Friends are Food, Not Fish

My girls love the movie Finding Nemo, so I’ve seen it more times than I can count. But, without fail, when Bruce the reformed shark repeats “fish are friends, not food”, my brain grabs the words and rearranges them into “friends are food, not fish”.

No, I don’t secretly have cannibalistic leanings. But the idea of friends as food has become an interesting metaphor for me.

The people in my life really are like a banquet, spread out and varied and plentiful. Some are warm and hearty, some are spicy and exhilarating, some are sweet and delightful. Some are comfort food, the ones who go best with sweat pants and a good cup of coffee. And some are kale, necessary and good for me, but a little hard to swallow. I need all of them. As much as I enjoy my comfort food friends, turning to just one type of nourishment leads to imbalance and unhealth. Without variety our growth is stunted.

I’m only five feet tall. Part of that is genetics, but I think part of it is that struggled with an eating disorder during middle school, those critical years when most girls have their final big growth spurt. My unhealthy relationship with food prevented me from reaching the height I probably could have.

Just like my unhealthy relationship with relationships stunted my emotional growth well into adulthood. I’ve been awkward since I was little, and while it’s improved some over the years, I still embarrass myself on a pretty regular basis. (Like this morning when I reached out to shake hands with someone who wasn’t actually trying to shake my hand, and it turned into this weird hand-squeezy thing. Good grief.) When I was young I would enviously watch the confident, popular girls casting lines and reeling people in like the catch of the day. They surrounded themselves with the friends they wanted and tossed the others back a little worse for the wear. I guess these tight friendship circles are now called squads. My generation calls them cliques. Either way, the idea of being part of a defined group, having a place, can be equally attractive and painful for those not included.

At one point, long after I thought I’d outgrown the desire to be part of the “in crowd”, I found myself right in the middle of an intensely exclusive group. Fortunately it wasn’t too long before I realized I needed to step away, but seeing the inside of a clique for even a short time gave me a glimpse into what drives so many of us to want to be part of a social circle turned inward.

We’re hungry to be seen and known, desperate to have our empty spaces filled.

The perceived safety of a small, exclusive group dulls the ache and feels good for a while. Until it doesn’t.

Because relationships will always leave us unfulfilled in some way.

They’re supposed to.

We aren’t created to fill each other up. If anything, we’re made to pique each other’s craving for something more.

All of our relationships with each other are just echoes of eternity, incomplete reflections of the one relationship that does fill us. As we learn to love and be loved, we discover layers of God’s love for us. As we learn to give and receive grace, we understand more of what God’s grace looks like. As we’re stretched and pushed in hard relationships, we see God’s tears over us and our runaway hearts. As we sacrifice for each other, we participate in Jesus’ humility. Human relationships, even the closest and best ones, aren’t an end in themselves. Their purpose is to continually turn us back towards the Cross, over and over and over, in gratitude for each other, in tears over brokenness, in wrestling hard for each other’s freedom and healing, in open handed release.

It’s good to have close relationships. Even Jesus had some friends he spent more time with than others. It’s important to have people we can be completely open with, but what a tragedy when our closest people become our only people, as if they are enough. When we cut ourselves off from those who don’t fit our ideal, we sentence ourselves to a life of emotional and relational immaturity. We cheat ourselves out of the things different people bring to the table, ways they would nourish and grow us if we let them.

But if we come to relationships expecting to be filled by the Bread of Life, to be fully satisfied only by Jesus, we’re free to enjoy the uniqueness in others rather than just examine them for what they might offer us.

I’m so grateful for my friends and family, for my husband and girls, the people who share my rhythms and days. I’m thankful for their sweetness and spice and comfort, and for the bitter flavors that are sometimes mixed in. But more than anything I’m grateful for the ways they make me hungry for more, because it’s in the searching beyond that I see the One who created us to crave Him most of all.

“Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!” ~ Psalm 34:8 (NLT)

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