Why Happiness Isn't the Purpose of Friendship
God has gifted me with friendships that bring an incredible amount of richness to my life. My friends make me happy. Even so, I would argue that happiness isn’t the primary function of friendship, or of any relationship, for that matter.
A few weekends ago, I flew down to LA for a little reunion with some of my closest college girlfriends. Though May will mark two years since graduation, due to out-of-state moves and Madagascar mission trips, this was the first time we’d all been together since the day we moved out of the house most of us shared our senior year.
It was SO rejuvenating to be together again, to get quality time to catch up and hear what’s been going on in each other’s lives. We spent most of the weekend exploring new places and eating way too much food, remembering old memories and creating new ones.
When it comes to friendship, I believe in laughing ‘til it hurts and staying out all night dancing. Friendship should be fun. But I believe that without also taking the time to be intentional and go a little deeper, without asking the good questions and speaking truth over who each other is becoming, an incredible opportunity is missed. Especially in a season where a lot of my friends and I are stepping out into our careers and callings, where time off work and opportunities to connect are more rare to come by, time together is precious. If we have an opportunity to refuel and reinvigorate one other, to leave each other more equipped and encouraged to go out and show up in the unique spheres God has positioned us in, that opportunity should be taken.
Intentionality flowed naturally this trip, as we were all noticing the changes that had occurred in each other since we’d last been together. It’s funny, it’s often harder to notice change in yourself, as it happens gradually, day by day. But when you see someone you haven’t spent time with in a while, they can offer a perspective to your growth that you might not have otherwise caught. So, we decided over lunch one day to spend time on each person, where everyone else would go around and call out the positive growth they’d seen.
There’s power in telling people who you see them becoming; it reinforces the transformation taking place. Speaking words of life gives an invisible permission, allowing the person to step more fully and boldly into his or her new identify.
As we went around, reflecting on the growth, and the unexpected ways God had brought restoration and renewal to each person, I was overcome with the beauty of it all. Not only was the transformation itself beautiful; I was thankful because I knew that for each person, God had given me the privilege of playing a part in the transformational process. Even more, I understood how instrumental each of them had been in my own.
Here’s the thing: movies, media, and cultural rhetoric would LOVE to have us believe that the primary purpose of relationships is one’s own personal happiness. Implicit in this sentiment is the idea that the best relationships, whether that be friendships, dating relationships, or even marriage, are easy, and free from conflict. By default, this way of viewing relationships would suggest that if things don't come easily, or if you just don’t click, or if you encounter any conflict, then perhaps the relationship isn’t the right fit. Because after all, if the highest hope for relationship is to yield happiness for the parties involved, while requiring nothing of them, then the logical conclusion for a relationship not fitting those descriptors would to abandon it in hopes of finding one that does.
But my experience suggests that the richest relationships aren’t the ones that have never seen conflict, or produced times of tension, hurt, or frustration. The richest relationships are the ones that have.
As my friends and I affirmed each other’s growth, it was so easy to see how, in many cases, the friendships themselves had been a catalyst of that growth.
You see, while culture would tell us that the purpose of relationship is happiness, I’ve come to see that as secondary, embracing another purpose as primary: holiness.
When Jesus died and rose for our sins as we celebrated on Easter, it wasn’t just to secure our tickets into heaven. It was to restore us to relationship with God now, and to refine us more and more into His likeness. This includes healing us of hurts, freeing us from fears, and stripping us of our sinful tendencies.
His primary vehicle for this work of sanctification?
Within close relationship, all aspects of who you are become visible for another person to see. There’s no hiding.
I remember when one of these very friends sat me down and told me nervously that I’d been defensive, and that it had hurt her. Internally, I panicked. I didn’t want her to see me that way, and I felt that if I had to take ownership of this negative behavior, I would somehow be less worthy of her love and friendship.
Her speaking the truth was a risk, because I could have responded in the same manner of defensiveness that had hurt her before.
Instead, her courage brought about colossal change which has since worked itself out into every aspect of my life. It forced me to confront the fact that I was more sinful and flawed than I’d wanted to believe, which terrified me.
But this fear exposed an underlying, false presupposition: that my worthiness of love and acceptance was predicated on my perfection.
The moment my imperfection was exposed was the same moment I recognized how very loved and accepted I was in that imperfection. In fact, her courage to speak truth was itself, an indication of her commitment to me.
God uses relational closeness to unveil the layers we adorn for the world, to bring to the surface our hurts, fears, and sinful tendencies. The exposure of these rugged edges can sometimes poke and prod at each other, and our natural reaction is to defend, withdraw, or even retaliate.
If my friend had believed the primary purpose of friendship to be happiness, she could have walked away the second I caused her any hurt. But in recognizing that God has designed relationship to bring about our holiness, the exposure of my flaws suddenly had another purpose:
As exposure of hurt, fear, and sinfulness is met with love, grace, and truth in the context of close relationship, that’s when healing, freedom, and cleansing begin to occur.
That’s the Gospel.
The growth my friends and I experienced was so beautiful to me because it was hard-fought in millions of moments.
Growth is the moment of hurt, when forgiveness is chosen. It’s the moment when silence would be safer and easier but instead, courage is chosen, and truth is spoken in love. It’s the moment an annoying tendency tempts a reaction, but instead understanding is sought, and an opportunity is gained, to learn why another person is the way they are. It’s the moment of endurance during difficult seasons when resolution seems so far off, and it’s the shared enjoyment of ten times as many rewarding seasons.
Growth is beautiful because it reflects the Gospel: a collision of radical love and commitment with broken and sinful humanity.
In their book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim and Kathy Keller share imagery depicting their view of marriage. They talk about taking a hike on a long, at times arduous path to the top of a mountain. On that journey, they catch glimpses of the finish line, a glorious mountain peak. But the peak is not always visible (I guess you could say it plays peak-a-boo). Some moments it is obscured by a turn along the path, or by clouds that have rolled in, or by a tree branch hanging over head. Still, it is the glimpses, that vision of what will be, which keeps them going. The finish line, they write, is our “future glory selves,” the selves that God intended us to be, free from the distortion of sin and brokenness. Tim and Kathy’s conviction is, that their role as spouses is to play an active, intentional role in getting each other to that finish line. This role requires abundant love, grace, sacrifice, commitment, willingness to speak truth, and selflessness.
I believe wholeheartedly in this function of marriage, and I believe that it is also a function to differing degrees in all other relationships as well.
This idea of holiness over happiness gives so much grace to our relationships. It also provides safety, a freedom from the fear that if too much of our messiness is seen, the other will leave.
None of this is to say that there aren’t appropriate times to step away from relationships, because there certainly are. It’s to simply suggest a reframing of the way we view conflict in relationships where commitment and love are present. Instead of seeing it as an indication that something is wrong, perhaps we should view it as evidence that something is right, that the restorative and refining essence of God’s Gospel love is being demonstrated in the very relationships He created to serve as manifestations of that love.
The irony is that when we hold happiness as the standard for relationships, we’re left empty. But when we view holiness as the ultimate goal, we gain as a byproduct more than happiness; we gain a deep joy that abides independent of our circumstances.
I’m thankful to have shared a fun weekend with friends, and I’m even more thankful for God’s incredible gift of relationship. I’m thankful that in hard times, we can hold fast knowing they are serving as vessels of God’s sanctifying work in our lives. I’m thankful that in good times, we can revel in the sweetness His good gift. Most of all, I’m thankful that God is faithful to complete His work in us, allowing the refining process to hurt sometimes, but always sensitive to provide the reprieve we need.
To my beautiful friends in this post and to the many who aren’t, you are some of God’s most precious gifts to me. I love you.
We waited in line an HOUR for this trendy breakfast treat and it was SO WORTH IT. If you know how obsessed I am with eggs, you'll appreciate this. Find @ the Grand Central Market in Downtown LA.
The walk up to and view down from Angel's Knoll. Unfortunately the 500 Days of Summer bench was closed off.
If you're a bird, I'm a lion.
Next time you're in DTLA, stop by the Pie Hole and stuff your pie hole with the "Earl Grey" pie...sooo yummy! Parris worked here when she lived in the city and casually served Joe Jonas...NDB. Who am I kidding, SO JEALOUS (!!!) ...and yes Nick, that was for you.
Unconditional acceptance, peace, and SPUNK: all things you experience when in proximity to this beaut.
She's insightful and courageous, and creativity and passion are as true to her as artsy-ness is to the Arts District.
Perfect place to watch the sunset? Drinks @ the Ace Hotel rooftop bar! This is also near the site of the iconic "Jesus Saves" neon sign that marks Biola University's origin in DTLA.
To all the pillow talk and late night laughs that happened in Horton 4th North with these two.
My absolute favorite beach in the world: Thousand Steps Laguna Beach!!!
Ever since sophomore year of high school, through every single big and small moment since. A consistent vessel of Jesus' love, faithfulness, and joy in my life. There aren't enough words. You get me, Heater-boo-boo.
Halfway through the trip, Heather made an observation: whenever we had to split up into two groups for car rides or even sides of a table, most of the time it was the same groups of three, and it was completely unintentional! We THEN realized that this grouping accurately reflected our different personality traits of thinkers/realists (above) vs. feelers/dreamers (below). Not sure what that means lol...but anyways, we snapped a pic! Heather, Kirsten, and Laura...first things first, you the REAL-ists! 😉 Parris and Brittany, you get my crazy.
Her selfless spirit exudes compassion, warmth, and FUN.
She is kind and joyful, and she gets the grace and love of God in such a way that she just can't help but spill it out to those around her.
We were gonna go for a dip in the Pacific but it was freezing, so we caved.
San Clemente sunset while eating clam chowder on the pier...perfect way to end a refreshing and fun-filled trip!