Face It, Girl, You Need a Friend

“…woe to him who is alone when he falls
and has not another to lift him up!”

Ecclesiastes 4:10b

In the latest issue of Tabletalk Magazine, Nöel Piper, wife of pastor John Piper, shares openly about her struggle to drop the mask, lower her defenses, and allow friends close enough to truly love her. I would imagine that each of us as women can learn something from her story… 

Over the years, when my husband and I have tried to untangle some of the snarls in my life, sometimes he’s ventured to ask, “Nöel, don’t you think it might help to have some women around you to offer other perspectives and to pray for you and maybe give some helpful suggestions?”

I knew he must be right because King Solomon said the same thing…in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a, that it’s good to have friends because they support each other: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow.”

…So my mouth said to my husband, “That’s a wise idea.” But my heart cringed at the thought of letting people close enough to poke around in my weaknesses, my mistakes, my faults, and my inadequacies. I decided that I needed to get my life sorted out, then I could include friends–someday, when I could be a giver instead of a taker. “I ought to be able to manage all this,” I thought…

Then came the day in the counselor’s office when he said, “Tell me the names of four or five godly women you’d be willing to be totally open with.” I rolled the eyes of my heart. Not this again.

I told him who those women would be (if I were going to be totally open with someone). I thought: “He’s going to counsel me to think about drawing them around me sometime soon. I’ll say OK and then drag my feet a few weeks until we’ve moved on to other things.”

But he didn’t leave me that escape route. Instead, he said: “When you get home, contact them today. Ask each woman if she can commit to be here with you at our appointments, starting next time. Their wisdom will be part of our conversation. And they will be a support to you in the days between appointments.”

“Right,” I thought pessimistically. “Those are busy women. They have their own problems to deal with. I’d be presumptuous asking so much time from them.”

But I did as I was told. I went home and emailed four women a message that boiled down to this: “My life is a mess. Will you help me? But I know you’re really busy, so please say no if that’s best for you.”

I pressed the send button, hoping they’d all say they couldn’t. That thought was barely complete before the replies showed up in my inbox–four people who said they felt inadequate because of their own struggles, but they were honored and would be with me at the counselor’s office on Monday. 

As minimal as my email confession had been, it was enough to poke a small hole through the curtain I’d been living behind–the screen that allowed an audience to see only a shadowy outline of me. On my side of the curtain, I was amazed to sense the thin beam of light and the breeze of fresh air making their way through the hole.

Already I could breathe a little more easily because now there were four women with whom I could start to relax, since I wouldn’t need to maintain with them the tension of projecting or protecting an image of the person I thought I ought to be.

Yes, this would be good in the long run, but in the meantime, what? The day came to meet with the women and the counselor…

In that session and in the days to come, as these friends opened themselves to me, my heart warmed to them and I felt more and more freedom with them. We came to trust each other with the tender places of our hearts.

In Proverbs 27:9, Solomon might have been writing about my friends: “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.” God used them to make my heart glad…

I was sixty years old when this story began–when I was forced to have friends. I am ashamed that, until then, I could have remained so ignorant of what God intended friendship to be. At the same time, I am filled with gratitude that God didn’t leave me alone…

I am still an introvert. My dream day still is a day by myself, but only once in a while. I thank God for the women he gave me when I needed to receive friendship. I pray that God will shape my heart to give friendship like they do–like Jesus told us to: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Jesus said, “I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). He is the one I most want as a friend. I don’t want ever to be totally alone, without Jesus. I thank God for friends who have shown me Jesus’ kind of love. They have been an appetizer for the feast of Jesus’ friendship.

Photo: ilker

Shedding Light on Dark Thoughts

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life…”

Matthew 6:25

In a recent edition of Tabletalk, the monthly devotional magazine of Ligonier Ministries, a number of pastors and theologians combined their skills to produce a collection of fictional letters entitled “Letters from the Abyss.” These letters follow the pattern of C.S. Lewis’s famous work, The Screwtape Letters, with senior demons providing their young apprentices with advice on how to ensnare believers in sin and frustrate their effectiveness for Christ. The purpose of both The Screwtape Letters and “Letters from the Abyss” is to help believers avoid ignorance of Satan’s devices (2 Cor. 2:11) and successfully resist his schemes (Eph. 6:10-18). 

I found the following letter on anxiety by Chris Larson to be especially applicable for us as women. The more quickly we realize that our anxious thoughts are not of God, the more quickly we can submit to the Lord, resist the devil, and see him flee (James 4:7).
[Remember that in this letter “the enemy” refers to God.]

Dearest Oriax,

What?! You’re worried because your subject is worried? You seem to think that his fretful concern and persistent questioning will lead him to find answers with the enemy. Let us reassure you that such is rarely the outcome. The more these humans wallow in gnawing uncertainty and narrow-mindedness, the more they will come to resemble our cowering condition instead of patient confidence in the enemy’s will.

They call it “anxiety,” and you would think it’s a virtue they cultivate as often as possible. Lest they repent and grow closer to the enemy, do not let them understand anxiety as a link to that ancient sin of their first father, Adam; namely, that of pride. Oh, how we delight in that triumph of our father below! It is still so hard to believe we convinced Adam that he actually needed something more than what he had been given by the enemy. Ah, the cosmic treason is even now so delectable to our memory!

But I digress. Let this Christian confuse anxiety with sober-mindedness. Convince him that he is being diligent and careful, that it is others who are not being wise. Suggest to him a name for this: let’s tell him that he is being “realistic.” Give him an illusion of control, thinking he can manipulate circumstances so as to remove all trouble. Indeed, let him think he is better than lilies and sparrows, fretting about to add one more day to his short life. Oh, yes, keep him busy in worry and let him think that he hasn’t yet worried enough (the way humans second-guess themselves is particularly humorous to watch). Thus will anxiety’s cycle perpetuate itself, with very little involvement from you. We should mention in passing how helpful anxiety is to our cause, since people can be so preoccupied with this or that worry and effectually neglect a whole host of duties and care for others.

Relish his refusal to know what we know. Indeed, our situation is in the greatest peril when once our subject begins to focus outside of himself. The enemy wants His people to rest, even to be still, trusting that He cares. In fact, even we’re worried at times because we still haven’t come up with an effective countermeasure to the promises the enemy makes.

Your Master,

[Tabletalk, February 2011, p. 9]

Photo: Robert Radermacher