In a previous post called “When friends move…“, I began to examine how believers can maintain relationships over long distances (i.e. when one or more friends move). Also, I hope to tie this back to implications for the church and fellowship between believers in general.
First, remember that we should not expect to maintain a “long distance” relationship if there was not real relationship to begin with. We can spend time with someone every day for years without a real relationship. A surface level acquaintance is not the same as a real relationship. But, if we have a real relationship with someone, if God has used us to impact their lives, and if God has used them to impact our lives, then we should expect the relationship to continue. In fact, just as Paul, James, John, and other New Testament authors were able to maintain “long distance” friendships using only first century communication methods, we should expect to be able to maintain “long distance” friendships even easier.
What about change? What happens when one person changes his or her views in a certain area, but the “long distance friend” does not? First, I would suggest that change should be expected, and both parties should expect change in their own lives and in the lives of their friends. I would suggest that if someone does not change, then there is a problem with their relationship with God. (Certainly, this does not mean that a person has to change their beliefs in a given area, but change in general should be expected.) As a person is sanctified by the Holy Spirit, that person’s life changes. When we have opportunity to get together with “long distance friends”, we should rejoice and relish the change that God has wrought in their lives. This change should be an opportunity of further exploring the greatness and wonder of God and how he works in our lives.
Problems occur, of course, when friends begin to look at changes as right or wrong without considering their relationships – without listening to their friends. If a friend believers something different, it does not mean that we must stop being their friends. It means, instead, that should listen carefully to what God may be saying to us through this friend, and at the same time, expecting God to teach our friends through our own life-change. (Unless, of course, there is no change in our life, which, as I said, may indicate a problem between ourselves and God.)
If we think through this, however, we can recognize that people are always changing. The difference between change in the lives of “long distance” friends and change in the life of friends who live near us is that we witness the change in the lives of friends who live near us as that change is taking place. For “near” friends, that change happens in small steps. We see each small step instead of the big change that actually happens over time. However, in the case of “long distance” friends, we may not witness the small changes, and so we see all change as “big” changes.
Talking to or meeting with a “long distance” friend who has changed should be an opportunity of joy and excitement of hearing what God has done in their lives, instead of an opportunity of anxiety because our friend has changed. Of course, this will require love and acceptance from both parties and directed toward both parties.