花儿也在成长 The flowers are Growing too

Intrigued by this sign when I was walking along a housing estate in Beijing:
花儿也在成长,请勿扔垃圾哦 (the flowers are growing too, please do not litter).

We too are work in progress. It is important to have supportive friends who are genuine as they encourage us in our journey of life. Through the ups and downs, they stand by us.

Negative friends, on the other hand, will stump our growth or derail us from the purpose God has called us to be.

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” —Proverbs 27:17

As we walk with God daily, may we too, be an encourager and stand by our friends as they step into God’s destiny for them.

Friendship takes work

Friendship takes work to nurture but wonderful friends are worth the efforts.

I have been blessed with wonderful friends in my life. Looking back, I have not been a wonderful friend myself as when life gets busy, friendships are the first thing I neglect.

As American writer, O. Henry wrote, “No friendship is an accident.”. Friendship needs to be nurtured. Building a friendship takes work — from both people. It is worth it because true friends are life’s gems indeed.

Different friends bring different gifts into our lives. Some bring the gift of laughter, some challenge me to be a better person, some I don’t see often but they are just a text away.

As Maya Angelou says, good friends certainly will make our life extraordinary. To my good friends, a big thank you for being a part of my life.

Soul Friendships

Soul friends nurture our souls and point us to God.

The purpose of soul friendships is growing together in Jesus Christ. Jesus had demonstrated love for us and had commanded us to love one another. 

Soul friendships aim to nurture the life of our soul. Saint Brigid of Kildare, a 6th century saint in Ireland, who honoured the tradition of having soul friends, said God is very near when we are in the company of a true soul friend.  

Soul friendship is distinctive because it is a relationship that is marked by vulnerability, self-disclosure, compassion and understanding and bond by a love that is centred by prayer and joy. It aims to support growth in holiness and in love for God and for others. 

Saint Brigid has been a soul friend to many others. It is definitely hard, or rather, impossible to walk on our faith journey without spiritual companions.

May God provide soul friends for us as we journey on in our Christian faith so that we can enjoy the rich blessings of having spiritual companions in life.   

Some Friendships May Drift Apart, and it is ok

Today is your birthday. A decade ago, it was such a big deal! We would meet up and celebrate your birthday. After all, you deserved nothing but the best in life! Rewind back to 18 years ago, we were sitting in your parents’ car, and they would drive us to fancy restaurants for meals. On a weekend, we would drive 45 minutes to sea food restaurants by the beach. I felt special because your parents took me instead of your other friends. I did think you enjoy our friendship as much as I did.

Those were the good days.

When I was studying in Singapore, you flew over on the Eve of Lunar New Year to spend the new year together. We had a simple reunion dinner at China Town. I can not recall the dishes we had. Those were the days before camera in the phones were clear and sharp. But what was clear in my mind was that we had a great time. It was such a joy seeing you again, despite the fact I had only moved to Singapore last July. I took you around Singapore and sent you off at the airport with a heavy heart. These memories seemed not so long ago. They were so vivid in my mind.  

2 decades ago, we would often hang out. With our other friends, we would go to the movies and we go bowling. Those were the things the young people did then. Back in those days, we didn’t have a lot of choices for entertainment.  

You brought me to places I hardly go — you opened up my world and told me not to be so naïve. You critiqued my sense of fashion, you thought I could do better. You introduced me to your siblings and I met your friends too.

The memories remain. Today it is your birthday. But I did not send you any Birthday greetings. I had not been doing so for the past few years. The last time I saw you from a distance was when you were fetching your kid from the tuition school. It was just a casual wave to say “hi”. Nor did we exchange text messages after that. 

After my studies in Singapore, I felt we were miles apart. We had different things in life. We did meet up a few times, but there wasn’t any similar topic of interests anymore. You got married to the man you loved, and I pursued my calling as a pastor. Eventually, you got busy with your children. I visited you on the birth of your firstborn, and I did not visit anymore when your other children were born. I was never married. I had a hard time keeping up with their birthdays, although I know their names. How old are they now? We had tight schedules. And our free times do not match each other’s.

It does take effort to pick up from where we left off years ago. In fact, it will need so much effort on our parts to reconnect again. That was why we silently agree to let our friendship die. I don’t text you anymore, you don’t text me anymore. We let each other go. And we have peace with that. 

In some other friendships, we can easily reconnect again and seems nothing has changed, even if we do not stay in touch constantly. But not in our friendship. Even if I do see you today, I will not know what to say. You may not know what to say. It may be just a wave to say “hello” or “goodbye”.

Perhaps it is a part of life. Someone once dear to us can be a stranger.    


Signs that you are in a toxic friendship

Life is an interesting journey. Throughout our life, we meet a lot of people: there are those who are lovely, those who became dear to us but unfortunately, we will meet some nasty people too.

Not everyone we meet is for us. Some seem to be our friends— until our heart tells us otherwise. Here are some signs that you are in a toxic friendship:  

1.Your friend puts you down

It may be something you are wearing, or something you plan to do. Instead of wanting the best for you (we all make mistakes from time to time and we need a trusted someone to correct us), your friend only mocks you and make fun of the way you look. She finds opportunities to put you down, though it may be her way of hiding her insecurities.

2. There is always competition

Whenever you are with your friend, there is always a sense of competitiveness. Whatever you do, she will try to belittle you or to one step you. Yup, everything of her has to be bigger and better than yours.  

3. She does not celebrate your successes

True friends celebrate our successes. They want to see us achieve our goals and encourage us during tough times. We will also celebrate their successes when the spotlight is on them. The toxic friend, however, will make you feel unworthy for succeeding!

4. She takes you for granted

 In a healthy friendship, both friends give and take. In the toxic friendship, however, she takes and takes from you, and hardly ever reciprocate.  

5. She gossips about you

A friend should make you feel safe and loved. Someone who gossips about you does not have your best interest at heart.    

7. She doesn’t appreciate you for who you are

With true friends, our different personalities are celebrated. With the toxic friend, you will feel judge for being yourself. She is always giving unsolicited advice to change you.

8. She makes you feel uneasy

One of life’s greatest joys is being able to enjoy healthy and wholesome friendships with others. Hanging out with good friends is therapeutic. It energizes us, gives us courage to conquer the day and brings us great joy. When I am with my good friends, we will be sharing our hearts, knowing that it is a safe space to do so. There are also delightful moments when we burst into happy laughter by cracking jokes. We laugh and we cry together.  The atmosphere is light, relaxing and refreshing.

But if you have a friend that makes you feel horrible about yourself and you dread to see her again, it may be your internal alarm sending you a signal that it is better to establish healthy boundaries with her.

How Does a True Friendship Look Like?

The Bible is God’s love letter to us in which it talks about His faithful and great love for us. It is also a manual filled with wisdom and instructions for us for our daily living.

The Bible talks about the relationship God has with us, as well as our relationship with Him. It also talks about our relationship with others: our family, our employer, employee, co-workers, friends and enemies.

The Bible paints portraits of godly friendships in the Bible which makes us smile when reading about their deep love for each other. I think about David and Jonathan, Naomi and Ruth (though they are mother-and-daughter-in-law) Jesus and Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

True friends are hard to find. How does a true friendship look like?

1.True Friends Point us to God

True friends encourage us in our daily walk. I know my true friends are keepers because they risk our friendship to tell me what I needed to hear rather than what I wanted to hear. It hurts but that is how I can grow and be mature as a person and as a Christian (as a pastor, too!).
“Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiply kisses” (Proverbs 27:6, NIV)

2.True Friends Encourage your dreams

Have you ever met a friend over lunch and afterwards you feel so motivated, refreshed and inspired to tackle the world (may be the world is an overstatement…) or to tackle the challenges in your life? Or your friends open your eyes to see the world from a fresh new perspective. True friends are able to exchange meaningful conversations and also point us to the wonder and beauty of God and His creations.
True friends will not be ashamed to share about what God has done in each other’s lives. True friends will encourage your pursuit of your God-given dreams.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another…” (Proverbs 27:17, NIV)

3.True Friends Pray for Us

One of the best gifts our friends give us is prayer. They keep us close to their hearts by remembering us in their prayers and then they will follow up with us to see how we are progressing.
Carry each other’s burden, and in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

4.True Friends Are People with Character

The Bible makes it clear that we should choose our friends wisely.
“The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26, NIV).

The friends that we choose to spend time with heavily impact our thought patterns and character. Choosing friends with godly character will make us more joyful because we are walking in the path that pleases God. Choose friends who love the Lord and who bear good fruits in their lives.

Because we live in a fallen world, we are all sinful people. True friends will forgive each other and move on. We don’t hold on to grudges or keep them in our hearts.

5.True Friends Chose to Love Us

There may come a period of time where we are going through some tough issues and we are not who we used to be. In this season, we may whine more than usual or become overly anxious or get into the self-pity mode. True friends will not leave us but they will listen to our whines, pray for us and encourage us. It may be just a phase but it will be clear who your true friends are. They stick with you through your ups and downs.
“A friend loves at all times…” (Proverbs 17:17)

Bonus tip: I enjoy it when my friends are also friendly with my parents. Since childhood, my parents know my friends by their names. Since then, I have many more wonderful people coming into my life. And my parents know them by name or at least have met them face to face. Now that I am an adult, it pleases my heart when my friends and my parents know each other and enjoy a meal together.

If you have not introduced your friends to your parents, perhaps you can try to arrange something simple and yet relaxing so that they can know one another and enjoy a wonderful time?

The Joys of Friendships

Recently, I watched on Netflix a movie called, “The Heat”. It is a cop-buddy comedy starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy.

I am a Sandra Bullock fan and would watch any movies with her in it. I would often replay them for at least a few times.

In this movie, Sandra Bullock played an FBI Special Agent, Sarah Ashburn. She was a workaholic who lived alone, an arrogant police and could not get along with anyone. Melissa McCarthy, on the other hand, played a foul-mouthed Boston police detective, Shannon Mullins. At the start of the movie, Sarah was sent to Boston to bring down a drug kingpin who happened to be followed up closely by Shannon. That was where she met Shannon, and Shannon had made it very clear that she did not like another person to interfere with her case. In order to be eligible for a promotion, Sarah agreed to her boss’ order that she worked together with Shannon to solve this case.

It was a rough start. Both of them bickered and quarreled but as days went by, they learned to watch out for each other and to appreciate each other.

In the end, as with most comedies, it was a happy ending. They cracked the case, Shannon received an award, welcomed Sarah into her family and called her a “sister” which was meaningful as Sarah did not have a family.

I laughed throughout the movie. I loved the natural and dynamic chemistry between Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy! I loved their teamwork! I enjoyed watching them working together.

I took my phone and WhatsApp my buddy—my Shannon or Sarah, and told her about the movie.Just like Sarah and Shannon in the movie, we were the complete opposite of each other. We had different upbringing, different culture, raised in different cities, liked different things and we didn’t even speak the same dialect when we first met! Somehow, we gelled. We managed to make this friendship work. There were times when we irritated and annoyed each other to the maximum but we knew that whatever we were going through, we would be there for each other. The love of Christ is the foundation of our friendship.True friends are hard to find.

Below are three joys of having friends in our lives:

1. Friends help us to enjoy God

I am an introvert but I can testify that great friends are given by God. Ephesians 5:18-19 says, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart”. Some of the enjoyable moments in life are just having fun together in the Lord.

2. Friends keep us accountable

John Wesley had his covenantal group which held each member accountable. Every time when they met together, they would ask each other a set of questions and they had to be honest when answering them. The purpose of this was to keep each other holy.

Good friends watch over us with love and make sure we are on the right track. Friends speak the truth to us in love (Ephesians 4:15).

Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses”.

In my own life, friends speak into my life and give me rebukes when necessary so that I am living a life pleasing to God. The rebukes are painful but they help me to be a better person.

Good friends will love us enough to continue inspiring and encouraging us to grow as a person, as a citizen in this world and as a disciple of Christ.

3. Friends bring us before God in prayers

Life’s burdens and problems can weigh us down. They are heavy for us to carry them alone. Good friends will not only listen to us when we need listening ears, they will also pray for us. How wonderful to know that we are not alone in our struggles but that there are faithful friends who are bringing us before God in their intercessions.

I would love to hear from you: How had you been blessed by your friends? Leave a comment below!