I met my grandma, my only living grandparent, two times in my life, once as an infant and once when I was thirteen. I grew up without any close contact or relationships with my aunts, uncles, or cousins. My parents grew up in abusive conditions, and they chose to keep their distance which is understandable. However, this pattern of isolation prevented them from learning how to develop and foster deep friendships or be healthy role models to follow. My parent’s loved God, but I didn’t have any way to know how to recognize God’s love in others.
Those of you who grew up in close, loving family relationships with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins have had the opportunity to learn how to create and maintain healthy respectful friendships. You’ve learned what it looks like and it feels like to recognize when a person is worthy to trust or when to walk away.
Those of you who grew up with parents or caregivers who didn’t foster deep, healthy friendships, like me, have probably been challenged to see the difference between a good relationship and a destructive one. If this is where you find yourself, take heart, because you can learn to be a good friend and to know when you have a trustworthy friend.
Isolation is a Primary Aspect of Abuse
In my abusive marriage, my isolation continued. Anytime I would begin to get close to someone my ex-husband would break off the friendship with their spouse or tell them lies so they would stop being my friend. In the midst of surviving I didn’t see the manipulation and reality as abuse because my abusive ex-husband would use this pain to prove there was something wrong with me. When I made my decision to leave my marriage, I found myself with many opportunities to make new friends, but I didn’t know how to find healthy friends.
The Guidelines of Healthy Friendships
Over the years with trial and error, I began to see God’s outline for friendship in the Bible. My discovery came about in a women’s Bible study I joined at church. I began to study the friendships in the Bible. I saw how each of the decisions in their friendships took a good or destructive toll on them and everyone involved. I saw that some friendships were a one-time event and some remained at an acquaintance level. Some become deep friendships that grew into life-long relationships. Jesus himself shows us we’ll have a greater heart connection to some people over others as he spent more time with Peter, James, and John than he did with the other disciples. Jesus didn’t love them more; he just had a deeper connection with them as you will with some of your friends.
After Christ’s death, Jesus instructed the apostle Paul to reveal how to recognize God’s love in others by seeing the fruits of their Spirit.
22 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-25 NIV
The seeds of these fruits of the Spirit are implanted in you at your salvation. However, it’s your responsibility to learn how to nurture these seeds into maturity in a progressive personal relationship with Jesus throughout your day.
I want to caution you not to look at the list of the fruits of your Spirit as a list of your shortcomings or failures. Don’t let the enemy bring words of condemnation to your mind and heart or use them as an indicator of your value in God’s eyes. Stop the devil from using any memories, unforgiveness, hurt, pain, or your insecurities to keep you from growing forward in your faith.
Instead, use the list to help you recognize where you are. Focus on growing your faith and the fullness of your Spiritual fruits. Let it spark a determination to partner with the Holy Spirit to help you transform into the likeness of Jesus. Likewise, use the list to see the mature spiritual fruits in other people you would like to befriend. Before you pursue a friendship with them, make sure you have prayed for God to give you the friends He knows are best for you. Continually ask Him to let you know whom to befriend and whom to avoid.
Choose Friends Wisely
When you see people who consistently exhibit a large portion of these Spiritual fruits, you are experiencing God’s love flowing through them. They are the ones who will love you and speak God’s truth into your life and help you grow. God will give you a variety of relationships, just like He gave His son Jesus. Some may start out great but may turn unhealthy when the true heart of your friend is revealed over time, just like Judas.
Don’t be surprised when the enemy also tries to sneak in a few unhealthy relationships. Just because a person goes to church, to Bible studies, and they exhibit some of the fruits of the Spirit, it doesn’t mean they’re truly following God. They’ll show you if they are worthy to trust with your heart over time. The wisest man in the world cautioned,
“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 4:23 NIV
Recognizing and experiencing God’s love flowing through other people builds up God’s church (all believers) on Earth. In healthy relationships, we can encourage one another to learn, to grow, and to keep each other accountable. People will always reveal what is in their hearts, minds, and spirits through their words, attitudes, and actions. Jesus shares an illustration in the book of Luke. Live in the substance of God’s love, and you will recognize God in them!
43 “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45 ESV
Follow God’s guidelines to be a good friend and to find good friends, and you will know how to recognize God’s love in others. You will be blessed when you find and foster these heart friendships as we are not meant to live life on our own.
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