Lifestyle videos. Viral Instagram feeds. Mom blogs. Pinterest inspo. We consume an incredible amount of imagery and content that tells us what our lives are supposed to look like. From pinning a photo of a model in a messy bun holding hands with her fashionable beau, to liking a post announcing a friend’s engagement, to staring at lifestyle videos with Kygo playing in the background as bikini-clad babes and their boyfriends jump into the ocean- it’s subliminally simple to become obsessed with an image of “positive” relationships.
Slowly but surely this forms what we think our day-to-day relationships are supposed to look like. I begin to form expectations that my romantic partner should be fashionable but not arrogant, adoring but not needy, chiseled but not a model, well-off but not greedy, and chill but not lazy. I begin to form expectations that my friends should be beautiful but not discouragingly so, cool but not exclusive, influencers but not out of my league, and should always be ready to take candid pics of me. Right?
When I look back at the times I connected the most to people in my life, I find that those moments are not necessarily Instagram-able. It was the nights that I spent pouring my heart out and weeping in my best friend’s bedroom as she read the Bible over me that actually made that friendship great. It was the look of kindness in my partner’s eyes as I blabbed about all the things I was stressing about that said “Hey love- you don’t need to worry right now” that stepped me back to the Lord’s presence. It was the times that I confessed my deepest mistakes to my mentors that set me free. But instead of trying to pursue these kinds of moments, I am concerned about what coffee shop we’re going to, what we’re wearing, what drink I should order, and what photos we can take.
Solomon’s wisdom tells us in Proverbs 18:24, “Some friendships don’t last for long, but there is one loving friend who is joined to your heart closer than any other!” (TPT) A lot of the relationships we foster don’t actually dig that deep. People will give a couple of seconds to look at your Instagram post only to toss a like and keep scrolling. Our online image has a surprisingly short impact on the people interacting with us. It is so easy for someone we know to be on to the next post, the next article, the next story, and the next text. And in person, I have plenty of cool, talented, and influential people and artists that I am friends with- but it actually comes down to who gives me the time of day.
The Holy Spirit is the ultimate example of what a friend or relationship should feel like. Not in a “Jesus is my boyfriend” kind of way that completely throws away the possibility of rich interpersonal relationships. But that the Holy Spirit is intensely loving. The Holy Spirit rides alongside, it doesn’t desert, it sticks close. The Holy Spirit hears and detects every unhinging, breaking, and failing in your heart. The Holy Spirit deeply knows all the parts of your mind that no other human will ever know about for the rest of your life. Because of this, we know what to look for in the people we choose to surround ourselves with.
Instead of people who only love themselves, we should be around people who love outwardly. Instead of people who only stay with you when you’re doing well (or when you’re not doing well so they can feel better about themselves), we should be around people who stick to your side no matter the season you are walking through. Instead of people who are flighty, we should be around people who are grounded in the love of Christ. We need people in our lives who will not be lifted away by every passing breeze of self-fulfilling fancy.
Luckily God promises us not only His fulfilling presence, but He promises us community of people to point us to Himself. God speaks to the people of Israel in Jeremiah and says, “Return… for I am your Master. I will take you… and I will bring you to Zion. And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (verses 14-15). God has the authority to give and to take away, and this goes for relationships too. God will provide people who have the grace to guide your heart to fields of goodness, mercy, and grace. The deepest burning desire of God is to get you closer to His heart, so you can bet that He will place people in your life to do so! And at the end of verse 15, God gets more specific with what kind of people these relationships are: people who support others with knowledge and understanding.
Considering this, a great filter for friendships and relationships is utilizing these two points. Do the people in your life know God? Are they taking action to know God even more? Are they helping you to know God more? This isn’t about finding the most book-smart theologians to be friends with. This is about how the more one knows God, the more they love Him. And the more they love God, the more they know Him. It’s a cycle of growing, a trajectory of gaining the truth of God. If this cycle is broken, if the trajectory is lacking, this friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend may just be broken in their heart and may be lacking a revelation of God.
Not only is knowledge valuable in relationship, but understanding is equally essential. If a doctor is knowledgable about a simple disease but does not understand how to cure it, that doctor is not helpful to the diseased. If a person in your life is very knowledgable about how you need God, but does not understand how to help you get closer to Him, all they offer is speculation and judgement. The fruit of the knowledge of God is the love it takes to impart that knowledge to others. This application of relationship is the hardest to get right; actually having understanding for others is so much more difficult than just knowing what’s wrong with others’ walks with God.
The relationships in our lives may never completely nail the balance of knowledge and understanding 100%. And perhaps this balance will fluctuate. But discerning the people around us and seeing what directions they are pointing us in is crucial to who we will eventually become. As Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” If we walk with people who know God and have understanding for others, we can also learn to grow in knowing God and understanding others too.
To stay and to go. Relationships are an ebb and flow of a tide constantly shifting through seasons and levels of depth. It is promised that God will provide people who will point you to Him. God’s heart is absolutely so desperate to have yours close to Him that he will place people in your life to challenge you, love you, question you, advise you, and be there for you in your walk with God. He did not promise us in His word that our relationships would be glamorous. Our relationships are not promised to be impressive to others, Instagram-able, or to offer us prestige or popularity. But they are there to be a sweet, sweet sound to God’s ears when we discuss His heart with each other. Our relationship break-throughs are there to sometimes go unseen and unheard by others, but cherished and valued by each other and by God. Our relationships may never feed our pride or hunger for fame, but they can point us to the God who fulfills our need for love and kindness.