After watching the last few movies, I took note of the people the hero surrounds himself with either enhanced or hindered him. It got me thinking of the influence relationships have on us. Who we surround ourselves with helps to shape who we are and what our lives become. I think friends are biblically a vital part of our spiritual formation. We generally understand that we should surround ourselves with good people and healthy relationships that build us up. We can even generally identify which friends are good and which are destructive. But the precarious part is when we don’t recognize the unhealthy relationships that actually feel good to us. I think specifically of the difference between encouragers and enablers.
Encouragement and enabling look similar on the outset. They both intend to support you. They both generally demonstrate a form of grace to you. They both offer care and concern for you. But there’s one critical factor that differentiates the two – truth. Encouraging friends offer genuine comfort and empowerment along with truthfulness. While, enabling friends will be your cheerleader, support you, make you feel better about yourself, and generally tell you what you want to hear. Enabling friends offer cozy, comfortable and sentimental sympathies without the substance of truth. Enablers will be the ones who say to you time and time again, “Don’t worry, just be happy.” But encouraging friends look out for you by edifying you with grace and truth. They are the friends whom you can count on to give you their full honesty. They are also the friends whom you trust are mature enough to bear wisdom and truth. Enablers won’t expect you to change. Encouragers will challenge you to grow which presumes change. This is one of the reasons why Jesus makes the perfect friend. The Bible says he is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He bears the perfect balance of both qualities so that the combination offers you a kind of friendship that edifies. He would never offer you only the weak coziness of sentiments without truth nor only the critical judgment of truth without grace. It’s in the combination of truth and grace that our friendship with Jesus empowers us to grow. He is that friend who is willing and ready to tell us the things that other would-be friends know about but won’t say.
Some people in order for them to feel “safe”, they’ll gather enablers around them rather than encouragers. But I think it’s just as dangerous to surround ourselves with enablers as much as destroyers. Enablers damage our lives more subtlely; they reinforce our vices, minimize our mistakes, permit our wrong choices, and nurture our blindspots. So while enablers won’t directly tear us down like destroyers would, they enable us to tear ourselves down. Jesus would never do that. Whether we like hearing what Jesus has to say to us or not, he’ll still say it. We should not always expect Jesus to tell us what we want to hear. We should not expect the Bible to always leave us feeling good about ourselves. God’s words are truthfully honest – sometimes affirming and validating but sometimes rebuking and correcting. This is because God’s Words are the words of a true friend.
Our lives are enhanced or eroded by the kinds of relationships we have. Jesus is one friend everyone should have in their lives. Then maybe we’ll also use that as a model for how to form healthy friendships. And an even more peculiar question arises as we think about what kinds of friends we surround ourselves with, and that is what kind of a friend are we to others. Jesus could teach us something about that too. What kind of friends do we pull in close? What kind of friend are we to others?