Building Bridges, Not Walls: Three Practices for Flourishing Friendships
In a month meant to celebrate the poetic nature of romantic love, I want to take a few moments to celebrate the more prosaic form of love known as friendship. Friendship seems less exciting than the hearts and flowers and fireworks type of love, but it is a beautiful gift given to sustain and nourish us.
The way we relate to each other is also part of the church’s witness to alternative ways of being in the world. Jesus puts it this way: “By this, everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love each other” (John 13:35).
Walter Brueggemann identifies three practices that root our friendships and our communities in love and mark us out as followers of Jesus: hospitality, generosity and forgiveness.
Hospitality comes in many forms, but its heartbeat is a message of welcome. Hospitality makes time for people. It stays present with them and holds space for their concerns. When we are hospitable to someone, we are recognising their inherent value as a child of God, no matter how different they are from us.
Hospitality is also about acceptance. As Brene Brown puts it, ‘no one reaches out to you for compassion and empathy so you can teach them how to behave better.’ Hospitality doesn’t judge people or try to fix them. It doesn’t build walls to exclude people based on certain criteria. It simply welcomes people as they are.
In a culture that measures success based on how much material wealth we can accumulate, generosity is a radically subversive practice. Like hospitality, generosity has many different expressions, but at its core lies an understanding of life as a gift. We give to others in recognition that all we have has been given to us by God. Being generous reminds us that we are not competitors but neighbours. We are not self-sufficient but dependent on each other.
Jesus said the greatest way we can show love is to lay down our lives for our friends. (John 15:13). And that is exactly what he did for us. When we are generous to each other, when we give – our time, our money, our support, our attention - even when it costs us, we walk in his footsteps and honour his sacrifice.
Hospitality and generosity are practices that might cost us, but forgiveness is where the hard work of love really begins. It is easy to talk about and often difficult to do. The work of friendship is vulnerable. You put yourself at risk of both hurting others and being hurt. We are all in need of receiving and offering forgiveness at different times.
It’s easy, when we’re wounded, to build walls; to distance ourselves, to defend ourselves and to hide away. But forgiveness opens us up to the possibility of reconciliation and redemption. It breaks cycles of bitterness and division. It destroys guilt and shame. Forgiveness allows us to taste freedom, instead of being imprisoned as a victim.
Rowan Williams writes: ‘forgiveness is one of the most radical ways in which we are able to nurture each other’s humanity.’ When we practice forgiveness, we rehumanise each other. We break down walls, build bridges and recognise that our relationships are more important than our wounds.
This trinity of practices, hospitality, generosity and forgiveness might also be seen as the work of faith, hope and love. We reach out to others with the hope of building deepening friendships; we have faith in the abundance of God to provide for us even as we give generously; and we express love, through forgiveness, even when we are hurting.
These three practices call out the best in us and help us to live out the alternative story Jesus is drawing us into.
Who might need your hospitality, generosity or forgiveness today?