Best of Community: Redefining Real Friends

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This week we are highlighting some favorite posts from our faithful community of writers.

I huddle with my husband and two teenagers in a cloud of breath, mesmerized by orange flames licking glass inside two lamps flanking the front door, waiting for signs of life after pushing the doorbell. We’ve arrived for a respite on our first day of a holiday road trip after driving thirteen hours from South Carolina to Arkansas.

We’re spending the night with a friend I met online three years ago. It’s our first time to meet in person, but all fears about our initial encounter are quickly put to rest when she runs to the door and greets us with unbridled affection.

Dea and I met through a comment she left on one of my blog posts. I don’t remember exactly what she wrote, but she reminds me that I responded to her with an invitation to continue our conversation through email. It quickly became obvious that our friendship was divinely orchestrated when we began sharing the beautiful, ugly pieces of life and praying for each other with steadfastness.

In 2012 Dea wrote, “I feel so blessed to peek into the curtains of your life—on the outside when I read your blog and on the inside when your share your heart here in an email conversation.”

This line among countless paragraphs in letters between us sums up the beginning of our blooming relationship. Roots of a friendship that continue deepening through texts, phone conversations, and Skype chats.

I borrowed hope from Dea during a recent waiting season of life transition to England, when darkness in the uncertainty of a delayed timeline, empty bank account, and unknown details about the future threatened to swallow trust in God’s promises.

In his book Mentoring for Mission, Gunter Krallman coins the word with-ness to describe the way Jesus models discipleship. A creatively constructed word from Mark 3:14: “And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach.”

Rather than an academic exercise, the disciples learned how to put their faith into action through with-ness, being physically present with Jesus in everyday life.

When Jesus left the earth, he sent the Holy Spirit in his absence to help us grow the Kingdom from one end of the earth to the other. He boldly declared, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. In fact, he will do even greater things” (John 14:12).

Today, online communities make Kingdom relationships at the ends of the earth not only possible but also realistic. We may not push a grocery cart down the aisle next to our friends or witness an angry outburst in the living room, but we can look someone in the eyes through video chat, hear uproarious laughter on Voxer, and instantly respond to someone’s grief in an electronic message.

Distance no longer determines presence in the same way proximity no longer hinders discipleship.

Staying overnight with Dea and her husband, Jeff, was a risky decision for all of us. While my family decided to stay in the home of a friend I had yet to meet in person, Dea invited four virtual friends to sleep in her real bedrooms. We both confessed to our fleeting second guesses during our late night conversation on her cozy couches.

Any doubts were easily squelched because of the relational capital we had already invested.

The next morning, my family sits in a row of bar stools around Dea’s large wooden island in the kitchen. We sip mugs of coffee while she pours batter into a waffle iron and flips sausage patties popping in a skillet. Our serpentine conversation flows naturally as if retracing familiar paths we have already taken. No awkward hesitations. No insider instructions needed for interaction.

Online friendships are real when we trust the Holy Spirit to orchestrate invitation and response. Through virtual welcome, we open a door of acceptance to the heart. Revealing fears, doubts, and struggles, we become more than a flashing cursor or an electronic address. We access the with-ness of Jesus through our brave vulnerability and experience the fullness of our humanity through discipleship.

And sometimes providence allows travelling through a starry night onto the doorsteps of an innkeeper, a welcoming kindred heart with vacancies for the birth of a new future.


Rediscovering Community

Online community is a real thing. Isn’t it? Maybe it depends on whom you talk to. How important is it to spend time with someone face-to-face? Can you build meaningful and lasting relationships online? Where do you find your most significant interactions, and how do you make time for them? Jesus focused on building his deepest relationships with three of his disciples while he walked the earth. What can we learn about community from Christ’s example, and how do we translate his example to the digital age? In this theme, we are Rediscovering Community in old-fashioned and new-fangled ways. We’ll celebrate the gift of relationship while exploring ways to build community in the modern age. Join us!

Featured image by Krissie Camealy. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.