Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Best Friend You’ll Ever Have

Leslie Basham: According to Kelly Needham, our relationship desires are intended to find their fulfillment in one Person.

Kelly Needham: If we recognize that Jesus is the fountain of living waters, the problem isn’t to want less, it’s to take those wants to Christ. He can actually fill them.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel Together, for Thursday, August 29, 2019.

Nancy: I want to welcome back to Revive Our Hearts today my sweet friend Kelly Needham. She’s here in town visiting the Revive Our Hearts studio with her husband Jimmy. Jimmy is a worship pastor, song writer, performing artist. I don’t know all the terminology you use for musicians, but I know he makes pretty music. You guys have been married for how long?

Kelly: Almost thirteen years. 

Nancy: And you have three munchkins.

Kelly: We do. We have three: eight, six, and four right now.

Nancy: And your youngest . . .

Kelly: Our youngest, Benjamin, is adopted from India. I know we’ve talked about that on your program before, our heart for adoption. He’s just a bundle of joy. We love our kiddos.

Nancy: And today while we’re in the studio, the kids are playing with some friends of mine who have kids about the same age. Girl, girl, boy, so I bet they’re having a blast.

Kelly: Oh they are. They were happy to see us go. “Bye mom, see you later.” 

Nancy: We’re so looking forward to having you at the Revive ’19 conference just around the corner. We’ll be together again for that. I’m really excited about the speaker team the Lord has brought for that. It’s not too late to participate in this experience. It’ll be a Friday afternoon and evening and all day Saturday. We’re really looking forward to what God’s going to do as we seek Him together. Seeking Him: that’s the theme. So thank you for being a part of that as well.

Kelly: Yes. Looking forward to it.

Nancy: You’ve written a new book. That’s what we’re talking about this week. It’s an important subject. It’s one I think that some of our listeners may think, What’s the big deal about this? We’re talking about why it’s a big deal. A lot of our listeners will know why it’s a big deal because they’ve had some issues with this whole area of friendship gone awry. 

Friendship is a good gift from God, but it can get twisted and perverted and become obsessive and idolatrous and dangerous. I think probably any of us can think back as we have this conversation to relationships that were too dependent and were not healthy. We’ll talk about some of those characteristics in a moment. The name of the book is Friend-ish. Friend-ish, tell us again why the title.

Kelly: Well, if something is just “ish” it’s red-ish or straight-ish, it’s not quite there. It looks there, but it’s not quite right. I wanted to just address that, to introduce that concept that we have friendships that look right, they look like good companionships . . . We’re going to Bible studies and going to church together and talking about Jesus, but something’s off. Something's not quite right. Or faith hasn’t yet fully influenced all the practices of how we should do friendship yet. I wanted to give a resource that would help with that.

Nancy: And you reference that in the subtitle which is Reclaiming Real Friendship in a Culture of Confusion. I think you’re really right, Kelly, about this being a culture of confusion. I’ve seen it in spades, especially in younger women, but not just in younger women. Sometimes mentoring relationships start off as a discipleship or relationship and it's a good thing, it’s a healthy thing. We need these in our churches. But the culture can place expectations on these friendships that are something they were never meant to satisfy.

Kelly: That’s right. I think we see that a lot in marriage. We’re used to seeing that in marriage. We watch chick flicks and these romantic comedies. If you don’t know Jesus, what else do you have to look to satisfy you besides those human relationships? 

As a Christian we know only Jesus can satisfy. And there’s a lot of things that go awry in marriage when you set it above Christ and when you look to it to complete you and be your everything. So we’re just looking at really the exact same concept in friendship. 

We need friends. Community is extremely important. But when we set those friendships above Christ and they become for us what we need to be okay, what we need to be satisfied and have security and fulfillment, that’s become an idol. That’s just taking one of God’s good gifts and putting it above Himself. Things go badly from there.

Nancy: Have you ever seen something like this happen in your own friendships?

Kelly: Maybe not to the degree that some of the people I’ve interviewed. It was interesting doing research for this book and even researching the Scriptures and reading the Word and praying and asking the Lord to show me how to address these things. It became very apparent these tendencies are in all of us. Like you said, we might not have walked down the road as far as somebody else, but the temptation to look to a friend above Jesus is a temptation we all face.

Nancy: Friend, a mate, anyone, right?

Kelly: Yes. Anyone. A child, a parent. Part of that is because we can see that friend, we can touch them. They can respond to us immediately when we talk to them. So it can seem on the front end that relationship looks like it can satisfy me more than this relationship with God, because He’s unseen, and the way we interact with Him is different. 

It requires faith and it requires perseverance at times and not the immediate gratification. We’re seeking Him and He does respond to His people, but it’s different than picking up the phone and hearing that immediate, quick response back. 

I face that temptation, and I’ve seen in my own life. As I was working on these concepts, I found myself repenting of ways that I’ve seen that in my own friendships. It is something I think that all of us face. We all face that temptation. I think as the culture normalizes these idolatrous friendships more, we’re going to see the temptation grow. It’s going to be modeled more and more especially for younger women and younger men.

Nancy: You have a really helpful appendix in your book that is a chart that talks about the difference between healthy and unhealthy friendships. I wonder if you could just tick off some of what those things are. It’s several pages. We won’t go through the thing. But I think it’ll help us identify as we think about specific friendships if they have stepped over the line from being healthy and helpful to being unhealthy and maybe even idolatrous. Give us a few examples of what that might look.

Kelly: An unhealthy friendship will actually reduce our desire for more of God. It will dampen our spiritual appetites because we’re looking to that friendship, and we have them. But a healthy friendship will fuel and make us want Jesus more. That friendship is fighting for more of Christ, not more of one another. 

An unhealthy friendship is going to foster exclusivity and a sense of possessiveness. You’re my friend, and I need you. In a healthy friendship, we’re going to see those friends being welcoming to new people, with open arms, and wanting the best for one another—even if it’s a cost to us. If our friend gets a job across the country, we’re excited for them to follow Jesus, not clinging to them in possessiveness.

Nancy: So if there’s jealousy there or I can’t let you move or change or whatever, that’s a sign that something’s not right.

Kelly: That’s a sign something’s not right. To clarify, jealousy is different than envy. Envy is, “I want what you have.” But jealousy is birthed out of a place of ownership. We feel healthy jealousy in marriage because we belong to one another, but we don’t ever own our friends. They are not ours. So when jealousy is there, it’s a sign that we’ve put some sense of, “I own you.” There’s some possessiveness there that’s not healthy. 

An unhealthy friendship is going to have a lot of expectations with it. Expectations really that are never going to be fully satisfied. There’s a long laundry list of why haven’t you called me yet today, or reached out to me, or why haven’t we gotten together yet. There’s a list of needs and demands. Whether we verbalize them or not. They’re in our hearts and we’re often disappointed.

Nancy: Easily hurt as a result.

Kelly: Easily hurt, hurt feelings. A healthy friendship, because we’re seeing Christ as our fountain of living waters, He’s our rock, He’s our source of strength, He’s all those things for us, that our expectations are much lower of people. We know they’re a broken cistern. They can’t actually satisfy our souls.

Nancy: Let me just back up here, Kelly, that wasn’t broken sisters you talked about. That was broken cistern, which is a reference to that powerful, important verse in Jeremiah chapter 2 verse 13 that you referenced many times in this book.

God said, “My people have committed two great evils.” This is not just something that’s not really healthy, this is something that’s a serious issue. It’s a sin issue. God says, “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters. I wanted to satisfy them. And they said, ‘No God, You’re not enough.’”

And as a substitute, they have hewn out for themselves cisterns. These are collecting places for water, but they’re broken, they’re cracked, they leak. These cannot satisfy. If we’re looking to friendships to do what God intends to do in our lives, we’re going to find ourselves defeated and disappointed and disillusioned.

Kelly: I think it’s good to notice about that passage that God does not condemn them for their thirst.

Nancy: Right. He made them to be thirsty. 

Kelly: He did. I think sometimes people can hear this and go . . .

Nancy: I don’t need it. 

Kelly: I should long for less. My longings, this deep ache inside, is wrong. I need to just put a damper on that. And that’s not the right thing.

Nancy: Exactly.

Kelly: Jesus is not saying don’t be thirsty, but get your thirst met in the right place. Which is really actually kind and loving of Him. “I want to satisfy your thirst.” 

Nancy: This is the woman at the well, John chapter 4. She’s trying to get her thirst satisfied. She comes to the well, literally, to get water. But metaphorically, it’s a picture of what she’s doing in relationships.

Kelly: That’s right.

Nancy: She’s looking for men. We don’t really know the background of all of this, but clearly the men had not fulfilled expectations or hopes. Jesus says to her, “I want to give you living water. If you drink from this, you’ll be satisfied. You’ll be satisfied forever.”

She says, “Give me this water.”

Jesus says, “First, we’re going to have to deal with what you’re looking to as substitutes. Tell me about your husband.”

“Well I don’t have a husband; I’ve had five.”

You remember the story. I think that the message to all of that is the Jeremiah 2:13 message. Drink from the fountain of living waters. Who’s the living water? That’s Jesus. So friendship is meant to be means to help each other get more of Jesus, not more of us, right? 

Kelly: That’s right. If you think about what real love for somebody is, it’s wanting the best for them in the truest sense. If we recognize that Jesus is the fountain of living waters, that He is the only one who can satisfy us, then that’s what I want from my friends. Please help me get more of Him. I want that for them as well.

The picture we have is the well’s in the middle of the room, and it’s Christ that fountain of living waters. We all tend to wander away. Our hearts are prone to wander from that genuine friendship. We will go to that friend wandering away, and go no there’s no life over there.

Link arms with me. Let’s go back to the well, to the fountain of living waters.

Or when I’m wandering away, a good friend is going to see that and go, “No, no, there’s no life there. Whatever you’re wandering to, that’s not Him. Come with me. Let's go back to the fountain of living waters.”

We need that. We need community for that. We cannot do this life alone, so that community is extremely important. But there’s something very dangerous about it. There’s something very dangerous about it when those friends, instead of going back to the fountain of living waters, they then turn to each other as they’ve wandered away and go, “Oh, this satisfies.”

They either stay put, or wander even further away from Christ. And that’s something that we don’t want. We can do that in our relationships all the while going to church and doing these Christian things. We can start becoming ingrown and looking to one another instead of drawing one another back to Christ and dependency on Him. And that’s what we don’t want to do.

That’s why I think this clarity is needed. We’re seeing those friendships form more and more. You talk about the woman at the well. I have had a lot of people that I’ve interviewed for this book, people who write me their stories online, personal friends of mine that have a similar story to the woman at the well with friends, best friends.

Nancy: Right.

Kelly: They’ll essentially say, “I’ve had five, six, seven best friends throughout my life.

Nancy: BFFs forever.

Kelly: BFFs forever and ever. They’ve clung really tightly to one another and something went wrong. Usually it’s because the expectations on that friendship were higher than what it can meet.

Nancy: Then you have a breakup. Collateral damage.

Kelly: Then you have friendship breakups, which is a thing now—cultural friendship BFF breakups. And they’ll have a new best friend. They go from friend to friend to friend and are never fulfilled and are never satisfied. That’s because those friends are broken cisterns. They are things that cannot hold water. They cannot satisfy our soul.

The problem isn’t want less. It’s take those wants to Christ. He can actually fill them. The linchpin of all of this, the solution in all of this is friendship with Christ. If we cultivate that friendship, it will actually save us and will satisfy us. And we’ll be able to see our other friendships in the right place.

Nancy: I think part of the message of my book, Adorned, on Titus 2 mentoring relationships was that human friendships, women’s friendships—older, younger, peers—can be an avenue, a vehicle, a means where we help each other get more of Christ in our lives.

We’re not saying you can just have this friendship with Christ and it’s just you and Jesus and you don’t need anybody else, nobody else needs to be a part of this. We’re saying no, God made us a family, a body, a community. We need each other, but the human friendships are not the end all.

Kelly: That’s right.

Nancy: They’re a part of the process that God uses to help each other become more like Jesus. It’s not selfish. Friend-ishness is selfishness. But it’s where we are caring about others. We’re not giving to get out of this, but we’re giving because we genuinely love the other one. We’re concerned about their best interest. We have their best interest—that’s what’s at our heart, not can this make me happy.

Kelly: That’s right. I think that’s another reason that this can really catch us off guard. Friendships are generally generous in their activity. It’s a giving of time and of resources and of energy, so it feels like, “How can this be wrong? I’m giving of myself a lot.”

Nancy: It feels selfless. 

Kelly: It feels selfless. It has those external things.

When I was in eighth grade, our school had a tradition. On a girl’s birthday, the way her friends would celebrate her is give her a bouquet of flowers. A silly thing now when I think about it, but that was kind of how you could tell who was most popular in some ways.

Nancy: By how many bouquets you got.

Kelly: How many bouquets they got. You would see the girl on the cheerleading squad come in with an armful you. My friends and I were not very cool. We’d have three or four friends that would get us something small. My last year of junior high I remember thinking, I’m going to really step up my game. I got a bouquet of flowers for anybody if I had the money and I had the means—my friends, my acquaintances. As my birthday came around in the spring . . .

Nancy: So you’re getting everybody else flowers all year long.

Kelly: Yes. I’m buying flowers for all these people and genuinely thinking that moment I’m so happy to be celebrating. Then when my own birthday came around, I remember counting up how many people did I get flowers for. I made this list and I’m thinking, Okay, I’m going to get a lot back.

Nancy: How many people will I get them from?

Kelly: Yes. I actually was disappointed on my birthday. I think that’s when I had a sense of recognition that something’s off there. Why am I disappointed? Oh, it’s because I wanted to look good. I wanted to have all these bouquets of flowers.

What was I doing there? I was giving something, but my motivation was to get something. I was giving to get something in return. True love and genuine love for someone is often sacrificial. It won’t always require sacrifice. But we see this when a friend either has needs in their life and they can’t give us anything back, they’re just in a really hard season. They just don’t have anything to offer emotionally or relationally. And we are able to give to them without expecting return. Or that friend is about to move, they’re about to get married. We know if we’re single that’s going to change the dynamic here. You’re not going to be as available to me, but if that’s what is right for you and the will of God for your life, I’m going to be there for that even when it costs me something.

We’re going to be people who love in the truest sense. Jesus loved us in that way. He loved us sacrificially, and we’re called to model that. Really, I don’t think that’s possible without a thriving relationship with Christ. Our relationship with Him and our satisfaction we have from Him is what gives us that wellspring. Jesus told the woman at the well, “When you drink from this, it becomes a fountain of living water within you. That relationship with Him is so key to all of this.

Nancy: That’s ideally our friendships should be helping us experience more of.

I’m listening to this, Kelly, and thinking about the year I turned thirty. The Lord did a huge work in my life that year in this whole area. Within a few months, as I recall, I had a very close friend who died unexpectedly—an early, young death. I had another friend who got married, and their season of life changed. Another friend who moved away. I had one who had a major, personal failure and it took them kind of out of my orb.

So there were a lot of changes going on in the people that I was really close to. I found myself in a fetal position on the floor, like emotionally tanked, discouraged, depressed, angry, resentful. I wouldn’t have used all those words at once. But as I look back on it, it was a season of months where I was just so sad, so put out, because of all these changes. I had lost my equilibrium.

I’ve said to women many times over the years . . . It was in this season that I began to realize this: anything that makes me need God is a blessing. It causes me to look upward rather than outward or inward to get those needs met.

One of the things that began to dawn on me in that season became a point of real confession and repentance. It changed my life really forever. I began to realize that I thought I had been such a giver in these relationships. I was investing in these friends, in so many. I could have counted, listed the ways for you. They would have said that. But I began to realize that at some level, in each of these cases, I had been giving in order to get something for me, something to fill up my cup, something to make me happier.

I didn’t see it. I really didn’t see it until they were taken away. Then I realized I had nothing, or I thought I had nothing. Because what I was banking on to fill me up wasn’t there anymore or the circumstances had changed. As God began to show this to me, my eyes were opened, Kelly. I’m telling you, I began to confess this to the Lord, to repent that I had put these people in the place of God in my life. I never would have seen it that way until they were gone.

Maybe I needed like three or four to happen at once for me to realize what a pattern this was for me. I thought I was generous. I thought I was giving. I was at some level, but at another level these relationships had become an idol, a god in my life. I remember crying out to the Lord and saying, “Lord, I want You to be God in my life. I want to be able to say what the psalmist said in Psalm 73, whom have I in heaven but You, and on earth there is nothing that I desire besides You.”

You can read that, but to really say it. Then there’s a little bit of pendulum swing, because you say, “Okay, I don’t need people, because they’re just going to die. They’re going to move. They’re going to fail.” That’s not the right answer either.

Kelly: That’s not true.

Let me speak to that, because I’ve had several people ask me. That’s kind of their response to all this is swinging that way. I would say, “No. It’s not safe to be on your own.” You need people. You don’t need a specific person necessarily. I think that’s the difference. You don’t need this specific friend or that specific friend, but you need people in your life.

That’s been a part of my normal habits. I think I didn’t realize that people hadn’t maybe been discipled in that. So some of what I was saying, early on people were taking that as I don’t need anybody. I’m like, “No, of course that’s not true.”

One of our first moves that happened after we were married and we were traveling a lot on the road with Jimmy’s music career. I realized at one point I have friends but none of them are local. There’s no one here that I can drive down the street and see.

Nancy: And actually talk to.

Kelly: And talk to. And that’s not okay. I actually sent an email to about three or four women who were just acquaintances. I literally said, essentially, I need friends; can any of you be my friend?

Nancy: You reached out.

Kelly: I just reached out to them and I said that I know I need to walk with people. It’s healthy for my soul. A couple of those women wrote me back. I started meeting weekly with one of them at Starbucks, and she’s a dear friend of mine now. We’ve been friends for many years.

In every new season, that to me is extremely important. I move somewhere new, life seasons change, “Lord, I need somebody.” It’s not a specific person. I grieve my good friends when that relationship changes. Grieving is a healthy, normal thing in the change or the loss of a friendship that’s been special to you. But they’re not my savior. I do need people. I don’t need that person.

In every season that I’ve been in that’s extremely important to me, who are my friends? Even as a married woman, we addressed this yesterday. Marriage is not enough or cannot meet all of your relational needs. We need a community of people around us.

I think a lot of that should bloom out of our relationship with the local church as well. If we are plugged in to local communities and invested there, then we should have a pool of people to depend on that are there that we can reach out to. If one friend isn’t available, we can go to the next and say, “I need something today.” That might be a physical need that you have. I need a meal today because I’m physically unable. It might be an emotional need. I need to confess sin to somebody. I need them to pray for me because I’m not okay. That might be any number of things. There are plenty of things we need people for.

Nancy: We need the different life seasons and gifts and contributions that different people can make in our lives. I walk with a group of seven or eight women. I call it the sisterhood. I have other spiritual sisters in my life, but this little . . . We have a text thread, and we pray together. We’re in different life seasons. When one falls or is struggling, there’s always one or more of us that are going through something hard. We have something encouraging that we want somebody to rejoice in with us. It’s interesting to see how they bring their different gifts to the table. Some are teachers, some are encouragers, some are confronters, we all do some of that.

It’s a limiting thing in our lives if we say only this person can be the end all in my life. There is no person like that. There is no husband like that. There is no friend like that—other than Jesus. He uses these many different people in the body of Christ to help us get to Him and to a more intimate friendship with Him.

I’m watching the clock here, and we have run out of time. We’re going to pick this conversation up tomorrow here on Revive Our Hearts. I want to encourage our listeners if this is an area that you have a struggle in or you know somebody else who does, and that’s probably pretty much everybody between those two, I want to encourage you to read Kelly’s book Friend-ish: Reclaiming Real Friendship in a Culture of Confusion.

It’s a very helpful, practical, biblical book, and it’s our gift, our way of saying “thank you” this week to any listener who makes a contribution of any amount to Revive Our Hearts to help this ministry continue pointing women to Jesus.

When you contact us at ReviveOurHearts.com and say I’d like to make a donation to your ministry, we’re going to send you, if you ask for it, a copy of Kelly’s book Friend-ish. You can also call us at 1–800–569–5959. If you don’t know how to spell that, it’s the word friend, then put i-s-h on the end. Or just say Kelly’s book, and we’ll know what that is.

Kelly, thank you so much for this conversation. I think as we’re closing today, there are women who’ve been listening who are realizing, maybe for the first time, that this thing of friendship or this particular person has become an idol in my life. Then it’s not an accident God had you listening today.

And the way to deal with that is through repentance which is a sweet gift from God. It can be hard. It can be messy at times, but this is an opportunity God’s giving you to say, “Lord, I want You to be the all and end all in my life. The goal of every friendship pointing to You, getting more of You. I want to come and drink from the fountain of living waters, and I know that You are the living water.”

This is just a chance today for you to reaffirm, or maybe to state for the first time that your eyes are being opened. “Lord, I need You more than I need this person, more than I need that friendship.” Maybe your heart’s aching because of a broken or lost or a misplaced affection or friendship. Come back to Christ. Repentance is a gift that will bring you to Him. Just express to Him what it is He’s saying and doing in your life today.

Be sure to join us tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts as we talk about what are some of the ingredients of healthy friendships, and how do we cultivate those in a way that really is good for us and brings glory to God. Be sure and join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.

Helping you experience freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ, Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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