The Story of a Friendship
Every summer at FCA Camp, Marla Williams prays that God will reveal to her one or two Huddle Leaders He wants her to invest in during the week—athletes for whom she can be that sharpening iron of the Lord. This summer, her pre-camp prayers were answered with stunning clarity.
In the first staff meeting at FCA’s Black Mountain camp in North Carolina, Williams, an FCA staff member in Alabama, felt almost an immediate calling to two young women from the U.S. Naval Academy: Ali Currier, captain of the Navy’s basketball team, and Aubrey Manes, an outside hitter for the volleyball team.
Knowing her pending role as a spiritual support for the women, Williams realized she’d need reinforcements. She called her long-time accountability partner and former college roommate/soccer teammate, Sarah Canatsey, in Florida and relayed the names of the two Huddle Leaders, asking that she pray for them throughout the week. Canatsey, a camp veteran herself, responded without hesitation.
Honoring the Lord’s direction, Williams immediately began making an effort to get to know Currier and Manes, even joining them for a 6:00 a.m. run on Sunday before camp began.
“I just asked as many questions as I could,” Williams laughed, “mainly so that they would do all the talking and I could keep up with them.”
Through her simple act of obedience, the Lord opened up an important line of communication between the three women. Thus, when Currier was asked to give her testimony in front of the entire camp, she felt safe turning to Williams for prayer support and encouragement. Williams, in turn, was able to share her own testimony with Currier.
(l-r) Manes, Williams, Currier, Cantasey
“The whole time she was telling me her story I could feel God tapping me on the shoulder to tell her mine,” Williams said. “When I was done, her eyes just got big, and she looked like a deer in the headlights. Through what I’d shared, she’d received confirmation about what she needed to share in her testimony at camp.”
As a result of this spiritual encounter, Currier went to bat for Manes, who also had been approached to speak at camp, and asked Williams to have a similar heart-to-heart with her. Williams obliged, and another spiritual connection was made.
That week, the new friendship served a great purpose. Many campers responded to the personal redemption stories of both Currier and Manes—neither of whom would have been as strong without the prayers and encouragement from each other or Williams. Not to mention the faithful prayers of Canatsey, who had been updated throughout the week.
“Looking back on it, I can say that Black Mountain was one of the top five spiritual experiences in my life,” Williams said. “It was because of situations like that and the way that God intends for people’s paths to cross.”
Beyond camp, Williams, Currier and Manes, now bonded with Canatsey as well, felt the desire to maintain the kind of spiritually beneficial friendship they had formed that week. They’d seen what had happened as a result of such comradeship, and they had no desire for the momentum to be stopped by the hands of geographic distance. Each realized the gift that she had been given in the company of the others—that it was a rare and precious blessing and was not to be taken lightly.
Over the past nine months, the women have devoted themselves to developing a healthy and Christ-centered friendship, lest they mishandle a bond they were asked to steward and develop for the sake of the Kingdom. The group has studied biblical examples of friendship, read helpful resources and sought the Lord through prayer. They have encouraged each other, sacrificed for each other, prayed for each other and, above all, have pointed each other in the direction of the cross.
Williams, Currier, Manes and Canatsey didn’t ask to become an example of biblical friendship, but that is what has happened. It is a work of the Holy Spirit that they have adhered to God’s standard for friendship and accountability. And their only desire is that by reading their words, you might do the same.
Definition of a Friendship
“The purpose of friendship is to turn each other’s face back to God.”
- Ali Currier
In order to understand how to manage a successful friendship, the first thing that these women—all of whom point to Scripture as the model—would want you to understand would be what a friendship is exactly.
The dictionary offers little help, defining friendship simply as “the state of being friends.”
Good thing Webster isn’t the final authority.
The Word of God, instead, offers abundant wisdom. The book of Proverbs alone offers a number of pearls outlining what it means to be a friend, which, when compiled, display a fantastic model.
For their own square of friends, Williams, Currier, Manes and Canatsey each—in separate interviews—offered nearly identical responses when asked the point of a healthy friendship.
“It is really, ultimately, to bring each person closer to God,” said Manes.
“It’s driving each other deeper into the heart of God,” offered Williams.
“The biggest part of friendship is the ability to know God better,” shared Canatsey.
“The purpose of friendship is to turn each other’s face back to God,” added Currier.
It’s doubtful that Solomon could have said it any better.
But, as any of them will tell you, there’s a lot more to pointing a person’s face to God than just praying and encouraging. A friend may be called upon to wear any number of hats at any given time. He or she may need to be a cheerleader one day, a shoulder to cry on the next, a heavy hand in times of sin and a fellow soldier in intense spiritual battle.
True as anything in life, these women acknowledge that loving one’s friends is a choice—one that takes daily effort and selflessness.
In his 1898 book Friendship, which Canatsey distributed to the group as a helpful resource, Christian theologian Hugh Black offered helpful insight: “Sentiment does not amount to much, if it is not an inspiring force to lead to gentle and to generous deeds, when there is need. The fight is not so hard when we know we are not alone, but that there are some who think of us, and pray for us, and would gladly help us if they get the opportunity.”
Fallacy of Friendship
Before a successful attempt at the biblical standard can be achieved, you also must understand what a friendship is not. First and foremost (and everything in between, according to these four), friendship is not an opportunity to replace God.
“I’ve watched so many people get wrapped up in togetherness that they forget the Lord,” said Williams. “They look at the gift and start worshipping the gift rather than the Giver. Satan will take a friendship that was intended for good and twist it for evil.”
|“When I only offer myself, I defraud my friends because I can’t deliver like God can.” |
- Marla Williams
Williams points to many biblical warnings against idolatry, which is ultimately what a once-pure friendship can become if it is not securely guarded. She says that friends can become so enamored of the blessing they’ve discovered in each other that they forget the One who gave them the bond. And not surprisingly, women can be particularly vulnerable to this attack, as their hearts often thrive on the emotional connection of authentic friendship.
“We’re always taught to guard our hearts in relationships with guys and to not let them replace God,” said Currier, “but we never hear about guarding our hearts with our friendships with women because it doesn’t have the end result of marriage.”
Unless a friend is aware of the pitfalls of idolatry, he or she is in for a rude awakening. These women have learned that one of life’s inevitable lessons is that even something as wonderful as a friend can never compare to our Heavenly Father. Humans are humans, and no matter how fantastic they are, they are still flawed by sin. They are not as wise, as comforting, as pure, as dependable as God. Thus, friends should never expect one another to replace the Source of each good quality.
As Paul illustrated in 1 Corinthians 1:25 (NIV): “…the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”
“When I only offer myself, I defraud my friends because I can’t deliver like God can,” Williams said. “But when I let Him be the focus of the friendship, I’m then free to enjoy the friends He’s given me. We need them. We need iron in our lives, but I’m not needy. I don’t suck the life out of my friends because I’m holding out my cup to them saying, ‘Please fill me up.’ No, God has already done that. I’ve gotten my meal from Him, so I’m free to enjoy dessert.”
Currier painted a great word picture of her own: “We’ve all heard about the hole that only God can fill, yet we so desperately want that hole to be filled by someone with skin on. We want them to give us a definite answer. We need their council; we need a hug for comforting. But all of those are attributes of God, what He is supposed to be to us. He is the Great Counselor. He is our Comfort. He is our Strong Tower to run to, our Prince of Peace. When we get in tough situations, we have to stop and ask ourselves if we are trying to fill ourselves with our friend instead of God. If we are, we must stop, turn around and run back to Him.”
In order to combat the displacing of God in their friendship, all four women have adopted a simple practice. If a situation of needed council arises, it is the role of the listener to ask the teller whether or not she has first taken the matter to God. If she has not, she is to hang up the phone, seek the Lord through prayer and His Word, and then return to her friend.
“We all know we need to run to God before we run to each other,” Williams said. “With those phone conversations and telling the other to call back after she’s gone to Him, it’s forcefully turning her face to God knowing the futility of offering ourselves.”
The quartet also offers a second tip in avoiding idolatry: seeking safety in numbers.
“When you’re in a circle of friends, you learn to not alienate yourself,” Currier said. “If it gets to the point where it’s just you and one other person all the time, it can lead to a dependency on that person that is only supposed to be put on God.”
|Friendship: An Examination of Conscience
Ask yourself these questions to find out if your friendships are healthy or if they are risking idolatry.
1. Am I jealous of my friend’s time?
2. When I am praying with my friend, do I place more importance on being with her or with God?
3. Am I able to truly pray for God’s will in my friend’s life?
4. When someone else is spending time with my friend, what is my first thought? My second?
5. Am I insecure about my friendship’s ability to last?
6. Do I fear God’s plan for my friend’s life? Do I worry if it will include me?
7. Do I have to be the most significant person at all times in her life?
8. Do I find myself manipulating circumstances so that we can spend time together?
9. Am I honestly excited when my friend gets to be used by God in another person’s life, or do I wish I could have been a part?
10. Am I jealous of signs of affection between my friend and others (gifts, hugs, etc.)?
11. Am I fearful of losing my friend?
12. Is God enough?
13. Do I have faith in God’s care over me?
14. Do I have faith in God’s sufficiency for me?
15. Do I understand that I deserve nothing of what I have?
Beyond idolatry, the group mentioned several other important points that must be addressed when discussing false definitions of friendship.
For instance, friendship is not:
1. An opportunity for gossip.
2. An invitation to absorb the life and habits of an admirable person.
3. An opportunity to dictate and monopolize someone’s schedule.
The last point is something the four women refer to as “stealing time.”
“You have to be planted where God has you, and we all have different realms,” Williams said. “Ali and Aubrey are both at the Naval Academy, but they have different realms there. Sarah is in Florida, and I’m in Alabama. We’ve all been planted in different circles of influence, and we all have to be present in each one. And there are times when we’ll have a great conversation on the phone, but we have to say, ‘I don’t need to steal your time. You need to go hang out with your roommate.’ That’s what it means to be present where you are.”
While they acknowledge that the refreshment and safety of the group is a vital necessity, they realize that it does not help anyone to abandon life outside of the circle simply because she is comfortable. Such behavior is regarded as either scared or lazy, and it does little to further the Kingdom of God.
“It’s like a game,” Williams explained. “Your team huddles up to get instructions and a pep talk, and then you go back out there and battle. The huddle is important because we need that encouragement and instruction so desperately; but if we spend all our time huddled up, we’ll never win the game. We won’t even enjoy the competition.”
Time for Friendship
Whereas some may find it tempting to spend too much time in the comfort zone of friends, others struggle to carve out the necessary time it takes to maximize a friendship at all.
Manes, who considers herself a constant “doer,” found it challenging at the onset of the friendship to slow down long enough to participate in the phone conversations. Over the course of time, however, she has come to realize what actions truly make a difference in eternity—what is worth it, and what is not.
“It takes time to relate to three other lives,” she shared. “Especially being here and balancing school and sports, it is so easy to get consumed that you forget about people’s hearts or your own heart. But I’ve really been shown that spiritual well-being is always more important than school or whatever else. If you take care of that first, then everything else is going to subsequently follow.”
Value of a Friendship
So many pitfalls. So many places to go wrong. Is friendship worth the time, tears and energy that it takes to keep it alive and healthy?
According to this group, yes. Undeniably. Without a doubt.
In fact, while each of the four women understands both the purpose and challenges of friendship well enough to recite them in virtual unison, the number of blessings they say they have received from each other beyond the spiritual growth were quite different. The only conclusion: The good outweighs the bad.
For Currier, it is rejoicing with her friends when God brings them victory. It is the safety of knowing she can share anything and not be judged. It is being able to help her friends see the Lord’s presence in their lives. “You watch what amazing things He is doing in and through your friend, and then you get to verbalize to them what He is doing in them. You are able to hold up a mirror to your friend and say, ‘Wow. Do you see how God is moving in you? He loves you something fierce!’”
For Williams, it is having someone there to call her to the carpet on things she either needs or does not need to be doing. It is learning more about God through what He is teaching each of them outside of their circle. It is being able to propel her friends to new heights in the Lord. “I always ask, ‘How do I make her a better teammate? How can I make her a better officer in the Marine Corps? How can I dream even bigger dreams for them than what they can dream for themselves? How can I sharpen them and make them more of what God has them to be already?’”
For Canatsey, it is realizing how much of a gift friendship truly is. It is knowing that she has friends who are going to battle for her in prayer. It is allowing God to provide accountability enough so that she will no longer deceive herself regarding sin. “Sometimes you are so used to yourself that you don’t see the whole picture. There is great vulnerability in speaking things out loud; and having somebody who has been given permission to call you out is invaluable.”
For Manes, it is learning to appreciate and cherish the differences in not only her friends but in all people. It is the encouragement of seeing smiling faces when she’s standing in front of a crowd. It is the confidence she receives from having sisters in Christ pursuing the same goals. “The utmost thing has been finding people who are truly seeking God and finding that that is enough. You might not even know them at first, but the commonality we have with God is enough. He will always go from there.”
The bottom line is this: God provides friends for a reason. But what these women have discovered is that how those relationships are handled is up to us. Mishandling them will lead only to pain and destruction. But following His guidelines and being a good steward of those friendships is the way to real ministry and blessing—worth more than anything of value on earth. Even better? The best iron anyone could ask for.
*For more stories about faith and sport, visit www.sharingthevictory.com, the official magazine of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Must Reads: Want to improve your friendships? Check out this recommended reading list:
1. The Bible
Hold everything up to Scripture. Search and obey it. God will not deny His Word.
2. Breaking Free by Beth Moore
This study was what the Lord used to bond the four friends in this article. It will challenge you to examine the idols in your life and teach you how to, through His strength, cast them down.
3. Friendship by Hugh Black
Cited in the article, this text examines virtually every aspect of the friendship dynamic, even explaining its limitations and blessings.
4. The Friendships of Women by Dee Brestin
Endorsed by Dr. James Dobson, this resource has been in print since 1987. Williams recommends it for those who want a more contemporary writing style.
Photo Courtesy of Marla Williams