Cultivating Authentic Friendships

Ceenu Jebaraj   |   May 28, 2024 

As a child, I had a lot to say. But shyness took all my words away when people were around. I would nurse a longing to be liked by everyone around me but my innately awkward nature meant that I was never the life of the party. This only intensified the longing. While outwardly, I appeared self-assured and calm, inwardly, I was screaming to be more liked by people.  This is not to say that I never had friends or never received love. It is just that I felt confined to enjoying the periphery of friendships while sensing that a whole ocean depth of its beauty was inviting me in.

Since then, a greater appreciation of Christ’s love for me - embodied in his people - has drawn me deeper into the beauty of real friendships. Here are some new perspectives on friendship that have emerged:

Authentic Friendships Need Jesus

Have you ever struggled to befriend someone who makes everything about them? Their highs are self-centered. Their lows are about their perceived hurts. Every time you try to get a word in, they have moved to the next topic about themselves.

Although we swear that we are different, we all tend to pursue human friendships by selfishly putting ourselves at its centre. My insecurities would keep me from pursuing friendships that I perceived I was not the centre of. When I felt I wasn’t pursued enough, it was easier to withdraw with the belief that I should stop inconveniencing people who were simply tolerating me.

It took God’s patient love to help me see that I was resisting deeper friendships by placing on my friends a weight they were never intended to carry. The weight of meeting the deepest longings in my heart – to be fully seen and wholly loved – is a weight that can only be carried by Jesus.

As I repented of my sinfulness, and looked to Jesus as the One who meets my every need, I felt free to stop looking to be fulfilled by my friendships. I began to view my identity as fully resting in God. I felt a greater freedom to pursue friendships not to be perfectly loved and cherished but because Jesus has already perfectly loved and cherished me.

Authentic Friendships Are Not 'About Us'

As I pursued friendships from a place of already being loved, I began to feel free me from having to place myself entirely at the centre of my friendships. Surprisingly, it took away the fear that placing the other person at the centre of a friendship would reduce my enjoyment of it.

Instead, I found that by delighting in my friends and creating a deeper connection with them invited them to more deeply trust that I genuinely loved them. Strangely, it even enabled them to love me more as they felt more honestly loved by me.

Rebecca Mclaughlin in her book “No Greater Love” suggests, “Stop asking,’ Who will love me? Instead ask, ‘Who can I love?’" It is easy to let loneliness, discontentment, and envy creep into our souls while we longingly wait to be included in friendships. But instead of continuing to look inwards, let us intentionally love the other, like Jesus did. After all, the goal of friendship is not simply to derive fulfilment for us, but to find deeper joy in bringing glory to God through loving others.

Authentic Friendships Embrace Vulnerability

Sub-consciously, I was often sold on the lie that a good friendship implies clear skies with no dark clouds to threaten it. So, every time I saw a potential conflict or red flag in a friendship that I cherished, I would panic. My instinct was to quickly explain it away, ignore it, or turn a blind eye and suffer through it.

Like a new marriage, the romance and glitter of a new friendship is exhilarating. But the more closely and intimately we share lives with each other, the honeymoon period fades. Differences of opinion emerge, irrational annoyances come to the forefront, and our ability to hurt each other tends to fracture relationships.

But the Gospel reminds us that the mark of an authentic friendship is not the absence of conflict and discomfort. It is intentionally moving deeper in our relationship and pressing into the tender places of that friendship despite our differences. The Gospel empowers us to process our difficult emotions, to celebrate forgiveness, to grieve, and to reconcile.

Authentic Friendships Are Gospel-Centered

Real friendship, rooted in Christ is countercultural and upside down. When everything in us wants to throw in the towel or pull back, Jesus encourages us to dig deep. He gently lifts our hurting heart and helps us set our mind on things above (Colossians 3:2). He reminds us of how he stood by his friends who bickered with and envied each other, misunderstood him, backstabbed, and betrayed him. His closest friends abandoned him at the most critical juncture of his life. Jesus’s steadfastness in his friendship towards them enabled them to repent of their own sinful selfishness and to then pursue a deeper intimacy with him.

Jesus is constantly wanting deeper connection with those of us who follow him, being committed to our sanctification and praying for us earnestly to remain in him (John 17). His Spirit now lives in us and empowers us to desire and nurture deep and real friendships.

As a recovering people-pleaser, I’m discovering that embracing vulnerability and being real in my friendships gives them the fuel to flourish and thrive. Vulnerability in the safe place of a gospel friendship helps me go past the shallow superficialities. It helps me and my friends to ambitiously fight each other’s battle against sin and for holiness. Together, we can lead each other to the foot of the Cross and experience deeper connection as Christ renews and unites our hearts more closely. Then one day, in the presence of our most Perfect Friend, fully renewed in the new creation, our friendships will bring us the deepest joy.


Photo by Charlein Gracia on Unsplash

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Ceenu Jebaraj

Ceenu Susan Jebaraj is a lawyer who lives in New Delhi. She enjoys cooking, baking, reading, impromptu get-togethers and board games with friends. Most of all she loves celebrating everyday-life with her husband, daughter and twin boys who fill her days with joy and laughter.

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