Let me be blunt - San Diego is a difficult city to live in when it comes to friendships. We live in a beautiful place, but it is a very transient city. Many people you meet are from other places in the country, and they often are not planning on staying in San Diego long term. We have a large Navy presence. Sailors are stationed here for a few years and then move on as they get stationed elsewhere or transition out of the Navy to return to other locations in the United States. Friends come and go, and it may cause some of us to question whether or not opening our hearts to friendship is worth the cost when those friends leave.
We recently have had several friends at Kaleo Church move to other parts of the country. It has been sad for many of us to see these close friendships transition from living daily life together to the now difficult task of maintaining long-distance relations. It hurts when friends move even when we know our good God is sovereign and believe that he will use our friends for his glory elsewhere. Separation hurts because life is short, and we are finite creatures limited by space and time. As Christians we have the comfort of knowing that one day we will all be reunited around the marriage supper of the Lamb in friendship with our Lord and those with whom we have been separated in this life who love Jesus. Yet, even this comfort does not remove the loss we experience here and now.
We miss our friends. We have lost their presence and in that we have lost a part of ourselves too. As C.S. Lewis famously observed upon the death of one of his close friends, “In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald.”
My wife and I and our kids have shed many tears over the past couple of weeks as we said goodbye to several dear friends. My brother, Jeremy, though five years older, has been one of my closest friends since I was in Junior High. We have had the privilege of living in San Diego together for the last 15 years – living life together with our church family, watching our wives and kids grow in friendship with one another, running a business together, coaching Little League together, vacationing together, camping together, serving the church and our city in various ways together, or simply one of the myriad times of just hanging out together. I will miss his friendship immensely. Yet, his absence also leads to a loss that reverberates into so many relationships. I will miss the Tommy who comes out when Jeremy stokes his passion to serve young people in our church and community. I will miss the Asher that is revealed when Uncle Jer “hugga-bear” says his goodbyes. I will miss the Eng that is always up to debate an attorney over which sport or athlete is the greatest. I will miss the Siraya who reminisces in the long-shared history of our common friendship through church and Mission Brew Coffee. I will miss the joyful Thaddaeus that gets whisked away spontaneously for another baseball adventure with his dear friend Nolan and coach Jer. I will miss the Erin who always found solace in knowing that our crazy family had a home outside of our small apartment that we were as welcomed into as if it were our own. I will miss the countless interactions of friends around meals, games, and conversations who always felt so loved by the hospitality of the Moffit home. Anyone who has had a close friend move away knows the loss of which I speak. We not only lose our friend, but we lose a little of each other. The church family is a deep interconnected web of close friendships and when a single thread gets removed it changes the entire orb.
The wounds are fresh, and we are certainly still processing the loss of these many close friendships. Yet, we do “not grieve as others do who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13) There is real hope in the fact that as those who love Jesus, we are not limited by time forever. It hurts now, but we have eternity to make up for lost time in this life. This life is but a single grain of sand on the beach of eternity. Drew Hunter noted in his book, Made For Friendship, “Apart from Christ, every relationship will end. But in Christ, every friendship only gets better and continues forever.” That is something to joyfully look forward to!
However, even more comforting in the present is the fact that our greatest friend, Jesus, is not limited by time and space even now. He is able to draw near in deep friendship to all who call on him. He gives the Holy Spirit to all who put their faith in him, and the Holy Spirit mediates his presence and friendship to anyone who needs a friend. In fact, whatever we have enjoyed in the friendships of this life was created by the perfect friend, Jesus. He is able to comfort us in our loss and provide for us in the absence of others. Jesus is such a perfect friend that sometimes it even feels uncomfortable calling him our friend. Yet, it is Jesus himself who invites us to cultivate this aspect of our relationship with him.
The Pharisees disparagingly called Jesus a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34). Yet, Jesus wears that title with a badge of honor. His greatest act of love was in giving his life to save sinners - sinners he calls his friends (John 15:13-15). Jesus knew that his closest friends would all run away in his time of greatest need, and yet, “he loved them to the end” anyway (John 13:1). Jesus loves us with his whole heart, and his love is constant and covenantal. He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Pastor Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Whatsoever there is, or can be, that is desirable to be in a friend, is in Christ, and that to the highest degree that can be desired.”
Friendship with the greatest friend, Jesus, is the friendship that frees us to continuing cultivating friendships with people in this life even when it hurts to lose them. Jesus fulfills our deepest longings for friendship so that we won’t turn our earthly friends into idols to meet that need crushing them and ourselves in the process. We can love and lose and love again. We will all lose friends in this life – whether it be through a move, through the distance of time or changing life circumstances, or ultimately through the separation of death itself. However, friendship with Jesus will go wherever we go and even bring us through the great separator of death itself. Jesus won’t abandon us in the grave but will raise us to everlasting friendship with him and with all who have loved his appearing. Jesus not only models true friendship; he empowers it!
Is cultivating friendships worth the cost? Yes! Loving anyone dearly will lead to deep hurt eventually, but Jesus will be enough in the midst of the pain. And in the midst of the difficult task of maintaining long-distance relationships or cultivating new friendships Jesus will reveal more of himself to us. We will know more of our friendship with Jesus as we grow in friendship with others. In friendship we have a taste of heaven. Even while lamenting the loss of friendship C.S. Lewis touted its importance for those who love Jesus, “Friendship exhibits a glorious “nearness by resemblance” to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying “Holy, Holy, Holy” to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.” Kaleo Church – continue to pursue friendships even when it hurts and in doing so you will get more of Jesus in the midst of friendship and in the loss of it. Jesus is your greatest friend!
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. - John 15:12–13