This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. (John 15:12-14)
Jesus’ Riddle of Friendship
Jesus said something once that has always seemed a bit like a riddle to me; he called his apostles his friends. This has puzzled me, because friends are someone I consider to be at a more equal level, or peer, to myself, not Jesus, who is a god.
However, we know that what he says unto one he says unto all (D&C 25:16), and so friendship with Jesus must be possible. I’ve considered over the years what it would take for me to be considered His friend. I cannot be ordained to the office of apostle, which is a group of people he declared friendship to — both His original apostles and the ones in the early days of the church’s restoration. He also says that He’s our friend because He laid down His life for us, but I don’t think I will be asked (yet) to give up my physical life.
There are other things I can do to lay down my life for other people. Looking to Jesus’ life, I can see what He means by being a friend and laying down our lives for our friends. As in every other life lesson, He taught us how to be the best kind of friends.
You Don’t Have to Engage
One day the scribes and the Pharisees, the self-appointed know-it-alls of ancient Jerusalem, brought a woman to Jesus and accused her of breaking a major commandment. They actually wanted nothing more than to trick Jesus, and she was just a pawn in their game. Instead of engaging with them, Jesus stooped to the ground, “as if he heard them not.” (John 8:7.)
Silence wasn’t a good enough answer for these men. They insisted that he give them some sort of answer. Finally Jesus said, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” Then he stooped down on the ground again. After they left, Jesus spoke to her, and even though we don’t have details of how she felt, I can imagine that she felt heard, understood, and a measure of friendship from a man — a new sensation for her.
Jesus’ response to this situation teaches us several lessons about how to be a friend to other. First of all, we don’t have to pay attention to the bullies when they are accusing someone else. They only have their best interests at heart, and want to show everyone else how important they are. Sometimes ignoring them is enough to silence them.
If they keep pestering us, we do not need to stoop to their level, but we can find ways to defend the person who is being picked on. We can defend our friends. Sometimes, it just takes one voice willing to stand for the right thing to silence a larger crowd.
A True Friend Meets Us Where We Are
Jesus also showed us the importance of meeting a person where they are. After the scribes and Pharisees left, Jesus did not turn his back on this woman. He looked at her, on the same level where she was on the ground where the men had tossed her, and asked her if she needed anything.
A true friend meets us where we are.
Jesus also teaches us how to react when everyone else seems to be panicking. One day he was on a ship with the apostles. The climate on the Sea of Galilee is unpredictable. Warm air blows from the desert across the water, and the water itself is cooler, so it’s a fairly common occurrence to encounter stormy weather. But this particular storm must have been worse than usual, as many of the men were fishermen who were used to the unpredictable weather. Even they started panicking.
The storm was so bad that waves came over the side of the ship until it was so full of water they couldn’t even bail it out of the boat fast enough. And where was Jesus? He was asleep. Nice and comfy on a pillow in the back of the ship. The apostles woke him up, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?”
Jesus “rebuked the wind and said unto the sea, ‘Peace, be still.’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39).
He Is NOT Asleep
Sometimes when we face challenges, it seems like Jesus is asleep in our boat. There doesn’t seem to be any intervention from Heaven as the storm rages and the waves come into our boat, making us feel like we’re going to sink. Where is Jesus in those moments? we may ask. Is he asleep in the boat? How dare He sleep when my life is falling apart all around me?!
It is those times that we must remember that if Jesus is asleep, it’s not that he doesn’t care about our lives; it’s that he knows there is nothing to be afraid of. When we allow him in our lives, all will be well. It may not always go the way we think it will or should, but those are the times it turns out even better.
And when we know that truth for ourselves – that Jesus can calm the storm both inside our boat and inside our hearts, then we have an extra measure of peace to lend to our friends who may not yet know that for themselves.
How to Win (over) Enemies
We are witnessing things right now that have not happened in any of our lifetimes, and people are panicking. But when we know what the source of peace is — Jesus Christ — then the storm need not rage in our own personal lives.
It will probably become more and more common to encounter people who only want to argue. It doesn’t matter if they are right or if we are, but there are people who will argue regardless of facts or truth. Jesus also taught us the key to win over even the most difficult people: “Agree with thine adversary quickly…” (Matthew 5:25). That doesn’t mean we have to change our own minds to agree with that person (especially if we know they’re wrong). But saying something like, “Oh yes, I understand what you’re saying,” will do more to open another person’s mind to hearing a different point of view than any amount of facts or statistics will.
Everyone wants nothing more than to be heard and understood. Jesus, the ultimate friend, understands that principle better than anyone else. He is always willing to hear and listen to us, even when he knows we’re wrong. Surely we can do the same for other people.
Fix Me, Jesus!
Jesus is the great fixer. Born as a carpenter’s son, he certainly knew his way around a workshop and tools. And yet He does not expect us to fix anyone, especially other people. When friends come to us with problems, it is too easy to want to jump in with a solution, or what we think is best for them to do in that situation. And let’s face it: we think it’s best simply because it’s what we would do, not because it’s necessarily the best thing for that person. The Lord has the answer for us in those scenarios also: “Therefore let your hearts be comforted…, for all flesh is in my hands; be still and know that I am God” (D&C 101:16).
We can — and should — be a listening ear to a friend in need. And usually that’s all that’s needed for the person to come up with their own solution. Sometimes a different point of view is needed. But rarely is a solution needed or wanted. Be still. Listen to the friend. Listen to the Spirit to know what words to say. Then get out of the way and let the Lord do the rest.
Jesus knows no one can ever be forced to love Him. Love for another person comes when we show “long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and by love unfeigned, by kindness…which shall greatly enlarge the soul…” (D&C 121:41-42). He will never force us to love Him, nor can we ever force anyone to agree with us, or to be our friend. The only way to true friendship is to love the other person for who they are, not for who we want or expect them to be.
When we come to love Jesus — to truly love and trust his mercy, goodness, and love — then we will know how best to love others. It is through love and friendship that we can then minister as Jesus demonstrated during his earthly ministry. When we love Jesus, we don’t need reminders from our parents our church leaders about how to take care of those who are in our stewardship, for the people who need to be ministered to by us will always be on our minds. The Spirit will whisper to us who needs us and how, and when we are living our lives in such a way that the voice of the Spirit easily penetrates our thick skulls, this will come consistently and regularly.
Ministering As a Friend
Sharon Eubank recently wrote, “At its core, ministering is a tenderness; an ability to see someone for who they are at their best and a willingness to help them with anything they want or need in order to be better. I believe this tenderness is exactly how our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ look upon us in all our mortal frailties. They want to help us be our best, and ministering cuts both ways. It helps the person who ministers and the one receiving the ministering.”
My own life has changed for the good because I had a friend who saw me for who I was, instead of the circumstance I was in. Her outside perspective of what my life could be instead of what it was was like a slingshot to bettering everything about my life the moment I believed I was capable of more than what I was doing.
Sister Eubank also outlines four basic fundamentals of ministering, that sound an awful lot to me like how to be a good friend:
- Lead with compassion.
- Refrain from passing judgment.
- Keep confidences.
- Show love to others, even if their lives are different from ours.
If you are a person who is in need of being ministered to, and feel disappointed that no one magically shows up at your door with a fresh batch of cookies when you’re at your lowest point, do not allow anger or discouragement to dictate your relationship with that person. As Elder Holland reminds us, “Imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to him, but he deals with it. So should we.”
When we are need of ministering, rather than be resentful if it doesn’t come soon enough or at all, Jesus also tells us how to manage this situation: “Ask and ye shall receive.” Sometimes people just don’t know, and that is okay. We are not expected to live in a vacuum or tough it out if help doesn’t come soon enough. But sometimes blessings or answers don’t come until we ask. In order to receive, we must be willing to ask. We cannot expect any behavior from any person, for unmet expectations is a sure formula for a failed relationship. And expectations are our own responsibility, not anyone else’s.
Friending As a Minister
“As we deal with viruses and disasters and personal heartaches—ministering is the way the Lord sends us to each other. It is how we can each become the answer to other people’s prayers. It is revelatory. It will encourage others. It will refine our generosity and tenderness. It is part of gathering Israel.” (Sharon Eubank, Church of Jesus Christ blog, March 15, 2020.)
These few ideas of relationship and friendship management are not comprehensive. When we allow Jesus fully into our lives and are willing to follow his example, more ideas will come to us in our respective needs and unique situations. And when we lay down our lives for those in our stewardship, we also become His friend. “Even so I say unto you, ye are they whom my Father hath given me; ye are my friends” (D&C 84:63).