I met the only best friend I’ve ever had when I was 6 years old. Like a scene out of a movie, I’ll never forget Matthew walking toward me after church on a hot Sunday afternoon in Florida in 1984. He was wearing a three piece suit and looking like a three-foot-tall John Travolta from Saturday Night Fever. We immediately bonded over video games and college football. Eventually our families moved into the same neighborhood together where we spent our days building BMX tracks (thanks to the movie Rad) and starting karate clubs (thanks to the movie Karate Kid).
For one of his birthdays, I wanted to sacrifice something sacred I owned and offer it to him as a present. I took out my collection of baseball cards and told him to choose any one of the cards I had as his birthday gift. He chose my 1977 Topps Andre Dawson rookie card, which happened to be my favorite. But it didn’t matter because I felt true joy in being able to share something with my closest friend that was valuable to me.
When we were 10, one of our friends let Matthew borrow a tape from a band we had never heard of called Metallica. I don’t think either of us will ever forget the feeling of being reborn the moment I hit play on the tape deck in his room. I had to turn the volume all the way down so his parents wouldn’t hear what we were listening to. We both crouched close to the speakers, where our ears were pressed up against the foam of the cabinet while we quietly made our first attempts at air guitar. The music stirred something in us. Even though we were young, I think we both realized that day we’d stumbled on a friendship we wanted forever.
But as we all know, at some point life turns the page.
Before either of us knew it, the long summer days of neighborhood baseball in the streets till 9 p.m. and all-night slumber parties playing Surf or Die became nothing more than a childhood memory. By the end of middle school, we were headed to different schools and slowly our lives drifted apart as we began to explore other relational circles.
I wish someone had told me that would be the last time I’d have a best friend for 20 years.
Something changed about how I approached relationship when I entered high school. I developed walls. I created a persona. I learned to ask good questions so people would be consumed with answering about themselves rather than investigating my secrets.
I became the me people wanted me to be rather than the me I was supposed to become on my own.
Whether it was with my family or my friends, I was losing my sense of self and center. Though I made friends rather easily, I began moving through adolescence alone. I found a way to allow people to feel as though we were close without ever fully opening up to them about who I really was.
Carrying this issue and countless others, I became a pastor. Lucky for me, pastoring within our culture meant being good at teaching and coming up with an inspiring strategy. All things I felt comfortable with and that could safely hide my relational paralysis.
Eight years into full-time ministry, a fellow pastor sat me down in a corner booth at a Chili’s restaurant and told me that out of everyone he worked with on our team, I was the most disconnected and distant.
I was shocked. I felt defensive. I thought I had been the person everyone could talk to about their problems. The truth of his words cut me to the core because I came face to face with the fact that I had been faking friendship. Someone had finally called my bluff.
Each of us carries our own set of issues that directly affects the kind of ministry we do day-to-day. Friendship had been my Promised Land. This distant land flowing with character and chemistry. With all the books I’ve read, messages I’ve heard and even messages I’ve taught, I have wandered around in the desert, hoping somewhere on the horizon I might become the kind of friend I was made to be.
This article is adapted from the Last Word in the Summer 2010 issue of Neue.