In our virtual world, we can swipe away friends as easily as we send leftover mashed potatoes into the kitchen trash. We can polish our words and present ourselves as successful and popular, and even produce photos to back up our claim, but the longing of our hearts for true friendship — for genuine connection with another soul — has to happen apart from Insta-glitter or the shallow disclosure of a tweet.
In Never Unfriended, Lisa-Jo Baker floats the notion that maybe our struggles with friendship happen because we are operating from wrong assumptions in our foundation. We carry baggage from bad past experiences forward as if they were gospel, and we encumber relationships with unrealistic expectations. We talk when we should listen, and we fret about our own small selves when our eyes should be open wide to spot the needs of the other women in the room.
As community manager for (in)courage, Lisa-Jo is the girl in charge of relationships for that online gathering of hearts, but she doesn’t claim to have it all together yet. We’re all friends-in-training together until we reach heaven. In the meantime, we live our way into our best relational selves and seek to fulfill our God-breathed desire for community in ways that glorify Him and serve others. Crashing into my own selfishness and self-protective strategies from the very first chapter of Never Unfriended, a list of ten questions bubbled their way into my thinking about friendship:
1. What would happen if I approached friendship from an active posture?
What if instead of asking, “Who will be my friend?” I asked “How can I be a friend?” The words of Jesus come to mind: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. . .”
2. What lies are fueling my fear of or reluctance toward friendship?
Whether it’s a past friendship gone sour or wrong thinking about my own self-worth and relevance, these lies poison friendship going forward and must be rooted out and replaced with the Truth.
3. What’s the worst thing that can happen if I go first?
It turns out that we’re all still in middle school when it comes to being the new girl — or welcoming the new girl into our established group. Radical friendship maintains an open circle for others on the outside. A fierce commitment to community will fuel Brave and risk Awkward. Lisa shares the example of volunteering to host a group in her home when she had just moved to a new state and a new church. She took the risk and the result was a sweetly woven network of relationships.
When we keep score with the facets of friendship — Who texted last? Who’s turn is it to host this time? — and then hold back to wait for “justice,” our world becomes small and stingy. Lisa describes going first as “the cardinal rule of friendship.”
4. Am I willing to be radically inconvenienced?
Caller i.d. has made it possible for me to screen out undesirable contact at will. My busy homeschooling life gives me a ready-made excuse for “minding my own business.” However, if I live within safe boundaries of efficiency and time management, I’ll miss out on “Velveteen friendship” that loves off my rough edges. I’ll never become real.
Adrian Plass writes about incarnational relationships modeled on the example of Christ’s radical encounter with humanity: “Shouting stern advice at people through a megaphone from a very great height never did do much good.”
And it never did make for close friendship, either.
5. Do I use guilt to get my friendship needs met?
Particularly when distance is an issue, Lisa-Jo advocates for “Guilt-Free Friendship” in which there is no deadline for responding to emails and phone calls, in which each agrees to assume the best about motivations, and in which the tone is always generous and forgiving.
“Guilt-free friendship is the gift that women who are secure in their own sense of acceptance can give each other.”
6. Is it a joyful thing to me when I see that my friends are flourishing?
God is delighted when His children strive for the well-being of others. Taking a radical interest in the people around me, making time for their needs, and actively contributing to their success is clearly friendship in action.
7. How much time have I wasted being “fine?”
Fine is a lie that we tell out of a dusty soul.
Fine is plexi-glass protection for our image of perfection.
Fine is a deal-breaker in the economy of true friendship.
Never Unfriended challenges readers to “step out from behind fine” and offer friendship instead.
8. Am I ready to drop comparison and competition and embrace a co-op mentality?
Jealousy ruins the joy of the jealous, but it also stifles the celebration of its object. Better to rejoice in the truth that “there’s enough work in the Kingdom for everyone,” and to lean into the calling God has placed on my own soul than to be continually glancing over my shoulder to monitor the blessings of others with a resentful eye.
9. What if I’m not the center of the universe?
When I become caught up in the vortex of “I wonder what they’re thinking about me,” it’s helpful to be brought to the reality that it is unlikely that they are thinking about me . . . at all. This leaves me free to think about them, or to look around me, to notice the “people at my table” — to practice intentional self-forgetfulness in the interest of pursuing meaningful conversations that do not center around me.
10. Would the universe crumble if I gave my friend the benefit of the doubt?
What would happen if I believed the best about her instead of holding to the assumption that is clouding my brain at this moment? Lisa-Jo hazards a guess that (unless a relationship is so poisonous and bitter that we need to walk away) the outcome will be positive and surprising — although it may take time and patience. The grace of hoping and believing may have redemptive outcomes that could not have come any other way.
Friendship is hard work, but the alternative is a small, safe, and deeply lonely world. Furthermore, God uses the crucible of relationship to reveal to us the contents of our hearts, to refine us so that we know that we are “the real deal” all the way to the core.
You were friended, ultimately and irrevocably, by the God of universe, when He took on a body and joined us here in the neighborhood of humanity. If the life of Christ pulses within your veins and you have heard his “go and do likewise” — the next move is yours.
This book was provided by B&H Publishing Group in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
If Never Unfriended sounds like content that your group needs for a deeper dive, you’ll be pleased to know that Lisa-Jo and (in)courage have released a Bible study curriculum to accompany the book. Click here for more information about We Saved You a Seat.
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