In short: the book BeFriend, by Scott Sauls, is rocking my world. I’ve shared often about how transforming a cross-country move has been for our family. In particular, going from a season of rich, deep friendships, to a season of comparative relational desert, has challenged each member of my family and brought incredible spiritual and personal growth. Leaving behind one type of relationship (rich in spiritual connection and similar life season/purpose), for both a new location and a new type of relationship-building, has stretched us in ways I didn’t imagine. Forming new types of relationships has been good-hard, and I’m grateful for it. But building Christ-like relationships in an increasingly antagonistic culture can be scary and challenging.
Recently, I was given an advance copy of BeFriend, by Scott Sauls. Scott is a Presbyterian pastor and our theological views are likely similar, so I was intrigued to read his thoughts on creating “belonging in an age of judgment, isolation, and fear.” At the same time, so much of what is being written and proposed in modern living, even by seeming like-minded people, strays far from not just what is traditional (which isn’t what matters most), but from what is Truth, as defined by the One who made us all. So as I began reading, I was cautious and watchful for this wandering from what is True.
Sauls digs deep into what genuine relationship looks like, both from a biblical perspective, and functional relationship-building in our modern world. He is comfortable with tension here, and he challenges readers to seek both. He addresses what genuine relationship really means, in all its messy, true interaction.
“Real love, real friendship is vulnerable. And risky. And costly. And discomforting. And disquieting. And agitating like sandpaper sometimes. But the alternative is a heart that ends up in a relational casket or coffin. And who wants that?”
I’ve walked the road of wanting to withdraw when relationship is too hard. (That’s not to say there isn’t a time and place to withdraw for the right reasons – for creating healthy boundaries and not allowing abuse or dysfunction to rule). But the idea that we will have to navigate the messy, that it’s to be expected, and that it’s not just livable, but can be beneficial, is a powerful, a convicting, and a strangely freeing one.
Sauls introduces the idea of what he calls transactional friendships, versus one-dimensional friendships. For this girl who likes to be with people who are like me, his thoughts are challenging… and they’re also somehow empowering.
“One-dimensional friendships prioritize sameness, and so views and convictions and practices are never challenged and blind spots are never uncovered. Friendships like these can’t offer the natural, redemptive, character-forming tension that diversity brings to our lives.”
I don’t have to be afraid of the uncomfortable tension created with those who are different; In building Christ-like relationships, I need to have my eyes open to how those relationships may grow us both.
I also look back to friendships that were based on similar interests, or on shared seasons of life, and I see how the moments of conflict were part of my friends’ and my mutual growth. I’m dared to embrace that conflict, and let it send me running toward the God who wants to mold me increasingly into His image, even when the molding is uncomfortable.
Pastor Scott also talks of befriending those who are hard to love: those whose outer shell of over-confidence or unkindness may make them abrasive. He gives a perspective of understanding what may underlie this wall-building, and how we can love others through it:
“…External bravado is often a cover-up for internal fear and insecurity; the appearance of an inflated self-esteem often camouflages an impoverished view of oneself.”
Sauls talks, in one chapter, of befriending ourselves. To be honest, I was nervous to read this chapter. So much of what is being taught today, even by Christians, is self-centered babble that in the end, takes away from genuine love of others, by idolizing ourselves (and it’s often cloaked in beautiful-sounding biblical language). But again, the author strikes a tight balance between practical advice and gospel-centered perspective.
“Ironically, the often-forgotten goal of learning to “love oneself” is to take the focus off of ourselves. We learn to “love ourselves” by learning to know and love the God who made us and calls us valuable. The intended result of this is that, at peace in our loved standing, we are not just free, but compelled, to love others whom He deems valuable.”
I could go on chapter by chapter, but for me, the most powerful and immediately applicable issues are where Scott addresses the “love/condemnation/morality” issue, and more specifically, cultural interaction on the media-hot-button of sexual minority/preference/lifestyle.
Do you ever notice how when you’re learning something, it’s everywhere you turn?
It may be in a book you read, or a sermon or podcast. A friend may bring it up in discussion. For some time, that’s been me, with the issue of interacting with others who think, feel, and believe differently from me. In a neighborhood, a culture, a nation and world in which I’m increasingly in the minority, I get tired of being in relationship where belief, where lifestyle, are always points of contention. Being real? It’s exhausting to be in relationship with people who think what I know to be True is foolish. I want to know how to cope; I want to know how to live the love I know is real, without compromising what I know is True.
In BeFriend, Sauls hits on some of the most prevalent issues I’ve struggled with, regarding cultural interaction for Christians.
In particular, on the issue of “doing life” with those whose lifestyles and sexual choices are different from mine, he offers the most biblical, grace-filled perspective I’ve seen. He doesn’t waiver on the issue of truth, doesn’t give an inch on what God’s stance is on the morality of sex. But within that construct, he also proposes a radically important, God-centered perspective on how Christians can show love, can stand for truth, and can be part of transformation, by altering how we “BeFriend” those who believe, and live, differently.
Rather than separate ourselves in an “us versus them,” “I’m better than you and I’m in the majority” stance, we can show love by embracing a “life-giving minority posture.”
Scott, in one small, revolutionary chapter, proposes that “the majority” is exactly the opposite of how the Church should, or should want to, see herself. Rather, when we are willing to be humble, set apart yet kind, unwavering in both our belief and our grace-giving, we have an opportunity to genuinely live God’s love. We can model true love for and among those who are different from us. We are able to love like He does, and in so doing, become instruments of grace.
I’m a highlighter-wielding, pencil-underlining, star-and-circling book reader, and in my copy of BeFriend, this next passage is covered with all of the above:
“…If the true relevance of Scripture is that Scripture shows no interest in being relevant – that is, that it shows no interest in being adapted, revised, or censored in order to be more in tune with the ever-shifting times – then the sex question is one that sincere believers have to wrestle with. We must remain counter-cultural where the culture and the truth are at odds with one another. This, and this alone, is what will make Christians truly relevant in the culture. Compelled by the love of Christ, we must not withhold kindness or friendship from any person or people group, and we must not engage in any sort of “us against them” posturing. This in itself is counter-culture in modern society. Compelled by the truth of Christ, we must honor and obey the Creator’s design – even when his design is counter-culture and, at times, counter-intuitive to us. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.”
He goes on to propose a better way of “speaking the truth” by living it. By holding to the biblical standard for relationship as we live it, rather than primarily/solely in word-battles, we genuinely “speak the truth in love,” because we are shining, beautiful examples. I’m personally challenged, and inspired, by the truth and challenge represented as Scott firmly holds to God’s view of sex (within marriage between one man and one woman) as beautiful, redeeming, and exemplifying His love for His children, while showing how we can run from an arrogant, posturing stance that only repels those who do not understand it. Even more challenging, BeFriend challenges me to love more deeply within my marriage, to love more purposefully for those who aren’t married. I’m still chewing on these concepts, and my mind is spinning with the ways I need to grow.
I call myself “daughter of the King.” Because that’s who I am, I want to be about the business of building Christ-like relationships, whether that’s with people who claim to know Him and love Him, those who want nothing to do with Him, or with those who don’t believe He exists. It’s scary, it’s challenging, it’s rewarding, and it’s why I’m on this planet. I want the good-hard. I want to love, for real.
I’m still going on this book. I’m anticipating its release so I can share it. I’m sending snippets to my family as I’m personally being challenged, and as if we’re sitting together sipping lattes and chatting over life-meaning and hard-thoughts, I’m recommending it to you. It might rock your views, too.
I received an advance copy of this book from BuzzPlant in order to review; all opinions are strictly my own.