I recently finished watching Dead to Me, a Netflix series that follows the lives of two women who became the best of friends in the unlikeliest of ways. They meet through a grief support group. Although this might sound unusual, they shared something, a commonness: grief. Upon this their friendship was founded. In fact, friendships are often born out of shared life experiences. As C. S. Lewis said, in his Four Loves: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one!'” The two women from Dead to Me had lost much. And in finding each other, they gained much.
Friendships are often born out of shared life experiences.
After watching this series, I reflected on friendships in general and my friendships in particular. I found myself asking: what is friendship? Does it have a point? Does it matter in the same way that familial relationships do—marriage, parent-child, siblings? I concluded and believe that it does. More so, for some people friendships matter even more than the relationships within their families.
“You Can Choose Your Friends”
The Netflix series, Dead to Me, makes this same point, depicting how friendship can cross the invisible boundaries into chosen family. In doing so it delivers a cheeky eye-roll to the old saying: ‘you can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family.’
The friends I’d go on to make within the church I both chose and didn’t choose.
I’ve found this saying to be both true and untrue in my own life. I’ve had friends for as long as I can remember. Most of us can recall childhood memories that include a friend or more. The saying was true then, I had chosen my friends. But they were just that: friends, not family. However, after I turned 21 this saying became only partly true. For I’d become a Christian and quickly learned that other Christians are family. Anyone who confessed Jesus as Lord belonged to the family of God. The friends I would go on to make within this fold I both chose and did not choose.
Yet while I didn’t choose the field from which I picked flowers, I chose which flowers to pick. These flowers are my friends. Circumstances, opportunities, coincidences, commonness—and, indeed providence—provided platforms for me to meet many to whom, in not so many words, I would say: “What, you too?” Many of those have, in a very real sense, become my chosen family.
While all that is true, there is a sense in which I didn’t choose my friends at all.
Friendship and the Divine Master of Ceremonies
C. S. Lewis, again speaking on friendships in his Four Loves says: “In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers. In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ can truly say to every group of Christian friends, ‘Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.'” Indeed, a master of ceremonies is at work in our lives, and not in the least, in the friendships we have.
Friends are God’s means of showing his goodness, kindness and love to me.
Perhaps I have created a tension above in affirming that I have both chosen and not chosen my friends. But there is a balance. There is some chosen commonness I share with my friends—in personality, in desires and passions, in heart language, in studies, and more. However, they are also instruments in my life, in the hands of our heavenly Father, used in his shaping and moulding of me into Christ’s likeness. More than this, they are the means of showing his goodness, kindness and love to me.
In the Church God Gives both Family and Friends
Being part of God’s family means you are never without family.
I asked earlier if friendships hold the same value or importance as familial relationships? Yes, they absolutely do. In this, I can only speak subjectively, of course. My own personal upbringing and life experiences have meant my relationships with many of my blood family are loose, distant. While I love them and enjoy being around them, I have not really lived my life with them. Nor have they lived theirs with me. For a lot of my life, my chosen family have been my church family and Christian friends. I do not say this out of sadness. No, because a sadness would’ve been if there was no family at all, chosen or not. I say this with a heart of joy because there is hope, especially for those who do not have blood family to speak of.
Being part of God’s family means you are never without family. You’re a member of a family that is way bigger, more diverse and even more solid than any blood family could ever hope to be. And that is one of the greatest joys for me in belonging.
Praise God for the Gift of Friendship
Friendship is one of the most significant relationships we can experience in this life. Friendship is a brilliant design from God. Out of the fellowship within the Trinity, there flowed an offer of friendship from the Creator to the created. Jesus refers to his disciples as his “friends,” further making this point. In his final discourse with the disciples he says “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15). In this, Jesus makes clear the disciples’ shift from “servants” to “friends.” The implication of this: they know everything. Does this not speak to the glorious reality and wonderful hope of friendship?
Friendship should be celebrated more, its significance appreciated even more.
Friendship is a gift from God. It isn’t a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another. It’s the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others. Friendship, I believe, should be celebrated more, its significance appreciated even more. I do not write this to say that friendship is the be all and end all of relationships. One will certainly not die from not having friendships. But I must agree with C. S. Lewis when he says: “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create). It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” And oh, what great value friendship has given to my survival!