I have a confession to make.
When I said I could write an article about how to be friends with people who are different than you, I was excited to tackle the topic. But as time went on and I prayed and wrote and prayed and stared at that blinking cursor, I had to take a look at my own life.
Where are my different friends?
How am I supposed to be an expert on making friends who are different than me, when all of my friends are just like me?
In a time where a mirror has been held up to this country and it is racism looking back, I’ve taken a real look at my life and asked myself some hard questions.
Why are all my friends white?
Why are all my friends of the same economic status?
Why are all my friends Christians?
Where’s the “different” in my life?
I’ve been causing my students to ask themselves these same questions all throughout my teaching career, and it wasn’t until this school year that I started to look at my own life as I challenged them to evaluate their own.
“Wait. Why is it a bad thing to be friends with people who are like you?” one student asked the question everyone else was thinking.
“What if people were only friends with others who were like them? Who would your sister be friends with?” I asked, directing attention to another student who had a sister with Down Syndrome.
“She’s actually really been struggling in school because she doesn’t feel like she has any friends. She’s been coming home from school crying every day,” she replied with tears in her eyes, as a protective big sister.
In that moment, everyone understood.
When you’re in the majority, it’s easy to be friends with people who are like you. But what if there is no one like you? Where will your friends be?
From the viewpoint of the world, friendships are built on commonalities. While it’s a joy and comfort to find friends who are just like you, we must ask ourselves: are we truly reflecting heaven on earth if we aren’t engaging in friendships with people who are different?
Revelation is clear about what heaven will look like: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).
There is going to be a lot of different in Heaven. Why? Because different, when brought together in unity, fully reflects the beautifully nuanced character of the Trinity.
If we never experience friendships with anyone different than ourselves, we may miss out on a more rich experience of God.
Who’s Your “Different”?
Finding your “different” is going to vary from person to person. Depending on who you are, who is different for you may not be different for me.
One group of “different” for you could be people with varying disabilities. Our systems tend to lump kids together who have disabilities, but what would it look like to form a friendship and follow Jesus through their lens? What would it look like to share the love of Jesus with kids that no one else wants to be around? You may find that you see fruits of the Spirit that you had never fully experienced in another. It may be that you see a new level of joy that you haven’t seen in your own friends.
Maybe you can branch out to a different friend group to get to know new people. Our schools and our lives can be so segregated according to interests, hobbies, and talents. We form friendships based on what sport we play, activity we do, or hobby we are interested in. While it isn’t a bad thing to invest in friendships where you are, what about stepping out to be friends with others in a completely different group? Not only would you go with the love of Jesus to people who may be lost, but you would begin to display the unity that defies worldly standards.
Being friends with people who are different can be friends of different races, ethnicities, or nationalities. We can be friends with people of different races to understand life from their perspective, to combat racism, and to bring about healing and reconciliation.
Different can even be as simple as enjoying friendship with the opposite gender. We can learn how God has uniquely wired the other gender to reflect His characteristics and learn how much better we are together.
Muslim, atheist, Buddhist, New Age, Jewish, agnostic, LGBTQ+ community—these are all groups of people that may be different to us, but who need the love of Jesus to enter their lives with the truth of the Gospel. Who will form genuine friendships with these people in order to invite them into a relationship with Jesus?
Why Form These Friendships?
Jesus is clear about forming friendships with people who are different. In the series, “The Chosen,” Peter objects to Matthew joining as a disciple because he’s “different,” and Jesus replies: “Get used to different.”
While these words are not strictly biblical, they are pulled from the reality of Jesus’s life. He spent his life willingly engaging with different people; the very people that everyone avoided. Jesus lived his life contrary to what the Jews expected. He was actually called a “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34) by many people because of the people he befriended.
He didn’t use his friendships to gain power, wealth, social status, favor, or comfort. He had all he needed in the Father and intentionally set out to make friendships with the “different” of society.
If we follow the example of Christ, we will engage in the mission of bringing heaven on earth—just like the picture we saw earlier in Revelation. No longer will our friendships be dictated by what is expected by the world. Instead, our unity with different people will only be able to be explained by pointing to the boundary-crossing love of Jesus.
Jesus instituted a new way of forming relationships.
Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20). That isn’t just reserved for missionaries that go overseas (although what a beautiful way to form “different” friendships.) Jesus gave us this call to engage all kinds of people with the Gospel so that all nations are represented in Heaven.
Jesus invites us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and when asked for clarification on the word “neighbor” (as we so often love to do for our own benefit), Jesus tells the Good Samaritan story (Luke 10:25-37), inviting listeners to engage in a kind of love that crosses the boundary of race. While the Jews and Samaritans hate each other and live happily segregated, Jesus shows us the kind of radical friendships he desires from us: Friendships that don’t follow the status quo or know any boundaries.
When we are able to be unified with people who are nothing like us, the Gospel is the only explanation.
How to Form Different Friendships
So the question is, how?
All of this sounds awesome and God-glorifying—but how do we do this without being disingenuous?
Well, that sounds like an opportunity to do some hard things.
- Choose carefully where you serve at church. Pick a place where you’ll engage in relationships with different people. Form intentional friendships.
- Sit with a different group of people at lunch or invite that one person who sits alone over to your table.
- Start following different people on social media to learn from them. Seek to meet a need for someone in your community.
- Strike up a conversation with someone in your classes
- Commit to praying for specific people every day. (Maybe those people you starting following on social media).
- Read books from different people to understand their perspective, culture, and experiences.
- Reach out to a fellow writer to work on your writing together.
- Choose to work at a place where the employees are different than you
- Eat at restaurants where many of the workers and customers are different than you. Strike up conversations.
I get it. All of this sounds great, but when put into practice we’re getting into some really hard things.
One of the ways I’ve challenged myself to do this is by building relationships with the kids on my cross country team that are easily forgotten about because they’re different. They don’t quite fit in. Part of me has wanted to break off and build deeper relationships with other kids, but I just keep ending up with these forgotten ones–and I don’t think that’s a mistake.
Sure, I’m the coach so it may seem easier from my perspective, but it is amazing how difficult it is to go out of our ways to invite in and enjoy “different.”
Who is your different? How will you reach them?
When we start to answer these questions, we are one step closer to engaging in the mission of bringing heaven on earth.