I can’t remember exactly how I met him, but we connected pretty quickly telling fishing stories. He did not have any from the last five years because he had only recently been released from state prison in Jackson, Michigan. He helped me with a few projects, and I helped him move a few things into his new house.
He showed up at our house for a group Bible study and prayer time — twice. Then he stopped. When I asked why, he said it was because he had never been in a house like that (a typical three-bedroom ranch with a picture window; nothing special). He said that it made him nervous. Neither of those quite made sense to me, but I believed him, and he was telling the truth.
I also learned he had no ability to ask for help. No trouble asking for money or time to do something he didn’t have the resources to do. But great trouble asking for help with relationships and life skills. He was determined to do it on his own. “I’ve never had anyone I could count on, so I have to do it by myself.”
He is not the only person I have met who could not seem to get on the right side of life who believed that asking for help was a sign of weakness. One of the greatest challenges that many people have is the false belief that independence is better than interdependence.
A friend of mine who had a cocaine addiction (he passed away about five years ago) said he learned the difference between acquaintances and friends when he landed in jail for a few months. All his party friends disappeared. Those whom he had turned his back on showed up, sent cards and called. Of course, when he got out, his party friends were already at his house with necessary supplies. That turned him around. He got his spiritual life together and made great progress otherwise. His hobby was leatherworking. I still wear the belt he gave me.
Proverbs 18:24 says, “There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Now, you may have a friend like that, and you may be a friend like that, but I believe in a God like that. I know it can get complicated — Babylonian captivity, the cross, genocide and the general wretchedness that falls on us from time to time — but the statement holds.
There are people who cross my path who need help. Some need help getting stabilized after too many unexpected blows. Others just need a few dollars to get over a minor crisis. Some need emergency housing. However, there are others who we could give half the national budget and it would do no good whatsoever. What they need are friends.
They may have a social worker and a counselor. They may have access to the walk-in clinic. There may be public assistance and rent-subsidized housing. All of these are good and most who need them use them, but for some that will never be enough. What they need is a friend. A friend who will not try to change them but help them, not with money but with friendship.
This is hard. This is risky. I do not do it enough. Too many of us are too busy, too protective, or too frightened to get too close to “some people.” We want to help, but on our terms. I have always found it easier to go buy groceries than spend an hour over a meal for someone. I can also say that when I have taken time for the meal, I came away knowing I had done the right thing, regardless of outcome.
Jesus said, “The Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” He was criticized for being a friend to the friendless and outcast. He also reminded us that it is not what we say that matters most, it is what we do.
He also said to his disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” (John 15:16). Friends. The God of the universe in the flesh called us his friends! And what a challenge it must be to be our friends. We think we can do it on our own, but we can’t.
When we see someone who is lost … Not “church lost” where all we ask is for them to show up and satisfy our process. I mean lost, friendless, in pain, thinking friendship is weakness. When we see someone who is lost … be a friend.
Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.