This little guy is the only cactus that resides among my plant family. I have wanted to venture into the realm of cacti, as I think they’re really interesting and cute in a weird way. But my mostly tenuous relationship with this one makes me hesitant to tempt fate with any others. He’s in a gritty soil mix, which cacti love, I water him when he’s dry, and he gets lots of sun. This is what I’m told cacti want, and yet, he seems to hate me. He seems to always look wrinkly and shrunken on the sides, which is usually a sign of being thirsty, but watering more makes him look even sadder. He’s alive, but I’m going to be honest, he’s really hard to love.
Have you ever had a friend like this? As summer draws near, we’ve been talking here about how to bring our sisters who need authentic, loving community into our lives and plans. But what do we do when that sister we feel called to love well is just a bit prickly? Maybe she’s always been that way or maybe she’s just in a hard spot at the moment that is coming out against those closest to her in some not-so-lovely ways. Many of us have experience with a friend who has been hard to love at one point or another (or kind of always) in your friendship. I will be honest and say that I tend to not do well at loving this sister. I usually withdraw when a relationship gets hard, and that is a habit in myself that I am fighting to break.
If you’re like me and you have a tendency to shrink back from a sister who is hard to love, I want to challenge us together to grow in this area. As Easter approaches I have been thinking about Jesus and his best friends, the Twelve. This was his crew, right? Of course he had other followers, people who supported his ministry and learned from him, but the Twelve were his best friends. They spent practically all their time together for three years, and I hope you have been blessed to know the depth that can come to a friendship by spending lots of time together over the course of three years.
We talk a lot about disciples like Peter, the one who boldly said he would die for Jesus, or John, who refers to himself as the one Jesus loved. In the quiet details of Scripture, we can see how the depth of friendship mixed with followership must have bonded this group. Among them, though, was one who doesn’t get talked about a lot until he becomes a villain. I began thinking about Judas Iscariot as more than just a faceless bad guy several years ago, probably around the time the series The Chosen came out.
I am a big fan of the way The Chosen portrays the followers of Jesus as real people (because they were) rather than caricatures. And once it occurred to me that among this diverse group of complicated, emotional, imperfect people was also Judas, the one who would sell out his friend for some cash, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t help but think about how, before he became all the negative associations we have with Judas, Jesus saw him and asked if he wanted to hang out – even though he knew.
See, I guess I always thought of Judas as some slimy Disney villain that Jesus somehow, egregiously, let slip into his ranks, skulking around at the back of the group just waiting for his moment to fulfill what the audience could see coming all along. But that’s ridiculous when I think about it from an adult perspective. No, Judas was among Jesus’ best friends. Judas worked alongside Jesus and Peter and John and everyone to provide for them on the road, to support Jesus’ mission, and to learn from the Rabbi himself. He must’ve believed, just as fervently as the others, that Jesus was the Messiah, the real deal. Otherwise, why would he have stuck around for so long? It makes you wonder…what changed? When did things sour so much for Judas that he chose to do something so deeply hurtful to one of his best friends?
And to think, Jesus knew all this. It is deeply hurtful when one suffers betrayal from a friend. I know because I’ve been there. But the grace, maybe?, is that you didn’t know it was coming; you enjoyed the moments leading up to it. But Jesus knew, always. He knew when he saw Judas and when he invited him into his crew anyway. He knew as they sat around the fire laughing. He knew as they ate dinner together, even at that last Friday evening Passover meal.
And I cannot wrap my head around how Jesus ate that last meal with him. You know someone is about to sell you out to be murdered and you eat a celebratory meal of thankfulness and remembrance with them anyway? Were it me, I would struggle to be in the same room and not boil over with rage, let alone graciously share an entire meal. Perhaps more than the miracles, more than the resurrection even, this moment convinces me of Jesus’ divinity and the miraculous way it mixed with his humanity. Because he felt all the emotions, and yet he picked love to be the one that he felt the loudest.
Though we don’t have Jesus’ divinity, we do have the empowering of the Spirit living inside us that can enable us to love our sisters who are hard to love in the same way Jesus did. To be clear, I’m not talking here about forsaking boundaries or acting like nothing is wrong with toxic behaviors. Actions do have consequences, as Judas’ story clearly demonstrates. But what I invite us to today is to consider that, if Jesus could eat a meal with the friend who was about to hand him over to the people who wanted to kill him, maybe we can start with a meal too.
We don’t have to dedicate our life to taking care of them (don’t really recommend that anyway), we don’t have to spend all our time with them, and we certainly don’t have to condone and pander to toxic behaviors. But could we maybe do a meal? Could we do a phone call or a text thread to check in? Could we get coffee or set up a playdate and just listen?
Maybe it’s your sister who is such a mess right now that she just takes and takes and there’s no reciprocity in your friendship. Maybe it’s your sister who is in a really tough spot with her husband and you have become the sounding board/punching bag for her to work those emotions out. Maybe it’s your sister who seems to always be complaining about something or wrapped up in drama, which makes your time together pretty draining. For this sister, I want to encourage us, together, to not quit her. Boundaries, yes. Some distance even, sure. A hard conversation, yep. But don’t leave your friendship to ruins just because she’s hard to love right now. And I’m talking to myself as much as anyone here…I don’t think that’s what Jesus would have done.
Instead, he showed us that extending grace to the one who is hard to love doesn’t have to be giving it all to someone. Judas was not Jesus’ closest disciple, Jesus called him out without drama when the time was right, and he let him go when Judas made his choice (Matt. 26). But before that time came, all signs indicate that he loved him well.
So today, this summer, and whenever we can, I encourage us to stick with the sister who is a bit like my cactus: prickly, generally unhappy, and difficult to love. She needs a friend like you.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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