They're a Family-Friend
I recently moved (yes, again) from Honolulu, Hawaii back to the mainland. Although I was only out there for a few years, the people I came to know and love became my family. So many people on that little island pointed me to the person of Jesus, called me back to myself when I had forgotten, and now hold little pieces of my heart. I’ve moved quite a bit, and yet it was one of the hardest moves I have had up to this point. My last night on Oahu was spent on the beach with some of my best friends eating pizza, drinking wine from mugs, and both laughing and crying as the sun turned pink and set itself down to rest. We sat under the stars—freezing cold, but warm from laughter—and tied the night up with prayer, as everyone laid hands on me and prayed over the season that was closing and the season that was to come. And it was hard… really hard. That night I laid in my bed and ugly-cried; somehow overwhelmed with both joy and sorrow.
So, not long ago, as I read through a piece of scripture in Acts in which Paul is saying goodbye to leaders in Ephesus, I felt it differently than I ever had before. Acts 20:36-38 (ESV) says, “And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.” As I read through the scripture this time, I was heartbroken for Paul and his community; I felt sad for him as he left these people who he likely did life closely with for several years.
I always stop to think about why I get “stuck” at particular pieces of scripture. In this case, as the move was fresh in my mind, it seemed obvious. Moving is hard. Leaving community is difficult. Saying goodbye feels yucky. Plus, these folks know they won’t ever see Paul again (v. 25), which makes the goodbye all the more difficult. But I still felt stuck, so I started to think about why, after moving several times in my short life, this move was so difficult for me. I started thinking about why this move in particular brought me to tears so easily or why I felt such a deep sadness upon leaving my community.
And I think that I wept partly in selfishness, because I was comfortable in my community and rebuilding a new one sounded exhausting. I wept partly in fear, because these people I did life with introduced the Kingdom to me in ways that I’d never tasted before, and I was scared that I wouldn’t find a community like that again. I wept partly in deep gratitude, for something being so good and so beautiful and so hard to leave and that I got to be a small part of it—even if just for a while. And I wept, as most people do, partly in sorrow, as it dawned on me that it isn’t normalized in most communities to wrap up a dinner party in ardent prayer and heartfelt words of love.
As I think back to Paul, wrapped up by his community who were all in tears, I realize that this man was deeply, deeply loved. This man wasn’t that guy you play hoops with every once in a while, or that girl you get coffee with when you actually have some extra time. This is the friend whose house you stay at when you have nowhere to live. Or who you call at 4 a.m. when you’re in tears and can’t calm down. Or who helps you both move in and out of your apartment. Or who fronts your water bill when you don’t have the money on hand that month.
It’s sad to leave any type of friend. But it is wildly difficult to leave those kind of people—the people you do life with deeply and in all circumstances. The people who take extra care to ensure that those around them feel championed and loved. The people who call out different parts of you, pieces of yourself you didn’t quite know were there. The people who spur you to growth and goodness and kindness—to the person of Jesus.
So, I believe, that Paul was treasured because he did life passionately with and for people. He knew how to speak to people where they were at (Acts 17:22-34), bridge the Gospel to everyday life (Philemon 1:17-20), and see those around him as family and image-bearers (1 Corinthians 1:1, Galatians 1:1, Philippians 1:14, 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:5, Colossians 4:7, 15, Romans 7:1, 4, etc.).
C.S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, says,
“In a perfect Friendship this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest. Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together; each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. … Life — natural life — has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”
Paul, surely, was an example of this love. And I know it to be true in my own life, that when I am around a person who brings out the best, wisest, or funniest in others, that I am humbled and often in disbelief of the fact I get to call myself friends with such a person. I can think of a large handful of people in my own life who do this and can say without hesitation, that it’s that person who sets the tone in their community. And that tone, friends, will forever-change people. It has forever-changed me.
Please Note: All of these theoretical examples of a good friend are not theoretical at all, as they are each real-life examples of my community. Indeed, I very often “wonder what I am doing here among my betters.”