone else to lean on, my friendship expectations were doomed to be unrealistic.

But truly one of my favorite parts of living in Japan was traveling with other families. I cannot remember my family’s time in Malaysia, Indonesia, Guam or Saipan without remember the other families who we traveled with. The people who brought my family meals after my dad’s open heart surgery were our “Japan Friends.” Traveling with others does something special to a friendship that can rarely be replicated in real life. It creates a bond that’s stronger than you dreamed it could be. 

I saw this happen with my family’s friends, but I’ve also seen it happen with my friends.

Two years out of college, a group of us invited quite a few friends who we knew from school on a week long vacation. That first year, eleven people stayed in a Florida beach house as we started a new tradition.

We had themed dinners, dance parties in the kitchen, wore our matching t-shirts, had a star contest and made sure we were all tagging our photos with a pre-determined hashtag. But, more important were the conversations around the breakfast table and the sharing that happened at our Monday morning “Family Time” where each person talked about what they were walking through, and we prayed for them individually.

Friendcation, as it’s come to be known, has truly changed us. There’s no escaping each other now, we’ve vacationed together. We know what happens when someone doesn’t get enough sleep, who is most likely to get sunburnt on the first day (me!), and who makes sure the coffee pot never stops brewing coffee in the morning. There’s a true vulnerability is sharing a house with friends for a whole week. 

You can bring your best self to a weekend getaway, but it’s harder to fake it for a whole week. Vacation removes the filters of busyness, social media and the comfort of home. You have no choice but to be authentic around people who you’re sharing a kitchen and bathroom with. 

Our vacationing together has given us the gift of being known not just who we were in college, or who we are right now, but who we hope to become. It’s so special to have these friends know me so intimately that they call me to be a better person when I forget what I’m working towards. They anchor me in who I am and remind me who I hope to become. They bear witness to my life. 

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Favorite Podcasts on Friendship

I like listening to podcasts almost as much as I love reading! I listen to podcasts with subjects similar to what I read – story-based non-fiction, news related, and faith-based stuff. Over the years that I’ve been listening to podcasts, I’ve got some favorites, especially related to friendship. Each one is a little bit different. Some tell stories of friendship, where others can give instructions for how to make a friend or what friendship can look like. If you’re anything like me, and love learning about and seeing friendship, you should take a listen to these podcasts!

Sorta Awesome, episode 54, Ten Friends Every Woman Needs is one that I recommend most frequently. There’s a myth in our culture that you need a best friend. A singular best friend who meets all your needs. Depending on your season of life, that “best friend” is going to look a little differently. This podcast episode challenged the best friend myth, and reminded me of the importance of having a diversity of friends. Not even just a close knit friend group, but friends who meet a variety of needs, and who may not even know each other.

For The Love with Jen Hatmaker, episode 3, Girlfriends Can Save the World with Shasta Nelson, reminded me why I think friendship is not just important, but vital for our lives. Shasta has done significant research on how to develop intimate friendships and what happens when we don’t have them. I’ve since picked up her book, Frientimacy, because of how much I loved listening to her talk on the podcast. Chances are, if you’ve seen me since August, I haven’t been able to shut up about how destructive loneliness is, and that’s a topic I learned all about on this podcast. I’m more committed than ever to be a person who saves my friends from loneliness.

For The Love with Jen Hatmaker, episode 5, Real Girlfriend Stories from the Tribe brought me to tears. For The Love is a podcast that my best friend and I both listen to, and after we both listened to this episode, we started crying talking about it to one another. It’s a real story of what blood and guts friendship looks like. After listening to it, I wanted to be a better friend – to love deeper and more sacrificially for the people I’m closest to.

Happy Hour #144 with Sarah Harmeyer was one of my favorite episodes of the Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, and I’ve listened to almost all of them. I highly recommend the Happy Hour in general because it’s always good; even the episodes that I’m less interested in are GREAT! This episode was a special one for me because of the concept of The Neighbor’s Table that Sarah Harmeyer introduced and how she’s lived out community in her own life.

I’d love to hear what podcast recommendations you have on friendship and your favorite topics! I’m always looking to learn and listen to stories while I run or drive.

Personalities & Friendship

I can quite get enough of personality tests. I’m obsessed. I could talk about Enneagram and Myers Briggs until I’m blue in the face. Chances are, I’ve tried to figure out your Myers Briggs letters in our first couple interactions.

There has been a lot of research done about the role that our personalities play in our relationships – romantic and otherwise. Smart people have all types of theories about which types are most compatible.

I believe that personality tests have their place in helping us understand ourselves. I wouldn’t be obsessed with them if I didn’t. Knowing my personality type (ENFP & Ennegram 7) has helped me better know how I’m wired, and why I respond the way I do to certain situations. But, I also think we can use our personality to let us off the hook for developing meaningful relationships.

Introverts need companionship just as much as extroverts do. Humans are relational beings, and desire interaction with others. An introvert may leave a social gathering tired and in need of alone time, but that does not mean that he should avoid attending parties. It simply means that he needs to be aware of how he recharges — alone time — and plan accordingly.

Extroverts should also be cognizant of how much time they spend with others. Quality time to connect with friends is not the same as spending a lot of time with them. While the temptation may be to have all your favorite people in one place — I speak from personal experience — having them all in one room doesn’t mean that you’ve actually deepened the relationship. It may serve an extrovert’s friendships better to devote time to coffee dates or smaller gatherings.

Personality types can be key in self-development, but they should never be an excuse for unintentional relationships.

We have to be so careful that we don’t allow our personality type or even our preferences prevent us from making new friends and deepening existing friendships.