IVP - Strangely Dim - Accidental Friendships

November 14, 2003

Accidental Friendships

by David A. Zimmerman

I boarded a bus to Florida with the youth group I was working with. My seat partner was a sophomore whose parents had decided she needed “church friends.” Being ordered to spend a week on the beach would usually be OK, but a larger issue clouded this trip: she had been told who her friends should (and would) be.

Such relational tyranny offends the ears of a “free society”: our ancestors fought wars for the freedom of association, among other things. But even if we can pick our friends, does a pure freedom of association really exist? We are stuck in this time and place, and we have to make do with the people here with us—I can’t make friends with Moses, for example. The Internet doesn’t eliminate these boundaries; I can’t form a virtual friendship with someone who doesn’t have Internet access any more conveniently than I can be pen pals with someone who can’t read.

So there are people I can never, for all practical purposes, be friends with. On the flip side, there are people I can be friends with without any real effort. I didn’t meet every neighbor before moving into my neighborhood; I didn’t interview every coworker before taking my job; I selected my church without much thought about who sits in the congregation. And yet my neighborhood, my job and my church (among other social networks) all place me in these “accidental” relationships.

The Bible tells us it’s not good for us to be alone, and so we aren’t alone. God made a number of us: first one (Adam) and then the other (Eve). They had to cultivate a climate of friendship, which involved both hospitality (Adam’s welcoming of Eve) and incarnation (Eve’s entering the reality of Adam). Whether we are outside looking in or inside looking out, neither one is an easy task. Either way we find ourselves suddenly grafted to the same tree.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood the fragile nature of “life together”:

“The serious Christian . . . is likely to bring . . . a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.” (Life Together)

It’s a foregone conclusion that we’ll be hurt by others, and we’ll hurt others. But moving from coexistence to friendship requires the willingness to enter into this give and take in full awareness of both our failings and the failings of our accidental friends.

My seat partner and I finished that trip to Florida as friends, more aware that friendships are hard to come by and hard to maintain. The emphasis lies first on the climate we set: whether we are willing to risk rejection as we place ourselves into the reality of others, and whether we are willing to make room in our reality for the sudden entrance of others. Either way it’s hard, but either way it’s worth the effort.


“Accidental Friendships” first appeared in Student Leadership Journal, a publication of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at November 14, 2003 11:47 AM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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