We are not lovers
because of the love
but the love
We are not friends
because of the laughs
but the tears
I don’t want to be near you
for the thoughts we share
but the words we never have
I will never miss you
because of what we do
but what we are
A Poem of Friendship, by Nikki Giovanni
Poet and activist, Nikki Giovanni, reminds me that friendship makes me a better person. A good friend listens to my heartbreaks and knows the intent of my words when I fumble over the “dumb thing” I said five minutes ago. Some of my closest friends are not always happy with me, and sometimes we disappoint each other, but so goes any relationship that adds value to my life. Conflict is inevitable, but with friendship, hope patiently waits on the other side.
Friendship is so vital to our human development that even Jesus, who was perfect in every way, chose to seek out friendships. In the week leading up to his death, Jesus admonished his friends to love one another as He loved them. He valued his friends so dearly that He chose to die for them. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
When choosing friends, Jesus did not reach out to individuals who were like him. The people he invited into his inner circle, the disciples, were a collection of sinners, of whom the Jewish elite disapproved. They were fisherman, a tax collector, and some, we don’t even know their occupations. But we know they were not like Jesus. They may have looked similar in stature, but they did not think like him, speak eloquently like him, or love anywhere near as generously as he did.
And many others he befriended in the New Testament, those he reached out to serve and comfort and heal, they were in no way like him. The women, for example, were completely different in physical stature and cultural situation. Consider the Canaanite woman that prays for her daughter’s healing in Matthew 15, the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon in Mark 7, the poverty-stricken widow in Mark 12, the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, and the woman, described in John 8, who was drug into town for stoning, her consequence for being accused of adultery.
Jesus spent his life seeking out people different than him. Widely known as “the friend of sinners,” Jesus chose to befriend people altogether different than him.
And although I am far from maintaining that we have Jesus’ capacity to serve and love and die for the sake of our friendships, I am challenged to consider: How many friends do I have that look and act and understand life differently than me, in almost every way?
Presently, that number amounts to 1. We will call my friend Bee.
She is a 21 year old, African young woman — curvy, tall, and gorgeous. In her Instagram post, you’ll see her swaying her hip left, posed in a leopard print mini-dress and her smile beams, wide and proud. My latest post shows me in tortoise shell glasses and a red cardigan. My smile exists, but maybe doesn’t beam 🙂
She is from Rwanda, and she is currently raising her three younger siblings completely on her own, working 70+ hours a week to support their family. Me? I am a native Texan, raising the Fantastic Five with the help of my God-fearing, extremely fun, and hard-working husband. I am a stay at home mom. Writing a blog.
She sees the world completely different than I do. She throws in veggies and fruit for meals when she can, but Takis and soda are some of their kitchen mainstays. She’s not shopping at Whole Foods, assessing “her kids” healthy choices, or comparing them to the other kids at school.
I love that we are living different lives, in almost every way. As a result of living differently and simultaneously choosing friendship, we are growing as women in our communities in ways that we could not grow without each other.
Most of my close friends look like me, are well educated, have disposable income, go to church, and are married to loyal and capable men. They are dear to me, but they are so much like me that I sometimes forget the bigger world out there that is the majority. Most women, living their own stories in the day-to-day, are different than me in almost every way.
And when I operate in my small world for too long, Satan gets a foothold. His voice too closely scrutinizes the details of my reflection, and I compare myself to the aging women around me who have had more surgery, who have more money, who have more time and propensity for shopping, and who spend more time toning their glamorous figures at the gym. Surrounding myself with good friends is good for me, but all of my friends shouldn’t “look like me.”
Thomas Cash, PH.D., maintains that an individual’s private body talk significantly affects one’s mental health. Specifically, in The Body Image Workbook, he points out a commonly held belief that too many people mistakenly assume. It is: If I Could Look Just as I Wish, My Life Would Be Much Happier.
This assumption is especially prevalent in the private conversations that women are struggling with today. But what if part of our challenge is to look in the mirror and not only see ourselves, but the generations of women who went before us to bring us to the place we find ourselves standing? What if we choose to see ourselves in a context of the woman working behind the Target checkout counter and the female refugee who is learning English for the first time and the woman who always sits a pew over but doesn’t look anything at all like us?
“What we are together,” the last lines of Ms. Giovanni’s poem, challenges me to see my reflection differently when I look in the mirror and envision my young Rwandan friend beside me. We look and act and believe differently than one another, but “what we are together” is more than what we would be without each other.
When I step outside of my safe places and make friends with people altogether different than me, might I experience the generous, dear, friendly love of Jesus in a new and different way? I’m thinking, yes.
Because my mindset changes. And my worldview grows. And my capacity for love goes out, beyond myself.
We’re starting our Recovery study about Body Image tonight at Northwest Bible Church. If you’re in the area, join us at 7:30 on Thursdays for our open group.