I was chatting the other day at a local Potbelly's with a former student and I began sharing some of my observations of how friendships have helped me flourish in different ways throughout my life. They are not terribly focused, but I wanted to share them while they were still on my mind.
I loved my high school friends – we had so many great memories together. However, it wasn’t until I began making different kinds of friends in college that I realized different people brought out different aspects of who I was, who I could be. It wasn't that my high school friends weren't strong friends, they were - it's just that my college friends were different. They had different personalities, interests, styles of humor, and goals. I’ll never forget a moment during my sophomore year of college when a campus minister pulled me aside and told me, “Kyle, just so you know, the campus staff voted and we think you’re the funniest student.” I was flabbergasted. Initially, my skeptic radar was up and I thought this just might be a misguided attempt to provide me encouragement, but in a much deeper way I was shocked because I never thought of myself as “the funny guy.” That's not something I was told throughout my high school years.
It provoked a lot of reflection in me and helped me see that it wasn’t that I had become a different person, it’s that different friends had brought out different elements of who I was and who I could be that I never thought resided in me. Throughout my college experience, different friends and roommates would see different parts of me blossom - new interests, new styles of humor, new goals, etc. I greatly enjoyed those parts of me, I hadn’t really seen them in my life before.
|My housemates in 2005 during one of my costumed parties
This meant that when I left that bubble and returned home during college breaks, those parts of me weren’t coaxed out. Those parts of me were mostly reactive rather than proactive. There were times when I tried to force those parts of my personality on my parents and high school friends and it just didn’t go well. At first, I was frustrated about this, since I really liked that part of me and wanted them to like it as well. It took me a while to come to peace with it and realize that they brought out other aspects in me I lacked in my college bubble. This is just how things are.
When friends and roommates would inevitably graduate or leave I would mourn the loss of their friendship not just because I knew I would lose them – but because I knew I would be losing the part of me they brought out. Being part of campus ministry and living in multiple cities the past decade has meant I am always making and leaving friendships. Often, this means unless I make certain types of friends in certain places – I know certain parts of me will come out.
As I was sharing this reflection about friends with my former student another new insight dawned on me – one that could be lovingly labeled a “Jesus Juke.” If it was true that certain parts of our personalities and potentialities lay dormant and only blossom with the right friendships and relationship, is this what Christian theology was getting at with becoming a “new creature” upon being united with Christ. If relationship with humans could make us blossom, what would relationship with our creator do for us?
|Eating out with colleagues and friends - 2018
This led me to a thought that stuck with me all night: It’s only in relationship with Christ that we can overcome our old and broken selves to see the transformation into the true potentiality of what God designed us to be: images of God. If my high school friends brought out one aspect of me, my family another, my college friends another, and my work friends another – then relationship with Christ begins to bring out the full me.
In this sense, the liberating and empowering sense that friends give us is just a foretaste of the work Christ brings us. To know oneself better, you must know a variety of friends. To know oneself fully, you must know Christ. We mourn when we lose friends because we lose parts of our self. All of creation mourns when we lose Christ, because we lose our entire selves.