Friendships and faith
By Larry Platner
I entered the student café and had a look around for someone who might be interested in answering my spiritual survey. As usual I was nervous and fighting back the dread of being rebuffed and failing. I spotted one student sitting on his own and approached him. After introducing myself and explaining my purpose he agreed to do the survey.
Soon it become apparent that he wasn’t a Christian and hadn’t grown up in the church. Mostly I listened to what he said and only shared a few thoughts of my own. Then I asked if he would like to meet up again. He agreed and what followed were meetings over several years in which we became friends and had many discussions about the Christian faith.
“You listened to me”
Much later Joe (not his real name) told me that prior to our first meeting another Christian had asked to talked to him. He said that this person asked a few questions but then proceeded to talk about his beliefs. When asked if he would like to meet up again Joe said no. Joe told me that he agreed to meet up with me because “you listened to me, you showed me respect whereas the other person did not”.
Love and community
I am not typically in my comfort zone when having conversations about faith. For some it seems to come naturally but perhaps like me you find it hard going. I’ve had some good spiritual discussions but have often found it uncomfortable.
However, over time I’ve learned some valuable lessons. Where we live, my wife and I really value getting to know our neighbours. Our desire is to love them genuinely, and build community together. Early in our conversations with our neighbours we let it be known to them that we are Christians. We have found that as we get to know them better through kindness, hospitality, offering a helping hand, (and other ways) people share their stories with us, their life experiences.
Often in these conversations we ask them about their spiritual journey and they always respond. More often than not, they then ask us about our own spiritual journeys. We so value these conversations which helps us get to know our neighbours more and understand where they have come from and where they are going. It also gives us a better understanding of how we can give them hope and speak about truth, love, joy, peace etc in a way that will be kind and useful to them.
Recently we moved to a new city. We regularly go for walks around the neighbourhood and have met several neighbours in this way. One of them, Bill, regularly takes walks with another man who unusually follows behind him. I introduced myself to Bill and discovered that the other man was an old friend who had a mental breakdown and now lived with him. I asked Bill if I could join him in his walk and he agreed.
In our first walk together we talked about our lives, where we had lived, and our families. He mentioned that his grandfather was very religious and I asked him if he was religious. He said no, “I believe we come from nothing and go to nothing”. I replied by saying that I had come from a religious family but had not confirmed my belief in Jesus until I was at University. I then mentioned a few changes I had seen in my life as a result. From there we moved on to other topics. At the end of our walk Bill said he would like to take a longer walk together some time.
It is in this sort of manner, within normal conversations, that my wife and I have shared our belief in Jesus with neighbours who have become our friends. Taking a cue from my friend Joe, we’ve shown respect for our neighbours, not seeking to shoe horn topics around faith into conversation from day one, but responding when it does come up in the course of our friendship and normal conversations. Sometimes our spiritual conversations are only a few sentences like the one I had with Bill. Other times they are quite lengthy and we may even include reasons for why we believe what we believe.
We’ve realised that the receptivity to and credibility of what we say about Jesus depends a lot on our love for our friends. When they know that we truly value them as friends we can ask what they believe and have the permission to share our own beliefs. When one of our neighbours learned we were Christians for the first time, they very firmly said, “I don’t want to go there”. So we didn’t but we ended up becoming close friends with her. Three years later during a lunch with her, I asked her “Why did you say you didn’t want to go there when we first met?” She was not offended by my question and went on to share her experiences with Christians and the Church. After this, from time to time, she was happy for us to speak to her about God’s love for her.
Once people know that you truly want to be their friend most are open to hearing about your own faith when shared in a personal and conversational way. Their openness to this is determined by who we are to them. When I’ve asked people about their experiences, almost all said that it was the life, love and peace, of a Christian friend or friends that opened them to the idea of the Christian faith.
We pray continually for our friendships to deepen with those friends we already know and those we are yet to meet. When the topic of faith is raised there is still a bit of nervousness and dread, but nothing like before. As long as we’ve demonstrated our love and respect for our friends we’ve never been rebuffed and with most there is a shared interest in having ongoing faith conversations.