Several years ago, I was driving through a scenic mountain pass in Pennsylvania when the song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” came on the radio. I thought about all the times I’ve called on Him as a friend, especially those quivering pleas when things go haywire in life. Comfort comes just knowing that He’s always there listening to me. Although I’ve heard the song many times, the words gripped my heart that day while winding through the twisty bends on the mountainside. Yes, Jesus is my friend. But, I wondered - have I ever really reciprocated that role?
Friendships have always been my lifeline. The old campfire song I once sang as a Girl Scout, “Make new friends but keep the old, some are silver and the other's gold...” is my heartbeat’s motto. Over the years I’ve learned that “friendship” is a "give and take" action verb. It requires listening, sharing joys and sorrows, trusting, praising, and nurturing each other through quality time spent together. Also, I’ve realized that both sides need to make an effort.
With Jesus, I haven’t always lived up to my "giving" part of a true friendship. Until recently, I never felt that He really needed anything from me other than my ongoing attempts to follow the “Golden Rule” - sometimes stumbling along the way.
As a child, I learned about the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Truth is, God the Father once seemed beyond my heart's reach with His outpouring of wrath in the Old Testament. As a child, I was terrified of His fury, believing that I wasn't holy or perfect enough. After fighting with siblings or disobeying my mom, I was overwhelmed with the fear of dying and going to Hell before I could confess my sins. It is Jesus, the Son of God, who assumed the role of "Father" for me in my formative years. Maybe it was because I could identify with His humanity, unconditional love, and forgiveness more than I could relate to His father's wrath. As for the Holy Spirit, I didn't really think about the role He played in my life until I was much older. I remember the first time I physically felt His energy penetrating through my tearful prayer. A calmness swept over me and I knew it was the Spirit of God. He answered my prayer with a message that I wasn't at all happy with. But in the end, it turned out to be the best ever answered prayer!
That morning, going through the mountain pass, I thought about the Trinity and how we all play various roles in our lives. I'm a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend - just one person really. But each of those roles allows me to be who I need to be at any given time. For the next several miles, I thought about the roles that God plays in my life, and I realized that it's Jesus who plays the greatest role as a friend. Yet, He's been doing all the giving and I've been doing all the taking. Yes, what a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer, but it was time for me to nurture our relationship. It didn’t matter if He was the Father or the Son, it was time for me to listen to Him - to hear what He might need from me in this friendship.
The next morning over coffee, I imagined Jesus sitting with me and silently attempted a heart-to-heart conversation with Him as I have with my, well, friends. But unlike the coffee chats with my other friends, my mind kept wandering off. It was sort of like texting another friend while having coffee with Jesus. Let me just say this - chit-chatting with Jesus didn't come easy, even when stimulated by coffee. Like always, though, He was listening as I asked for direction in the give-and-take friendship I desperately yearned to share with Him.
His answer came at church the following Sunday when The Lord’s Prayer took on the pulse of new life. Words I’d been saying by rote since childhood, not thinking about what they really meant, penetrated my heart’s core. For years, I’ve been asking Him to give me my “daily bread” when all I’d ever offered Him in return were the crumbs of a friendship. Next came, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” This passage suddenly kindled my shortcomings, flaming the reality that I was unfit even to say the prayer.
While Jesus forgives us through divine grace, I’m not so blessed with a God-given expenditure of unmerited mercy, especially towards those who have intentionally hurt me. Although my heart may be a stranger to hate, it often holds grudges and resentment with a firm grip. And sometimes forgiveness takes days, months, and even years to work through. Most often when I need to soften and re-shape my heart, I turn to the words of Mark Twain – “Forgiveness is the fragrance that a violet sheds on the heel that crushed it.” And my heart takes a deep whiff of the crushed violets, sometimes even a double whiff. I must admit that I smell nothing at times. Other times, though, I catch a faint scent of sweetness that I can’t describe, other than to call it God's grace.
Actually, this blue business of true grace is quite new to me. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, the nuns often talked about grace - a noun that could be measured in the soul after much suffering, sacrifice, and good deeds. As an adult, I realized that grace, like friendship, is more of an active verb - pure goodness that can penetrate the depth of our hearts and souls at any time.
Forgiveness is a huge part of that goodness, and it can be quite liberating when it truly erases all of those trespasses against us. Like theologian Lewis B. Smedes once said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” He also noted that "Forgiveness is God's invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And He invites us all to forgive each other."
It's up to me to accept or reject His invitation. I want to share a real friendship with Jesus, so of course, I'll accept His request. Yet, I know the roads aren't always perfect when traveling through the heart. I may take a few detours on the way to "forgiveness" and may not arrive on time. But through the grace of God, I am determined to reach the destination so I can be worthy of a friendship with Him.