"I have called you friends..."
- Jesus, John 15:15
A few decades ago, one of the summer camp songs that I used to sing went like this:
Jesus is a friend, he's a friend next to ya
Jesus is a friend so sing along
Jesus is a friend he's a friend next to ya
Jesus is a friend so sing.....
Sing a-HALALALALALELUYAH HALALALALALEELUYAH!!!
It was a SERIOUS, reflective song, which also included hit verses like "shake a friend's hand, shake a hand next to ya" and "bump another rump, bump a rump next to ya."
The early 90's were quite a time. I'm just going to leave it at that before we get off topic. I will say that there was a lot of laughter in that song, even if not everyone chose to participate in the rump bumping verse.
I'm thinking about friendship and what it means to relate to Jesus as friend. And why that can really be difficult.
When you're very young, friendship can feel fairly simple. Children are often quick to name friends. A friend is someone that you enjoy being with, that you trust, and that you can be playful with. And the reason for being with your friends was pretty straightforward. It was fun to play, and it was a good way to spend time. Not much purpose beyond that.
Greek Platonist philosopher Plutarch spoke of children possessing something called "first friendship" -- the ability to have playful and trusting connections easily, treating people like brothers and sisters. He also noted how this same characteristic was nearly impossible to find among adults.
Friendship gets harder and more complicated as we get older, doesn't it? We grow up and embrace more important tasks. Maybe we find ourselves unable to relax enough to embrace play. Or perhaps we are too busy to feel like we have time for friendship. Or our difficult life experiences have just made it too difficult to really trust other people. So our friendships dwindle and we spend less time in playful settings. The playground attitude is long gone. The desire for friendship may be there, but the openness and priority that it takes are often too heavy.
Similarly, as we grow older, we may find that embracing friendship with Jesus also gets more complicated. We've grown up, we've experienced some hard things. Perhaps faith and connection with God has lost its shiny, lighthearted beauty. And we spend a lot of our time thinking deep thoughts.
So we grow into an adult-like faith. Cerebral. Formal. Guarded. Playless.
And maybe, just maybe, sometimes.... Jesus is still just sitting there at the playground and waiting for us.
When Jesus told his disciples that unless they changed and became like children, the couldn't experience the kingdom (Mt. 18:4), perhaps he was suggesting that we become so complicated that simple trust and playfulness are almost impossible. Yet that may just be the type of interaction Jesus longs to have with us.
Jesus is called a "friend" of tax collectors and sinners and he refers to his disciples as friends multiple times, suggesting that he wants enjoyable shared connection founded on love, not simply work partners.
There's a shortage of delight in people these days. And I notice the slow fade in myself too. But what if, instead of feeling like playfulness is the mark of a juvenile and immature faith, we saw it as one of the gifts that Jesus offers? With Jesus we can actually lean back in delight, being at peace hanging out with someone we love and enjoy. Not every moment needs to be deep wrestling or "doing business with God," as it is sometimes phrased. We are invited to join Jesus in the light, simple moments too. It shouldn't all be work.
Jesus is Lord. Jesus is our example, our guide, our savior. Jesus is our lens to view the world. But Jesus is also our friend. And in those moments, there are no agenda items for the meeting and no shared tasks to work together to accomplish. Just swapping some stories and enjoying the afternoon together because we like each other, and he's easy to hang out with.
There's mystery to all this. It's different from a physical friend that you can text memes to. But this week, I invite you to let your guard down and enjoy some playful moments with Jesus, whatever it might look like for you. Rekindle the friendship, and see what happens.
Jesus, help me let my guard down to enjoy walking alongside you today.