WHO is your burden?

I have a friend whose kids were having a disagreement (read: fight). The brother told his sister, I hate you. To which his sister, Sarah, replied, “God put me in this family & you have to love me or He’ll put you on a cross.”

That would take care of the whole sibling rivalry thing, I guess. But Sarah was right about one thing: she and her brother are family, and they need to love each other.

You see, love — the kind of love that is all over the pages of the New Testament, isn’t simply the opposite of hate. Nor is it even liking someone, and it’s definitely not about how you feel about someone else. For the truth is, brothers and sisters often don’t LIKE each other, do they? Much of the time, they don’t feel good about each other.

But real love is a choice, and chooses to act based on what you know about God, and about that person — that God IS love, and longs for that love to be made real to everyone. As Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche Community, has said: “Love is to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves.” Love is the choice we make to seek the best for another person.

Often, that is very practical, where I choose to do what’s right — where I choose what builds another up, or meets their need, or challenges them or encourages them. Love has as its goal the other’s best, where we take on the responsibility of choosing that best — even when it inconveniences or even harms us.

I just finished reading a book on Christian friendship, where the author, Wesley Hill, gives practical ways to live out friendship. One way you do that is by letting someone be a burden to you.

That might strike you as odd; it does me, too. And obviously that statement can be taken too far. But I like the idea behind it; that love is where we are deep enough in relationship with others that we know their burdens, and help carry them – because isn’t that what love looks like?

So, pause for a moment, and think: is there someone who may be facing challenges that you need to let be a burden to you? Where you come alongside them, or continue walking with them, and help them face something difficult, messy, something not-easily-fixed?

Because the best, most-lasting love, isn’t quick, or easy, or casual. The best love isn’t when you give five bucks to a guy on the street, or participate in a one-time service project, or even sponsor a hungry child overseas. Those may all be good things, but they don’t go very deep into the depths of love. For that, I believe, we have to love up close, personal, and faithfully.

So, who needs to be a burden to you?

Four Kinds of Friends You Need

There are four friends you need in your life. I say this not because I am very good at this, or because I am some kind of “friend expert.” I say this because, after 46 years, I am slowly learning this to be true in my life.

In fact, these kinds of friends are not original with me. What follows below is adapted from a sermon podcast I listened to recently; the preacher said he had adapted it from someone else. The truth is: very few ideas are original; we’re all just riffing on stuff we’ve heard elsewhere. So why would it be any different when it comes to something so essential, and so timeless, as friendship?

So, based on centuries of accumulated wisdom, 46 years of life experience, one sermon I’ve heard, and one key guy from the Bible (David, who is the example I’m using), these are the four friends I think you need in your life. (Note: everyone I mention is a guy, but you don’t have to be a guy to apply this. Also, these specific people won’t fit your exact situation, but adapt it to your life. It’s what people have been doing for thousands of years).

  1. You need a Nathan. When David lost focus and turned his eyes to a woman who he had no business being with — and when things then really hit the fan for David — Nathan was the guy who was there to challenge David (with one of my all-time favorite lines from the Bible: You are the man!). Not an easy job for Nathan, but vital. Unlike David, you are a not a king, but you need a Nathan to challenge you, guide you, and mentor you in those places where your head gets a little big for your crown. You need a friend like Nathan.
  2. You need a Jonathan. He was the friend that stayed with David, even when Saul, Jonathan’s father, turned against David. Jonathan was a true friend; a peer who loved David for who he was. When others did what was convenient, Jonathan stood by David. To the very end. You need a friend like Jonathan.
  3. You need a Solomon. Solomon was David’s son, and was his successor in the kingship of Israel. Unfortunately, the train went off the rails for Solomon. But the point isn’t about Solomon, so much, or even that he was David’s son. The need we all have is someone we pour ourselves into; someone we influence who is coming up after us. We need to be encouraging and mentoring someone who will continue the journey after we are gone. The fact that Solomon failed is the exception that proves the rule: faith must be passed on, or things fall apart. You need a friend like Solomon.

In summary, these three friends can be viewed this way: someone older and wiser to guide you through the places they have gone; someone who is a peer to walk with you wherever you go; and someone younger who needs to be encouraged to carry the baton to places where you can’t go. I hope you have these 3 in your life. If you don’t, begin praying and thinking about who might fill these areas of friendship for you, and then do whatever you need to do to make it happen — because you need them. And they need you.

But there is one more friend you need. You also need a Mephibosheth. He was a servant in the house of Saul; a handicapped man whom David chose to love for Jonathan’s sake. Mephibosheth had nothing to offer David. In fact, a lesser man would have treated him as a threat, as he came from the house of Saul, David’s enemy. But David chose to bless Mephibosheth, a man who could offer nothing to David in return.

You need to befriend and love someone who can’t return the favor in equal measure. This person may be poor, physically or spiritually. They may have a mental or emotional condition that makes friendship difficult. They may come from a completely different mindset and lifestyle than you. But you are blessed when you open the arms of friendship to someone who can offer nothing in return. You need a friend like Mephibosheth.

So, these are the four friends you have to have in your life. The kind that make you human. The kind that make you like David. The kind that ultimately make you more like Jesus.

Best. Spring Break. Ever.

Spring Break is coming. Which got me to thinking about my favorite spring break. It happened when I was in college. I was 18 or 19.

My friend Brian had grandparents who lived in Florida, and he invited me to go with him to stay at their place. It was a great, in all the right ways. We flew to Ft. Myers — only my second time on an airplane. We enjoyed the sun, the surf, and grandma’s cooking. Then, when it came time to go back to college, we hopped in a Honda Accord that Brian’s grandparents were giving him. And we drove, just the two of us, from Florida to Kentucky. We enjoyed Brian’s new kickin’ car stereo system — complete with a cassette tape deck. And the cassette that got the most playing time as we headed north was from a guy named Tonio K. (Don’t ask; it was offbeat music that fit Brian’s mood, having just gone through a breakup with his girlfriend.)

There’s nothing like having no time schedule, no duties, no responsibilities — and simply sharing the road, and life, with a good friend. There’s just something about such “Florida moments.”

So what happens? We grow up — you can’t stay 18 forever, right? Responsibilities come along. Schedules get full. In other words, life happens. But there’s something about relaxed time with a friend. With nothing to do but think about life, faith, and the occasional heartbreak.

This week, though, I had a “Florida moment,” as I had lunch with a friend. A long lunch. (Our times together tend to last a long time — much longer than the food in front of us.) We laughed together. We talked about challenges we are facing. We listened. We reflected on God’s grace. And we ate.

The bottom line for me: I need “Florida moments.” And so do you. No matter how busy life gets; no matter how many responsibilities you have; no matter how many things just have to get done. Sometimes the most important thing to do is stop. And spend a long time with a good friend. Because I believe that life isn’t really life if it’s not shared with someone who cares for you. (Quirky 80s music optional.)