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Draw near: Praying to act like a friend

Lynne Baab • Tuesday April 25 2023

Draw near: Praying to act like a friend

Six years ago, I won an award for an article arguing that to be a neighbor we need to nurture our listening skills. (That’s the only time I’ve won an award for an article. It was a cool moment.) Here’s the opening to the article:

Many years ago, I heard a sermon on the prodigal son. “Who is my neighbor?” the teacher of the law asks Jesus (Luke 10:29). In response, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end of the story, Jesus asks, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (verse 36).

On that Sunday long ago, the preacher said that it’s helpful to think of “neighbor” in Jesus’ question as a verb rather than a noun. In other words, “Which of the three men in the story ‘neighbored’ the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” To “neighbor” someone is to act in a certain way. 

In much the same way, I want to encourage us to pray that God would help us to act like a friend. In other words, to view the word “friend” as a verb. As I pray about friendship, I find it helpful to focus less on a friend as someone I “have,” and more on what it means to act like a friend. 

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the etymology of the noun “friend.” Linguists believe it originally came from a verb meaning “to love or please.” Therefore, the roots of the noun lie in a verb. We still have a verb related to friend: “befriend.” For me, acting like a friend is not exactly the same as befriending someone. Befriending seems to be about initiating a friendship. Acting like a friend, with anyone we encounter, is about opening ourselves to the other person and who they are and attempting to act like a friend in that moment.

We use “friend” as a verb when connecting with someone on social media. Social media friending has some similarities to what I’m recommending here — acting like a friend — because friending is an act that requires initiative. However, social media friending raises many other issues that are not my topic today.

Acting like a friend is similar to “neighboring” someone. The focus is on my actions in this moment, not on whether or not I have a friend in an ongoing way or whether the person I’m interacting with actually lives in my neighborhood. Friends are a wonderful gift, and nurturing friendships is a significant post-pandemic topic. I believe that acting like a friend is one part of nurturing friendships. In addition, someone who is not a long-standing or future friend might need someone to act like a friend today. So acting like a friend does two things: it helps us nurture friendships and enables us to act lovingly right now. We might act like a friend in person or by any form of communication, including texting, emailing, writing a note, making a phone call, or, yes, posting on social media. 

Last week I wrote about praying to embrace our limits. I quoted Kelly M. Kapic, who wrote a book with a title that captured my attention: You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News. In the interview I quoted from last week, one of the questions focused on how we can begin embracing our human limits. The first half of Dr. Kapic’s answer recommended prayer, which I discussed last week. Here’s the second half of his answer:

 “The second way is related to the first: by cultivating the gift of encouraging and celebrating others. It’s a spiritual discipline, a healthy way of dying to yourself and encouraging others. We are all [longing] for someone to pay attention and notice our presence and being. When someone articulates that, it’s life changing.” [1]

He has presented a good description of what I mean by acting like a friend or treating friendship like a verb: encouraging and celebrating others, paying attention and noticing someone else’s presence and being, and articulating what we see. 

We can’t do this all the time. Sometimes we are tired or on a task, and we simply can’t take the time or energy to encourage, celebrate, pay attention, or notice that person with whom we are interacting. But we can ask Got to help us do it when it really matters. We can ask God to help us set aside our fatigue or preoccupation at the right moments so we can act like a friend to the people around us, including family members, acquaintances, someone we have encountered for the first time today, or people we already consider friends.

For your prayers, I commend the five verbs from the interview with Kelly Kapic — encourage, celebrate, pay attention, notice, and articulate. We can ask God to guide and empower us as we seek to show love in these ways to the people in our lives.  

(Next week: praying for hope. Illustration by Dave Baab: café at St. Clair Beach, Dunedin, New Zealand. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

Some related posts and articles:

[1] "Learning to Love Your Limits," interview of Kelly M. Kapic by Erin Straza, Christianity Today, January/February 2022, 80-81.

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