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When I Befriended the Friendless

Written By Pearle Chua, Singapore

I met John when I was working at a library in Singapore. He had a routine he performed every morning when the library opened. First, he would greet everyone loudly and shake hands with the library staff present. Next, he would head to the counter to scan his expired identity card as he half-mumbled and half-declared to everyone that he has paid his bills to the government. Then, he would show the library staff his documents and again declare that he has paid his bills, before finally heading to the multimedia station.

Everyone working in the library knew John, and he was known as our “regular patron.” It was obvious that John had a mental illness, but no one knew what type of mental illness it was. Sometimes, he would get into quarrels with the other patrons at the library. There was even one time when the library staff had to call the Institute of Mental Health hospital to settle his case. Whenever we spoke of John, it was always with raised eyebrows.

At first, I would just shake hands with John in the mornings and mind my own business. But then I recalled the second most important commandment in the Bible, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). I tried to practice this command in my daily life, at school, at work, and with family. But what if my neighbor was someone who lives on the margin of society?

As I thought about the commandment, I began to see John in a different light. I tried putting myself in his shoes, and thought that if I were John, I would have liked to be accepted by people around me. Finally, one day, I plucked up my courage to talk to him, as a way to show Christ’s love to him. I casually chatted with him as he shook my hand, and from then on, we would often talk in the mornings.

My colleagues were surprised by what I was doing. Some started to refer to him as my best friend. While I was not afraid of John, I was worried that he might disturb me at work. Would he demand to see me when he got into trouble at the library? However, I decided to release my fears to God, and sure enough, that did not happen. Instead, John got along better with others as I became his friend, and that gave me the assurance that God was at work supporting me as I reached out to John.

I showered John with my friendship, giving him presents for Christmas and birthdays, and eventually invited him to my wedding. That’s when the breakthrough came. Although John could not make it to the wedding, he asked me to bring him to church. I don’t recall telling him that I was a Christian, but maybe he guessed from the fact that I was going to have a church wedding.

Through our conversations, I learned that John and his family were from India, but he came by himself to Singapore on a scholarship when he was much younger, and has stayed here since. John is very smart and has a master’s degree.

However, John was diagnosed with schizophrenia two years ago, when he was 55. People suffering from schizophrenia often hear voices and imagine that they are being persecuted or controlled. This can damage their relationships with others, and in severe cases, can make one lose the ability to function in everyday life.

Though John now takes medicine to keep his schizophrenia under control, it has robbed him of the ability to work. His life was turned upside down, and he now lives in a one-room rental apartment in the poorer part of Singapore, relying on government subsidies.

 

The Turning Point

Going to church was a big step for John. Anxious to return to society, he spruced up his appearance by buying new clothes and getting a haircut. At church, he approached people to introduce himself. He smiled and shook hands.

Unfortunately, these efforts were not enough for John to become accepted. People noticed John’s social awkwardness immediately. John would be too anxious about introducing himself that he would insist on shaking hands with someone who was in conversation with another person. During the introduction, he held on to people’s hand longer than usual, which made some of the girls feel a little uncomfortable. He also did not hesitate to tell others that he has schizophrenia.

When he joined a cell group, John was so excited to attend that he arrived at the host’s house two hours earlier. Taking down his cell group members’ numbers, he often called them because he was lonely. Unfortunately, everyone would be busy at work.

To help John cope with his loneliness, I taught John how to use WhatsApp and Facebook. My intention was to get him to use WhatsApp to strike a conversation with his cell group members via text message instead of calling them. However, John did not use WhatsApp and Facebook the way I expected him to. Instead, he would enthusiastically send meaningless photos or posts to everyone he knew. He would also take photos of his cell members without them knowing and post them on Facebook or send them to others without their permission. This was too much for some people and they started blocking him.

The tipping point came when he used my Facebook account to start conversations with my friends, and even called them using the Messenger app, which caused some confusion for my friends. I quickly stopped John and did my best to explain how he should conduct himself according to social norms. While John was a little disappointed when I corrected him, he took it in good stride.

John was also getting on the nerves of the people in church. However, they tried their best to show love towards him. Eventually, some members of John’s cell group started reaching out to help him. Two men in church felt prompted by God to guide John. They stepped up as male role models for him. One of them would meet up with John for a meal every Friday to talk to him, find out more about him, and give him feedback on his behavior. John was receptive to their feedback and started attending church regularly.

Additionally, John’s cell group made the effort to include him in cell outings and lunches after church. Whenever they were not available or had no outings, I would invite John to join my cell group or join my husband and I for outings.

Without us noticing, John learned to get along better with others. At the library, John no longer scans his identity card at the counter or show his documents. He is friendly to everyone, and sometimes helps out at the library. No one avoids him anymore, and some even comment on how John has changed. When John went back for a visit to India, his family was surprised and shocked to see how much he has improved.

At church, John no longer holds on to a person’s hand for too long during an introduction and the women at church now feel at ease with him. He is also able to maintain some conversation with others, something that he struggled to do at the start. John has now become a part of the church congregation, such that whenever he is not at church, people would ask about him.

By God’s grace, after attending church for a year, John confessed his sins and accepted Christ as his savior. God’s amazing grace also softened his family’s insistence that John should stay a Hindu, and now they accept that he is a Christian.

My friendship with John has shown me how powerful God’s love is, and how His love, through us, can change lives for the better.

Why Do I Long to Feel Loved?

Written by Rachel, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

I grew up in a warm and affectionate family, and have never needed to work for my family’s love.

However, I’ve found that I am easily jealous for the affections of my close friends. Whenever my close friends are more concerned for other friends than they are for me, I feel an inexplicable sense of disappointment. When they forget to invite me to gatherings, I feel sad and abandoned, thinking that they do not love me.

Being single, I also desire a partner who loves me. In times of sadness, I often wish I had someone who would encourage, comfort and support me. Though I may not be actively looking for such a person, I wish in my heart that I had a special someone to spend time with.

I have always wanted others to empathize with me during my difficulties. When I struggle with my studies, I want to be encouraged and supported. When I face challenges in my relationships, I want a friend who would offer me advice and help.

I yearn to be first in others’ hearts. I long to be treasured and loved. Yet when I hold my friends to certain expectations, it is only a matter of time before I am disappointed. Perhaps the disappointment stems from high and unrealistic expectations. As a result, I become very unhappy in my quest to seek for love from my friends.

When I realized that seeking to feel loved makes me less content and joyful, I decided to change the way I deal with my longing. Though I want others to love me and care for my feelings, I am learning that I should do likewise for them. My desires should urge me to understand those around me—who similarly desire to be loved and cared for. Instead of seeking to be loved, I need to love and empathize with others in their weaknesses and sufferings.

So whenever the longing arises, I would ask myself the following questions:

1. Does God’s love satisfy my longing?

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)

Have I forgotten the love poured out to me by Jesus Christ, the Great High Priest? I am deemed righteous because of His atoning sacrifice on the Cross. Can’t the love of God fill my heart completely? Or have I not truly reflected on and accepted this truth?

Neither the love from friends nor a partner can fill the emptiness within me. After all, they are imperfect humans who need to be loved and cared for just like me. Only the love of God can satisfy us. I am already loved, and by a perfect Love! I do not have to worry about feeling loved. Instead, I ought to love those around me—with the love that has been poured into me. When I came to this conclusion, my heart was filled with a renewed sense of gratitude.

I have since learned to take the initiative to care for those around me. All of us inevitably face difficulties and grow weary in the course of life. Being able to encourage and lend a hand of support to my friends during such times can make a huge difference in their lives.

 

2. Am I pursuing a misplaced identity?

Is a moment of negligence by a friend really that important? Do I have to be offended when I am not my friends’ first priority? I took some time to reflect on these questions, and was reminded that my identity is that of a child of God, not merely a popular friend.

Romans 8:16-17 says, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

My pursuits should be in line with my identity. As a co-heir with Christ, I have access to a love that can fill me with greater joy than any friends will ever be able to. Whenever I’m tempted to reach for the love of my friends instead of seeking God for comfort, I tell myself that I am first and foremost, a child of God.

 

3. Am I allowing my insecurities to get the better of me?

Perhaps one of the reasons why I struggle with this question is because I’ve had low self-esteem since a young age. I have always thought that I was neither pretty nor smart, and have always found it hard to find favor with people. Because of that, getting affirmation from my friends and even a partner became really important to me.

But God’s love has shown me the value I have in Christ. I am bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Jesus Christ suffered on the Cross so that I am deemed righteous by faith. God created me to glorify Him, so how can I look down on myself?

Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

My low self-esteem, insecurities and fears cannot separate me from the love of God! This love comes from Jesus Christ alone, and it cannot be found in our friends, family or partner.

 

I couldn’t help smiling as I pondered the answers to these questions in my heart, because I know that I no longer have to long for the feeling of “being loved” when I have the greatest love of all. And because I’m a child of God, I have the privilege of helping others fill their longing to be loved with the love of Christ.

There are times when I still revert to my old mindset and feel neglected by my friends, but remembering God’s truth about who I am helps me to refocus my actions on loving others and showing the love of Christ to them.

1 John 4:12 says, “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”. When we love, encourage and forgive one another in fellowship, others will see God’s love in us.

Why Is It So Difficult to Make Friends?

Written by Ashley Ashcraft, USA

It started as a simple plan—“Come meet us at the splashpad with your little ones.” This email from the Children’s Director at our church was a great idea. Moms bringing their toddlers to play on a hot day: a good plan, yes?

Then why was I so terrified to go? Why did the idea of meeting other young moms fill me with such anxiety that Monday morning?

I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Others have told me that making friends as an adult is not easy for them either. I met most of my good friends in high school and college, and the few friends I’ve made since then are typically several life stages ahead of me. For some reason, there is a sort of barrier with forming friendships with people my age.

Often, that barrier is a set of unspoken expectations or fear of comparison. For example, when I’m with other “young moms,” I feel the pressure to fit in with that mold. I wonder what they think of how I’m disciplining my daughter, what they think about whether I work or stay at home, and the list goes on.

I end up so concerned about what they think, and so focused on my own choices, that I am not able to interact with them as a friend. But you know what? Other young moms probably aren’t sitting there worrying about me and my decisions; they’re likely worrying about their own decisions and what people think of them!

It’s a ridiculous cycle. But here’s the deal, I find that when I’m free of this cycle, free of the pretense or expectations, I am free to be myself. Perhaps that is why I am more able to be a friend to people in different life stages, or with people I’ve known for years. There isn’t the same flawed expectations and sense of comparison.

As I’ve struggled with this, God has continued to impress on me several things:

 

1. Don’t be afraid to look outside the box

First, we need to broaden our expectations about friendships. We need to realize that “our people” might not be who we thought they would be. I’m reminded of Mary, mother of Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth. The Bible tells us that when Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she went to spend several months with Elizabeth, who was many years older than herself (Luke 2). We don’t exactly know why Mary sought the company of someone so much older, but perhaps she felt judged by people her own age, for being unmarried and pregnant? Whatever the reasons, the several months that the women spent together must have been something special.

In my own life, I have also found unexpected friends. At school, for instance, people might expect me to fall into the group of “young teachers” on staff at my school. And while there are many young people on staff that I love dearly, in actuality my dearest friend on staff at school is twice my age.

Sandy and I meet for breakfast regularly, and we laugh and giggle and pray and cry together. With Sandy, I find wisdom, experience and perspective, instead of competition and comparison. It would seem to the outside world that we are an unlikely pair, but with her, I’m free to be myself. I don’t have to struggle to fit into the mold that is expected of “young teachers today.” I don’t need to worry about being “cool” enough or “liked” enough. Through my friendship with Sandy, I realize that we should not be afraid to look outside the box when it comes to friends.

 

2. Focus on who God says you are

Secondly, while we surround ourselves with diverse friends, what do we do with our peers? Do we just give up on making friends who are in the same stage of life?

I think we can be reluctant to reach out to our peers, because we worry we are falling short of a certain set of expectations. But where do these expectations come from? My ideas of what it means to be a good wife, a good mother, a good teacher—are these expectations something I created and imposed on myself?

There is no doubt that social media has exacerbated this issue of competition and comparison. We see the best and the brightest on Instagram, and we aim to align ourselves with that image. If we fall short, we feel as if we’ve failed. When I can’t meal plan as efficiently or cook meals as delicious as all those other Pinterest users, I feel like I’m not as good a wife as they are. No wonder I’m worried what other young moms think!

But here’s the problem—though social media intensifies this type of competition and comparison, ultimately it isn’t social media’s fault, but mine. I am the one allowing these voices to shape my thinking about who I am. I let these voices get louder than the One Voice that matters, and as a result, I am insecure and self-centered.

But when I allow God’s voice to shape my thinking, I am no longer captive to thinking about myself when I stand in front of another person. I already know who I am. I know to whom I belong. I am free to be selfless, to love, and to encourage the person in front of me, because I am no longer preoccupied with getting myself affirmed or patted on the back. I am free to be a friend.

So, I need to steep myself in the Truth of God more than the “reality” of social media. This means asking some hard questions of myself: What do I turn to when I first wake up? What do I prioritize in my day? What gets my attention?

We have the ability to choose whose voice we listen to. Will we step forward confidently in our friendships because we already know who we are? Or will we meander, anxious and ineffective, constantly looking for affirmation and trying to be good enough, but never quite getting there?

 

3. Welcome others

Jesus told us to come to Him like little children. He does not set flawed expectations. He does not want pretense. He does not mind doubts. There are no restrictions on who I have to be, no meaningless standards I have to live up to. I am welcomed because I’m loved. If I can just stop thinking about myself, then I can look closely at those in front of me. Who are they? What do they love? What do they need? How can I be a friend to them?

C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, says that if what you want out of friendship is a friend, then your purpose is misaligned. I’m beginning to see how selflessness is key to being a friend. Instead of friendship being about us getting something (a friend), it is more about enjoying and delighting in a common bond or shared experience together. What do you enjoy? Who do you have something in common with? Begin there. Begin by sharing and enjoying each other’s company, not in trying to get something out of it.

A few years ago, at the first meeting of a small group with our church, we played an icebreaker where everyone talked about the toys they loved and played with as a kid. It was amazing to see walls and barriers come down and people being able to bond over their love of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Polly Pocket. A common experience to enjoy or reminisce on can do wonders for friendship-making.

 

4. View friendship as a process

In friendship, we will never be able to say “I’ve arrived.” Friendship is not an end result, but a process—the winding road of ups and downs, of grieving at a friend’s dad’s cancer diagnosis, of rejoicing in a positive on a pregnancy test, bringing meals during a sickness, or having a dance party when you need to let off some steam. True fellowship is about living life with people all along the way, enjoying them as God’s blessing to us, not about “getting a friend.”

So, I went to the splashpad that morning. It wasn’t life-changing or altering. I tried to be kind and smile. I spoke to a few girls I recognized from small group. One lady I didn’t know introduced herself to me, which was kind and gracious.

It was nothing huge or momentous, but it was a small step toward vulnerability, toward selflessness, toward making friends and building relationships with the other young moms at church. I’m taking it one step at a time, trusting His voice about me, thinking of others before myself, trying to enjoy life and each other as gracious gifts from our good God.

My Friend Is In God’s Hands

Written by Constance Chan, Singapore

Yen* and I walked down a narrow alley in silence. A few days earlier, Yen had sent me a text message: “I want to go to this clinic where you can check for AIDS…” He had gone for a medical check-up prior to messaging me and the doctor had raised some troubling news.

We went, but were told to go back later—or it was the wrong clinic—I cannot remember. Leaving the clinic that afternoon, Yen was silent. And I had nothing to say. I prayed and hoped hard that Yen was not HIV-positive, feeling a great heaviness and powerlessness to do anything to help him.

A few years before that visit to the clinic, Yen had called me late one night. There was desperation in his voice. It sounded like he had been crying. I think if he had not been so depressed, he might not have shared what he had shared then. Yen said that he was upset with a good guy friend because this friend seemed to take him for granted and paid a lot of attention to others. Yen then admitted that he was in love with this friend but felt suicidal because that love was not reciprocated.

That was an unexpected revelation, but not entirely surprising. As Yen spoke, I realized that I had been carrying this fear for a while, that one day he would tell me that he is struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA). I do not recall what I said to Yen that night, only that I listened and did not say much, partly because I did not know what to say or do.

In the last few years of journeying with Yen and a few other Christians with SSA, what stood out for me was how little I knew about what to do and how to relate to them rightly. I respected Yen because he was always honest with where he was with God. I saw how, at times, he had faith and trusted that homosexual acting out was not God’s will for him. At other times, he was angry at God, doubted God, or just wanted to not care or think about what God thought of homosexuality or of him.

I knew that he hoped God might allow him the blessings of living together with a long-term male partner. Yen knew I subscribed to the orthodox position that homosexual acting out was against God’s will, but at times when Yen was questioning and struggling with God, I often wondered, was I supposed to be communicating more about how his sexual acting out is sinful? Was I supposed to warn Yen more about the temptations of hanging around gay friends? Was I supposed to do more for Yen?

Looking back, perhaps it was good that I did not know what to do, because it made me listen to Yen more and empathize before giving any hasty advice or counsel. It gave me the enormous privilege of crying with Yen when things were hard, helping him come before God when he felt ashamed and wanted to confess sins. Aware of my utter helplessness to do anything to take away Yen’s SSA feelings or make his questions, doubts and anger at God go away, I realized that I could only trust God with Yen. Praying for him was the only thing I really could do for him.

What was not helpful to Yen, especially in the first few years journeying with him, was how I amplified his struggle with SSA over any other struggle or aspect of his life. I was also unconsciously comparing myself with Yen and concluding that his SSA struggle was greater than any struggles I had or could have. And this manifested in the way I responded to him on one occasion. We had agreed to meet up for coffee one day. But he had failed to confirm the details the day before our meet up, and also did not answer my calls on the day we were to meet. It was only a few weeks later that he apologized and explained that he had been really busy the whole day with work and, therefore, had not replied to the message I had sent.

My first thought then was that it was okay; after all, how could I hold Yen accountable for his rudeness and inconsideration when he had such big struggles in life to battle with? It was only later that I realized that, in some way, carrying Yen’s secret about his SSA struggles was causing me to treat him with kid gloves, to expect less of him than I would with other friends, to see and treat him as a victim because of his SSA struggles.

As a result, I had also refrained from sharing much about my personal struggles and problems with Yen and did not let him be a friend to me although I demanded of myself to be readily available to lend a listening ear to Yen and be there for him when the need arose.  Unconsciously, I had treated Yen less as a peer, a friend, and more as if he were a needy case God had assigned to me.

 

We Are All Wounded

That changed when I got to know of a discipleship ministry that cares for people struggling with relational and sexual issues while I was in Vancouver. As I heard brothers and sisters share openly about their struggles in the ministry’s small groups, I recognized that no matter the specific nature of the sins each of us struggle with, all of us have been wounded by others and are wounding others. And before God, we are all unable to respond rightly—whatever the nature of our sins.

What was more surprising was being convicted that I was not excluded from this. When I compared and downplayed my struggles and sinful tendencies in relation to Yen, I was conveniently turning a blind eye to all that trapped me from a free and loving response to God or others.

Realizing that, I resolved to treat Yen truly as a friend and a peer, someone who, like me, needs community and friendship but also someone who is responsible before God for all that he chooses to do or not do.

As I did so, I found that I truly enjoyed Yen‘s company—beyond just wanting to spend time with him to help or fix him. God was enabling me to see Yen beyond his SSA struggle as a person with strengths and weaknesses, with traits that really annoy others as well as ones that were truly admirable and fine. I also started sharing more of my life with Yen, revealing my true self, and how I wanted to be respected and treated as a friend as well.

The problem with comparing Yen’s struggle to mine and amplifying his struggles, was that it made me doubt that God could really do anything to help Yen. Though I prayed, I didn’t really believe that God would do anything for Yen. It was as if I had more empathy for Yen’s plight than God did. It was only as I increasingly noticed how much I also needed God to deliver me from my own sins and saw that God truly could and did meet me in my places of pain and emptiness, that my confidence in God’s care and His ability to transform Yen grew.

***

Let’s go back to that day when Yen and I visited the AIDS clinic. We eventually found out that he did not have HIV. I don’t know what Yen thought of this outcome, but I am convinced that God did do a miracle that day and kept Yen from HIV infection. For me, that was a profound moment. I saw that Yen was and is in God’s hands. And that God did care for him greatly and cares more than anyone can to lead Yen to Himself.

Also, knowing that Yen has had experiences that make it hard for him to deny that God is real in his life has helped me pray for Yen with more faith. I ask that God have mercy on Yen and on me, that God draw Yen nearer to Himself daily and that Yen, like myself and any other person, would daily live more and more into the life that Christ died on the cross for each of us to live.

Nowadays when I see Yen, I find myself thinking this: I do not fully understand your struggle and why God allowed it. I know this causes much pain, confusion, and loneliness. I do not know what God is doing in your life. However, I trust (some days I do and on other days, I want to trust this!) that whatever He does in your life, or in mine, is truly for good—real solid good that we will be able to “taste and see” one day. For now, what I do know is that you know God and you know God’s voice, just as I do. So, can we help each other hear and respond to God’s voice today?

 

*Not his real name. Changed for confidentiality purposes.

This article was originally published in Good News For Bruised Reeds: Walking With Same-Sex Attracted Friends by Graceworks. Republished with permission.