Monday, 8 September 2014
My Table of Friends
Friends and food definitely belong together. One way I think about friendship is to picture my friends gathered around a table.
Humor me for a moment. Imagine a celebration, a birthday party or someone’s special anniversary. You have just pulled up your chair and are looking around the table. Here are a dozen of your nearest, dearest friends. What do you see?
As I look around my imaginary table, I see the limits of friendship. Only God’s table is infinite. Mine has limited number of seats. Only on Facebook can I afford to have hundreds of friends. In real life I don’t have the time to keep up with that many or the money to feed them all. I can only be a true friend to a small number, seven or ten or maybe a dozen. Beyond that I may be able to stay attuned to the big events, but I won’t know the daily ups and downs.
Who is around my limited table at the moment? Some have been there for a long time–a college roommate who has known me long and loved me deeply, my sister who morphed from family into friend. Others have recently joined me, sliding into a chair that was vacated by someone who moved away. At the time of the painful loss I hadn’t realized the Lord was making room in my life for someone new. New or old, these are the people on my short list, the ones I can count on when I need help. The ones I turn to when I want to have fun.
The chair to my right is where Jesus sits. I’ve reserved the honored spot for him because he deserves it. He is my true friend, who has proved himself faithful to the point of death. He’s first, not because he sat there first, but because he’s worthy to sit there.
Having him in that seat protects all my other friendships from idolatry or disappointment. When I try to seat someone else there, it affects my entire circle of friends. I begin to expect them to fill his shoes. I get furious when they don’t even fill their own. They need Jesus to stay in his place in my life, too. He protects us all.
I personally chose each of these friends, some by natural attraction, some by supernatural affinity. There was a time when we realized we loved the same author or laughed at the same jokes or shared the same personal burden. We chose to hang out and the friendship grew.
The choice was confirmed by many shared moments–trials, prayers, tears. It was tested by various sins against each other. Chosen friends became comrades on my life’s battlefields. They became a sanctuary in my life’s storms. I guess I chose well.
But did I really choose them? Or did Someone else choose us for each other, opening our eyes to the kindred spirit he had placed in us both?
For a Christian, there are strictly speaking, no chances. A secret Master of Ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for one another.” CS Lewis, The Four Loves
Contrary to my first impression, the Lord of friendship exercises his sovereign goodness over my table. Every friend chosen by me is actually a gift from him.
Which makes me ask the question, Who’s the host here? In one sense I am. Freely inviting, freely celebrating life with my friends (who by the way, are going to be expected to help me with the dishes after dinner). But in another sense, it is his table. He is the host. CS Lewis again:
At this feast it is He who has spread the board and it is He who has chosen the guests. It is He, we may dare to hope, who sometimes does, and always should preside. Let us not reckon without our Host.
About this time I notice he’s placed an empty chair at my table. Apparently he’s expecting another guest, some new friend he is going to call into my circle. Jesus did that to John, his beloved disciple, when he asked John from the cross to take his own mother into his home.
I’m good with that. I will set another place so I’ll be ready.