A few years ago, I heard a teaching on a passage in Mark in which Jesus heals a paralyzed man.
It's a passage that is shared often in Sunday school, and I was very familiar with it. But this person pointed out something I had never focused on before, and it changed my life. You may be thinking, "Well that's dramatic!" And if you know me in real life, you know I love to add drama to my storytelling (I get it from my dad who's an awesome storyteller). But truthfully, focusing on one phrase in this familiar teaching has changed the way I think about community and friendship. And I think it may do the same for you.
Here's the set up: Jesus has been teaching and healing people in and around Jerusalem. Wherever he went, the people followed and the crowds grew. In this particular story, he was teaching in a house overflowing with people. Can you imagine the scene? Everyone is so eager to hear Jesus, no one can even move. So four guys pick up their friend, who is paralyzed, and go up on the roof. They dig through the thick layers of mud and straw to lower their friend on his mat into the room where Jesus is teaching. In Mark 2:5 it says, "When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'" With that, Jesus instructs the man to stand on his legs, pick up his mat and return to his home. And he does, to the amazement of all who witnessed the event. Once again, Jesus miraculously healed.
But our speaker did not focus in on the miracle of Jesus; rather she called us to consider the beautiful faith of his friends.
Did you catch it? This passage says that when Jesus saw their faith, he extended forgiveness and offered healing to this paralyzed man. It was their enduring belief, their tenacious actions and their tangible love that brought this paralytic to the source of all healing: Jesus. It was this rich nugget of truth that caused me to radically reconsider my notions of community and friendships.
The scene captured in the gospels offers a startling question: Who carries your mat?
When you are lost or lonely or broken, who carries you to the feet of Jesus? Who picks you up and carries you before our sweet Savior when the challenges of this world find your faith failing? When you are paralyzed by the weight of worry, who lifts you to Jesus' healing hands?
Do you have friends like that in your life? Do you want friends like that in your life?
I remember thinking, "Yes, I want that." More truly, I need that type of friendship and support. I desire friends who will support me and carry me when I'm struggling to remember all the things that God has already done for me. I yearn for friends who will speak of the promises of Jesus over me.
I learned three truths in my journey to find friends who would carry my mat.
1. It can be scary
As that desire was coursing through me, I was scared. Having friends who deeply know me is risky. Sharing my needs requires transparency and authenticity. It would mean revealing the real Anne. But as terrified as I was to completely take off the mask with my friends, I had some level of longing to be known. Being fully known would be difficult but so worth it. I also knew that it meant that I would likely reach out to women to deepen our relationship and be rebuffed. I understood that my desire to be closer to them might not line up with their desire to know me. I remember talking to one friend and saying, somewhat awkwardly, "Would you be interested in meeting together to pray and keep each other accountable?" Thankfully, she was on board, and now we meet monthly.
2. It's about depth, not time
As an introvert, I have always struggled to make and maintain friends. Sure, I know a lot of people and can be friendly in public--just not for too long. Unlike my husband, I don't have a relationship with the very first friend I made in kindergarten. I don't have tons of friends from high school and college that I keep in touch with regularly. In truth, my very closest friends are people I've known for less than ten years. They are the friends I have made since we moved to Pennsylvania.
I've come to realize in my journey to have friends who carry my mat and friends who's mat I carry, time is not as essential as is connection. C.S. Lewis knew this to be true when he wrote:
"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'"
Lewis's words are so true. I have a close friend whom I met two years ago and whose son is on the autism spectrum. We became friends by joining the same moms' group for mothers of children with special needs. Our friendship began in our shared experience but grew honest and real in mutual desire to encourage one another in Christ. And she is my only mat carrier that has a child with special needs.
3. It takes work and intention
My third truth about this level of friendship is that you need to be intentional to sustain deep friendships. These friendships need to be cultivated, so that they blossom and grow. Which also means you need to be selective. It would be impossible to be transparent and authentic with 20 friends. So I suggest you shoot for a few, like I did. Choose a manageable number, and it means you're not going to be laid bare before a ton of women. You also should consider that if you want them to carry you to the feet of Jesus, you need to make sure you're picking people whose faith is strong.
In the four years since I heard that talk, I have slowly been able to find four women to carry my mat and whose mat I carry. It is deeply gratifying to have them lift me up when I can't walk under the weight. And it is spiritually fulfilling when they say, "Yes, I know you can't Anne, but Jesus can."
So I ask you, who carries your mat? Whose mat do you carry? And who can you reach out to today to change the level of your relationship?
Looking for opportunities to get connected?
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