The 4 Layers of Friendship

We established that Shrek and Donkey are the best model of friendship in an
earlier blog. And just like Ogres, friendships are a lot like onions—they can smell and makes us cry, but most importantly, friendship is like onions because friendships also have many layers.  Those different layers, instead of forming an onion shape look much more like a funnel. Let’s call it, the Friendship Funnel; at each level of friendship we go a little deeper in our relationship with those people, but at each level there is less room. Therefore, not everyone who starts at the top of the layer of the funnel makes it all the way down and that is okay.

While on earth, Jesus experienced this in his friendships as well. He had those who knew him on a surface level and those that knew him very well. Jesus had a very select few that knew him at the deepest level and maybe one or two that peeled back the entire onion and made it all the way down that friendship funnel.

Like Jesus, it is important for us to know the layers of friendship and to know where we are with people.

Layer One:  Beneficial Friends

Please don’t take this out of context (if you don’t know how you could take that out of context then, well…good). These are the friends we say hello to or do some small talk when see them.  They’re probably our Facebook friends, but really wouldn’t know what is going on in our lives if it wasn’t for our hourly posts. These relationships are mutually beneficial because they bring a sense of belonging and community at a surface level and don’t require much commitment.

From a Biblical standpoint we can look at the stories of the Woman at the Well and many other of Jesus’ miraculous healing and, yes, Jesus knew these people intimately because he is Jesus, but there interaction was simply beneficial. The woman at the well (John 4) receives a new purpose and identity in life and Jesus is able to share his message with the people in her town. The blind man receives his sight in John 9 because Jesus made mud pies with his saliva (Jesus loves playing in the dirt). In these stories, Jesus moves on and we do not hear much of these people again.

Layer Two:  Because Friends

We are friends because… our kids are on the same sports team…. we are neighbors… we go to church together, etc. We have regular times where we see one another, but if it wasn’t for these commonalities we might not know each other. Our regular meetings are surface level because the onion is not pulled back very far.  We grab lunch, watch the game, go to one another’s parties, but we only let one another in so far. This is a good thing because we need the type of friends that we can talk shop with instead of diving into the deep intimate stuff of life.

Jesus was friends with Nicodemus because Nicodemus wanted to know more about eternal life. In John 3, Nicodemus sneaks to find Jesus and asks him questions he does not understand. Yes, Nicodemus is a follower of Jesus but he is only brought in so far during Jesus’ earthly ministry. He is a regular throughout Jesus’ life, but he isn’t in the core group.

Layer Three:  Best Friends

These are the people we get together with on a regular basis. Even if there is distance between friends we make plans to get together. We look forward to our time together because it brings us life. Sadly, we are usually hurt by this level of friendship. The closeness we experience with these people sometimes makes us feel like they should just know what we want from them, so the relationship ends up being full of unclear and unexplained expectations. Since there are so many unknowns and we are unwilling to be totally honest with one another, feelings can get hurt pretty easily. It takes a mature friend to work through these barriers. Like middle schoolers many times this group gets on and off the merry-go-round.

Although Jesus was very clear on his expectations, the  twelve-disciples and some of Jesus’ early followers were at this level with Jesus. They were given very close access to Christ.  They followed him and they knew him. They received joy and life from one another, but some still fell away. Even among his disciples Jesus brought three in closer and one the closest.

Level Four:  Beloved

This word is typically given to our romantic interest—a significant other; however, scripture is clear that there is a friendship that can be as deep or even deeper. We see this in Jonathan and David in the Old Testament where their experiences together bonded them closer than any other relationship. They were in battle together and shared many successes and failures.  Overtime they developed a connection that could not be rivaled. This is not something that rivals our relationship with our spouses, but something that can benefit the relationship.  Jesus and his disciple, John, had such a relationship. John was the only disciple to show up at the cross. We see how deep the relationship goes at the cross when Jesus places his mother into John’s care and Christian tradition tells us that Mary stayed with John throughout her life.

Interestingly, adults and children have similar ways to define this relationship. “This person gets me…I can be me…we can fight and we turn out ok…I don’t have to worry with this person…they always accept me for me, but push me to be better.” These things are true because over time this friend has pulled back all the layers and knows us for who we are…and they are still present.

The great news is that Jesus is not limited by time or proximity. Since the resurrection, he is with us all and desires a close relationship with each of us. A beloved relationship. As Christians we are called to love and lay our life down for people at each layer. The only way we can do this is through a beloved relationship with Jesus Christ.

Have you let Jesus peel back every layer?

How far down the friendship funnel has Jesus gotten?