At first, it was a bit scary and lonely to be an exchange student halfway across the world at 16 with no previous travel experience. Yes, it was exciting, but also hard. I remember stepping into an American high school for the first time and seeing all the people. People who were so different from me. How would I relate to them?
Over time, I made some friends, and I found most Americans to be very open and hospitable (at least in Texas, where I live). In fact, friendliness is still one of my favorite things about the U.S. Back in my hometown in Eastern Europe, it was not typical for complete strangers to make eye contact, much less strike personal conversation or show each other pictures of their grandkids when waiting in line at the post office.
Some of the friendships I made during my exchange year have lasted more than a decade, while others faded away in a few months, or weeks…. or days. You don’t have to go to another country to experience this. Some friendships just do not last. Some are not real friendships at all.
Sometimes humans do this to each other.
You meet someone who seems really enthusiastic about getting to know you, but you soon figure out they are not really interested in YOU; they are interested in a GOAL they have for you. They don’t see you as a friend; they see you as a project.
I met people who were very kind at first, but I later discovered that they had a fixed agenda for our “friendship.” They wanted to be my friend so that they could sell me a product, or so that they could invite me to join a religious group, or so that they would have a foreigner-friend to showcase to someone.
We have all had experiences where someTHING mattered more than someONE.
It feels awkward and weird because “a friend so that” is not a friend at all.
No one wants to be someone’s project, but everyone wants to be someone’s friend.
Projects are temporary – they last until the objective is met (yay, you joined my direct selling company!). They are one-sided - they are motivated by one person’s goal (I will befriend you because I need to increase the numbers in my club/church/company). In the end, projects objectify the other person and turn the friendship into a means to an end.
Sometimes if we think our end is a worthy cause, we tell ourselves that it is ok to become someone’s "friend so that” and to treat that friendship as a project.
I am enjoying this product and providing for my family by selling it, so I start seeing others primarily as potential clients.
I love God and I believe the world would be a better place if everyone followed Jesus and joined my church, so I make friends with others only so I can get them to join my church.
I believe in my message about faith and cross-cultural relationships, so I start seeing others as possible subscribers to my blog. (Did you know you can subscribe to receive my posts by e-mail? Do you already like my Facebook page? Are you following me on Twitter and Instagram?) :)
We can all so easily fall into the trap, but this is not the way of friendship. Even if our ends are worthy causes, we are missing the point of friendship when we see others as projects to be fixed instead of people to be known, loved, and accepted.
Unlike projects, friendships are lasting, not temporary, because there is no sole objective to be accomplished. When we walk through life side by side as friends, there will be enough wonders, questions, heartbreaks, joys, and experiences to last for a lifetime. Friendships are mutual, not one-sided, because everyone’s goals, thoughts, feelings, dreams, and doubts matter, and we shape each other as we go. Friendships bring the best in the other person and in ourselves because friendships are not a means to an end. Friendship is the end.
Everyone longs to be known, loved, and accepted regardless of their background.
And everyone can tell, regardless of their background, whether they are someone’s project or someone’s friend.
Today, just like in the first century, many religious people believe that to please God they must be blindly devoted to keeping every commandment at all cost, and if they step over other people in the process, ... oh, well. We are doing it for God. For the right cause.
Jesus taught a different way: to love God we must love others (1 John 4:20-21), beginning with the ones stepped over by everyone in the rush of meeting deadlines. God does not see us as projects who need to get with the program. He is in the friendship business: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
True friendships have incredible power to change us and to change the world. Thankfully, both during my exchange year and in the years since then, I made friends who have loved and supported me unconditionally through many seasons in life. Friends who gave me the space to be vulnerable and real and loved me anyway. Friends who never pulled out agendas for me or who tossed their agendas aside. Friends who embraced me and stood by my side even if they could not directly relate to my circumstances. Friends with whom I can wonder, question, seek meaning in life, and disagree on things.
Friends, not projects.
I would not be who I am today without them. And I would have never really known God if I had not seen Him in the flesh and bones of a friend.
In the rush of life and the drive to accomplish things, let us not lose sight of the value of the people around us. Let's extend each other the love of a friend instead of the deadline of a project.
Have you ever experienced the difference between being treated as a friend versus a project? How has it changed you?
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