Yesterday I realised that my circle of friends has altered dramatically in the last few months.
Once a friend, always a friend in my book, regardless of values or belief systems. But when I stopped to think about who these new friends were in my world in the US, I realised that most of the people I have got to know are of the same faith as me - Christian.
Yet that wasn't the case while I was living in New Zealand. I seemed to have a much more varied group of people in my life, who believed a variety of things and who always challenged me on the way I did things and why. It was my favourite option; a group of people of different nationalities, beliefs and reasonings on life and vastly different dreams for life.
Yet, I've moved to Mammoth Lakes, a party mountain town in California, and my circle now happens to mostly be people who believe in the same God as me, and attend the same church as me.
Following a recent conversation with a friend, I reflected on the connections I had established in this current season of my life. Why hadn't I given any consideration to who was and wasn't in my circle? Should I have been more specific in choosing to 'outreach' or 'influence' in this season with people who didn't believe? Or was I okay to really just embrace a circle of friends who already believed the same as me?
I say this tongue in cheek, because you can't force friendships. It would go against everything I value if I were to split my friends in a clean line down the middle by faith - a non-believers side and a believers side.You can't go looking for 'projects' so you can feel smug in the fact that you're ticking the evangelism box. That's not what friends are in your life for!
Let me give you my personal non-wikipediaed version idea of 'the project'.
I would describe a project friend as when part of the motivation of that friendship is to purposefully exert a Christian influence on them, hoping that someday they may just plead with you, 'Take me to church!' You hope that one day they will be added to the Christian friend clan, and so behind closed doors, you pray for their salvation and in the meantime, you feel like you've got that 'non-Christian' friend box ticked.
The question I want to ask is why do we have a tendency to divide friendships and people in this way - 'Christian' vs 'non-Christian', 'believer' vs 'non-believer'. Does it really help to label our friends in what they are not - i.e a 'non-believer', rather than focus on what they do have and who they are?
And do the friends who don't believe the same as 'us' (in this case I'm referring to readers, who will most likely be a Christian audience for the sake of the discussion!) actually feel 100% loved by their believer friends, who treat them as if they are enough as they are? That they are loved and don't need to change? Or is there always a slight feeling that they are a secret project, that really their Christian friend is waiting for them to know Jesus and become just the same as them?
Don't get me wrong - it was the most exciting thing when my surf buddy came to faith. Seriously - it blew my mind that someone could turn around in their thinking in the way that she did. Yet when I look back, she encountered a group of people who passionately loved Jesus and while they talked about faith, and there were definitely doors opened for her if she wanted to walk through (which she did), she never experienced a sense that she wasn't enough as she was. We weren't waiting impatiently for her to have faith; she encountered Jesus because of seeing a group of people love life and do it differently.
What if our main focus was to love our lives and love our friends, despite what they believed and how they did life?
That actually the richest of friendships in life can be the ones that challenge our belief systems and the way we end up doing things. I don't believe we are designed to solely do life with carbon copies of ourselves. While it's amazing to have spiritual family in Christ, we were also designed to question, and what better way than to genuinely hear the hearts of our friends around us. And in that, I mean listening to the stories of their hearts (instead of listening but having an agenda - waiting to tell them our side of the story straight afterwards).
Still, I would love for some of my friends to take a step towards faith, and sometimes when they share something with me, I know in my heart that so much of the issue at hand would be so different with an encounter with the Holy Spirit... and that prayer really does work.
But I don't want to have the core of each of my friendships based on me waiting for them to know my 'truth'. I believe my truth is 'the' truth of course, otherwise why would be believe what I do? But if I always have the attitude that I am right before loving who they are - just as they are - they will always feel like I'm waiting for them to change, to be different.
Some of my friends who have different beliefs to me show some of the most incredible Kingdom values - and if I'm a little more onto it, I see how they can influence me for the good in some of their ways. Because I'm not just wanting to bring 'church' to earth, but 'heaven to earth.' And so if bringing heaven to earth means establishing kingdom here and kingdom principles, then perhaps I alter my mindset by enjoying and celebrating those times that any of my friends bring heaven to earth. Perhaps they just don't know they are doing it yet...
Originally from The Lake District in the UK, Amanda worked in Publishing in London and Auckland and is passionate about seeing Christians bring salt and light into the media, arts and creative industries. She's currently spending a six month sabbatical in the mountains of Mammoth Lakes in California, skiing, adventuring and writing.
Amanda Robinson's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/amanda-robinson.html