How long, O Lord?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?—Psalm 13:1,2
“I loathe my very life; therefore I will give free rein to my complaint
And speak out in the bitterness of my soul.”—Job 10:1
The people in our lives fall into several different categories. Most of us have family of some kind. Most of us have people we would consider friends. Then we have acquaintances, the people we know by name and face, but aren’t especially close to. Some of us have enemies (hopefully not too many), and then there are strangers, the people we don’t know at all.
I’ve been thinking about friendship lately. It’s a unique and precious gift from God. We recently returned from a few days on the Oregon Coast, visiting friends who were a part of our lives for 15 years, and I realized that every one of those friends started out as a stranger. At one point, we didn’t know them at all, and then later we knew them a little bit, and then somewhere along the line we realized that we knew them well and loved them deeply.
How does it happen? What makes a friend? There are probably a lot of things, but I’ll mention two: we become friends with people when we share experiences with them, and when we share our hearts with them. In other words, we share life together, and over time this builds intimacy. When you do things together and go through the ups and downs of life together, you get closer. And when you open up your heart and tell someone what you really think and feel, you get a lot closer.
Think of it this way: if an acquaintance or a stranger asks you how you are doing, you’ll probably say “Fine! How are you?” And then they’ll tell you they’re fine, which is probably no more true than it was when you said it, and then you’ll both go on with your day. But if a friend asks how you are, there’s a better chance that you might actually tell them the truth. You’ll tell them you’re sad or scared or angry, because you trust them and you know they really care. And then they’ll ask you to explain a little more, and you’ll share your heart with them, and at the end you’ll walk away even closer to each other than you were before. Possibly, if you had told the truth to the acquaintance who asked you, it would have been a step closer to friendship. But that’s scary, and we rarely take the risk.
And now here is the question: In your life, is God more like an acquaintance, or a friend? Do you tell God the truth about how you’re feeling, or do you tell Him you’re fine, because you think that’s what He wants to hear? Many of us grow up assuming that because God is good and holy and pure, He only wants to hear nice and pleasant things from us. So we pray the kinds of things we hear other church people praying, and we do it for the right reasons, because we want to honor and respect him, but it’s the equivalent of telling an acquaintance we meet in the grocery store that we’re doing fine. We stop short of sharing our hearts with Him, and so we never grow closer.
It was shocking to me when someone first pointed out the kinds of things the people in the Bible say to God without getting struck by lightning. In Psalm 102:9&10, David says “I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears because of your great wrath, for you have taken me up and thrown me aside.” This past week in Lassen County, many of us feel like we have been eating ashes for food. But have we been bold enough to put our finger in God’s face and say “you’ve tossed me aside!”? Why did David think he could get away with that? Why did Job think he could speak to God out of the bitterness of his soul and live?
I think it was because these men knew that God wanted all of them, not just the pleasant parts. God knows everything anyway, and He wants to be a friend, not an acquaintance. A good friend can handle anything we can dish out. Teenagers can say some pretty hurtful things when they are caught up in emotions and hormones, but a good parent rises above all that, and knows that it’s no real threat to the foundation of love that lies underneath. At the end of the book, God rebukes Job for the things he said in his anger that were unfair and off-base, but he doesn’t cut off the relationship. He sets Job straight, and then He pulls him close. And He says that Job knows Him better than his friends, who spend the book spouting churchy-sounding nonsense.
I think it’s fair to say that morale in our community is pretty low this week. We’re weary after a month of smoky skies, frustrated with government, disappointed about missing out on summer (again), sad about the loss of so much beauty around us, afraid of the threat of fire that still looms nearby. In the midst of all that, what do your prayers sound like? Are you being real with God? Is He that good of a friend? “God, I’m angry.” “God, I’m afraid.” “God, I’m sad.” “God, I’m overwhelmed.” Whatever you have to say, He can handle it. Whatever is really inside of you, that’s what He wants, because He wants all of you. Pouring out your anger to Him is far better than venting it on social media. One fuels bitterness, the other is an important step to intimacy. This week, let’s take God up on His offer of unconditional friendship. Let’s pray honestly, trusting that that’s what our heavenly Father wants from us.