The Catholic University I visited in Enugu had daily afternoon prayers with a small preaching unit for each day. One day, it was my turn to do the Reflections. The given gospel text for that day was about the paralytic fellow who was carried to Jesus by his friends through a roof (You can read about it in Mark 2:1-12). Most people expected me to preach about the miracle of healing or the power of faith. Yet I spoke on friendship and the fact that without the care of his friends, the guy would have never made it to Jesus in the first place. Some of the listeners were touched and told me later that they lack true and deep friendships. Sadly, I’ve heard that quite often, both in Nigeria and in Germany. People long for authentic relationships, still many can’t quite find or keep them. We are wired not to be lonely (Gen 2:18), but at times we are. That’s why I want to share important lessons I learnt in my short life, backed up by some ideas from a precious book called 'True Friendship'. Some of them have a Nigerian touch to it, most of them are rather general:
1. Friendships are crucial. I get the feeling that many of us treat friendship as a nice option in case there is some time left after work. For people who idolize marriage, friendships are just part of the transitional phase that lasts until the wedding day. Others love their independence so much that they develop a kind of “You chop I chop”-mentality - I do my business, you do yours. Others again are distrustful, hurt or disappointed to the extent that they don’t want to risk entering deep friendships (again). Whatever the case may be, let me plead with you: good friendships are glorious. The trinitarian God is a God of relationship and he wants us to be “knit together in love” (Col 2:2). Friendships might be hard, risky and time-consuming, but they are so worth it. You can decide to neglect friends for the sake of your success and your activities, your obsession with the opposite sex or your locked heart, but you’ll miss out on life big-time…
|With some of my lovely Nigerian friends here in Germany :-)|
2. Dependence can foster friendships. There is a lot of community life going on in Nigeria, whether in a remote village or a jam-packed University hostel. While most Germans love their privacy, some of my Nigerian fellow-students slept in rooms of 20 people and shared food (“Join me!”), phones (looking through your gallery without asking for permission lol), gist etc. They have bunkmates, agemates, classmates and a multitude of “brothers” and “sisters” (I’ve learnt that this can include extended family members, people of the same tribe or church and many more). This close community life often creates an atmosphere of dependence, where one tries to help one another. For example, I observed that almost all Nigerians have some sort of family obligations, they can’t just put their elderly parents in an 'Old People’s Home'.Sometimes we Westerners are too proud to depend on each other. Instead of asking for help we try to sort out everything on our own in order not to appear weak. By doing so we forget that mutual help (don’t just be a “borrow-borrow”, abeg ;)), vulnerability and co-dependence can create a good soft soil for friendships and authentic interactions. My concern is that some Nigerians fall into the same trap of making independence (whether it’s financial or relational) their highest goal. Let’s remind ourselves to need and bear with one another (Eph 4:2)!
|Sharing rooms in hostels helps to foster co-dependency|
3. In order to be close, you have to be intentional. There is a lot of small talk going on in Nigeria every day: “How are lectures?", "How was your night?", "How are your people?" etc. Sometimes people called me on the phone for no obvious reason and said “I just want to hear your voice”. I don’t get these sweet calls very often here in Germany… :-) I loved the easy way of interacting even with strangers, something that is quite uncommon in Germany. Even our standard small talk topic (the weather) is talked about usually only between people you know.
At the same time I’ve learnt that you have to be intentional and open if you want to develop close friendships. Small-talk can be great to initiate the first contact, but for deep friendships to happen you need to go beyond the surface and and really care for one another: Ask some follow-up questions ("Last week you told me this, how is it now?" "How are you feeling with this?"), be curious and interested in their life, pray for them, be transparent yourself (share some struggles and good experiences you had) and just lovingly care for the person in front of you.
|Take out time to laugh with your friends|
4. Don’t just look for 'friends with benefits'. We all can fall into the trap of choosing only friends that might help us in one way or the other. In Nigeria, I’ve seen that attitude play out in different ways: When some people meet a high-ranking person, they suddenly become very humble and respectful, and in their speech they 'deeply appreciate' the big guys, hoping they’ll get something in return. Another selfish relationship is the one where a female only chooses a boyfriend so that someone pays her bills. Others want to introduce a seemingly 'important friend' (e.g. a rich person, a white etc.) to a pastor to earn some respect for themselves.
Neither am I against respect nor against a man supporting his gal, but I believe that the best friendships are those where one seeks the advancement of the other, not just of yourself (Phil 2:3). Your motivation for going into that friendship counts. Ultimately, making others happy and grow will give you much more joy than using them for your own schemes.
5. Maintain your friendships. Everything that is valuable needs to be maintained - your motor, your cloths, your GPA and even your friendships. If we just forget about our friends, friendships will slowly fade away. One proverb states it quite clearly: “Do not forsake your friend” (Prov 27:10). This also applies to tough times: When you’re in conflict or your friend is in a difficult situation, don’t just run away because there is so much wahala that feels tiresome. Stick in there, forgive each other, listen to those in need and don’t just flee for easy superficial friends. In Nigeria I was tempted to run away from some friendships because they were giving me too much headache and drama, but in the end I can testify that remaining patient was worth it!
Note that you cannot possibly maintain every friendship you ever had. I try my best to phone my Nigerian friends, but I’ve realized there is no way I can call all of them every day. You have to be selective, but make sure you revive your best friendships every now and then.
|I made very good friends in my brief stay in Nigeria|
5. Be creative and surprise your friends. Don’t make maintaining your friendships a boring chore. Be creative and break patterns with sweet and spontaneous surprises. I wrote some German Christmas cards to some of my friends and although they said they are not used to these snowy cards, they love it… lol. My classmates surprised me with a traditional attire as a farewell present.
Sometimes we were just silly and played card games or started dancing on the road, other times we 'put ourselves for trouble' by chopping in forbidden places. Make sure to balance seriousness with unexpected fun so that you can create happy and vivid memories. In order to do that, you might need to turn off BBM so you can be fully present and start shining with your laughter and whole personhood :-)
6. Be both candid and careful. Oscar Wilde said, “A good friend stabs you in the front”. Instead of gossiping about your friend, tell your friend directly what disturbs or concerns you. I remember one guy who kept telling every second girl how beautiful she was and how he wishes to be her boyfriend. One day I advised him to be a little more careful and focused in his approach. Just a few days ago he called me and told me that he changed his attitude and thanked me for being honest. One of my best Nigerian friends was also courageous enough to point out to me some of my errors and weaknesses, which really helped me to grow and to be more careful. Being candid and open towards your friends gives him or her the ability to see what is happening and to do something about it.
In doing so, try to be careful by speaking 'the truth in love'. You can 'sandwich' criticism by starting and ending with (genuine) compliments. Otherwise, you can easily offend your friend. Don’t let these well-thought out blog posts mislead you: I’ve said some dumb things in life and I got to experience first hand that “death and life is in the power of the tongue”…
7. Be Christ-centered: A secure identity in Jesus helps us to be a good and selfless friend without demanding too much (total satisfaction, constant gifts etc.) from our friends. If your identity is shaky and you are not at peace with yourself, you are too preoccupied with your own business, resulting in a lack of 'mental space' that enables you to freely give yourself to others. Jesus is also a role model when it comes to transparency (He lived his life mostly publicly and risked being betrayed), sincere love and selfless service. His power can give us the nudge to go a little further than we’re naturally inclined to.
Reflecting upon all of this, I believe that I actually did talk about a miracle in that reflection on the paralytic, because good friendships are a miracle! They have incredible power in enabling us to go beyond ourselves, to get back up once we’re down and to live a rich, fulfilling and colourful life.
Since I wrote half a novel today, here is my post in a nutshell:
Good friendships don’t require any juju or magic formula, but rather a good dose of care, curiosity, authenticity, humility and humor. So go for it :-)
I have to say that without a shadow of doubt, Sebs has proven himself to be a very good and reliable friend who takes the effort to be intentional, kind and thoughtful. I wish I could also share some of his hilarious emails he sends in addition to the post of the week - It's always a delight receiving his emails. He also demonstartes this with the way he responds to comments and actually made a point to pray for one of the people who left a comment a few weeks back. God bless you Sebs, I appreciate you!
I also would like to reiterate what he says in his post that good friendships are a miracle. I can testify! I have been blessed with absolutely amazing friends (the very best in the world!) and I don't say it to them enough. Thank you to every single one of them - you are answers to my prayers, you make this life journey much more interesting, you enrich me and I learn everyday from you. May God bless you all richly.
You know, no matter how many friends we have on earth or how deep they are, the best friend you and I could ever have is JESUS. He loves you completely, He's pasisonate about you, He never gets tired of listening to you, you can trust that He would keep your confidence and He forgives again and again and again... I can definitely say that He is the best thing that ever happened to me. I would gladly and wholeheartedly recommend that if you haven't, cultivate your friendship with Him - Love You enough to get the best in friendship xx
Please visit Sebastian's blog http://seb2nigeria.wordpress.com/ It's in German but you can use 'Google translate' if English translation is required - Lovely lovely blog!
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