Almost all of the images that were coming up for starting were showing runners on their mark and at the ready for a sprint. I can tell you right now that this kind of friendship is much more like a marathon. Forming new friendships almost always demands much of us. Then add to the mix that the push here is to befriend people who don’t share your perspective on matters of faith, and many of us are simply unwilling to invest that kind of time. But if you are up for it, where do you begin? These are very personal insights that I gained almost exclusively by trial and mostly error.
First, and there is no substitute for this one, you simply have to want to form these kinds of friendships. If you do it out of duty or for any other reason, I can almost guarantee that you will ultimately fail. Because it’s hard. Because of the great differences. Because, let’s be honest, most of us are accustomed to taking the easy way out (especially relationally). But if you are driven by an honest desire to befriend someone outside your “usual circle”, this desire will come to your aid when, for whatever reason, the going gets tough.
I thought about ending this post with that one statement about wanting it. I also thought about giving the whole fire hydrant of what I’ve been learning. The more I considered it, I realized that it has taken me 5 years of learning to get to where I am today. So, for today, let’s talk a moment about what not to do. I think there are several approaches that will almost automatically sabotage our attempts to forge this kind of friendship. Let’s look at a few:
Seeing someone as a project instead of a person. The few Christians I know who are engaged with people who believe differently than they do (or don’t believe at all) seem to be primarily interested in proselytizing. This is usually made obvious when said “friend” rejects the message and the friendship ends or changes dramatically. This obviously raises questions of motive. Do we befriend others simply to attempt to convert them to our way of thinking? I hope not. To this very point, recently one such friend said, “Thanks for being our friend unconditionally.”
Making it more difficult than it is by trying too hard. You know what I mean. Remember that middle school-aged kid who was trying to get up his nerve to ask Miss Suzie Q to be his girlfriend? Of course he means well. Of course he genuinely cares about her (as much as a thirteen year old can), but he falls on his face because of nerves and the likely false notion that this may be the woman he spends the rest of his life with (I know there are rare exceptions). The point is… just be yourself. More about this one in the next post. This may be the most important aspect.
Believing the lie that if said friend remains an unbeliever you must relationally move on. Show me the precedence for that mindset in Scripture. This alienation and polarization is already rampant in the culture. Those of us who believe should be on the cutting edge of relational loyalty to demonstrate that true Christian love is without condition.
So, as with any topic, beginning includes a look at what not to do. How are you doing? Do you need to work on any of these sometimes lifelong and built-in tendencies? It’s a good place to start.