In the little yellow-bricked house on Young Street, I developed my first friendships. Before then, I had “friends,” but they were of my mom’s choosing—the daughters of her friends. However, these new friends were of my choosing. They were quite outstanding, really. We always played at my house or in my backyard. I always had the honor of choosing what game we’d play, and I cannot recall one quarrel between us.
Maybe it’s because they were used to getting along. You see, they were triplets. None of them knew the glory of being an only child—unlike me, until my brother crashed the party. Their names were Holly, Polly and Colly. Unique, right? Almost like a four-year-old named them. There’s a good reason for that. Confession: my four-year-old self named, spoke for, chose, imagined them. Yes, Holly, Polly and Colly were my imaginary friends. I was one of those kids.
Imaginary friendships are so much easier than real ones. Little is required to maintain them. I laugh at the egocentric tendencies of myself as a child, but I can sense those days aren’t that far behind me—perhaps not even behind me at all.
The promise of low maintenance woos me. To only check in when it’s convenient for me? To “pick up where we left off”—however long ago that might have been? To catch you up on all the very important happenings in my world and, just as the coffee turns cold, ask how goes it for you? Yes, please! To avoid lovingly pointing out sin in your life? To speak of praying for you—but never stop in the middle of a crowded restaurant to speak to the Father on your behalf right then and there? Sign me up! To not have someone privy to every aspect of my life—as wife, mother, friend, and disciple of Jesus—tenderly call out my inconsistencies? To miss out on the kind of rub that sharpens like a knife? What a relief!
In theory, imaginary friendships are fantastic, but in reality, they’re dull, lonely, and lifeless. Eventually, we become like them: dull, lonely, and lifeless. True, real, flesh-and-blood friendships are messy and hard. Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Now, I’m not calling my friends—or myself—oxen, but there is great comfort in meditating on this truth.
Relationships worth having will be fraught with the byproducts of our flesh. To have real, true friendships means we interact with one another on a level that exposes our shortcomings and encourages us to flee toward the cross together, not from each other.
Granted, there are friendships that so (inappropriately) mirror a marriage, or that so feed our flesh (more than our spirit), that we are exhorted by Scripture to flee; but for the most part,there are some sweet friendships that are hard and messy because we’re in them. These are friendships where you’re both asking, “How do we get more of Jesus out of this relationship?” You both are concerned about whether your affections are growing exponentially for Christ and whether your life is following suit. You preach the gospel to each other.
When one is downcast, the other prays Davidic prayers of hope and grace on their behalf. When one is hurt by the other, there is forbearance in the small things, and an honest confession and extension of forgiveness in the big. No one gets to be the superhero, but everyone gets Jesus—the better-than-a-superhero superhero. The messiness of the manger gives way to the abundance of the crops. We reap real joy, real fellowship, and real life.