One August Day in 2010 our lives changed. My husband got a call to minister to two churches in Perth, Western Australia. This meant leaving the home we had enjoyed for the previous four years in New South Wales and moving almost 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) away.
I felt both excited and overwhelmed. But my greatest concern was for our three children— their ages then were 13, 9, and 2. What a drastic change for them to wake up one day friendless, I thought anxiously. I knew we would all have to start from scratch and form our circle of friends all over again.
This would be our fourth move since we’d entered ministry, and yet it felt like the first time. I experienced all the emotions that come with leaving a familiar area and moving to a place foreign to us.
My husband seemed to have a better coping mechanism. When we arrived at our new location, he went straight to seeing people and carrying out his duties. I envied him, wishing I could have the same resilience to spring back so quickly. Secretly, I also resented the move. So did my oldest son. At the delicate age of 13, he was determined to let us know that he was not happy and that he did not want to be here. It pained me to see him so unhappy. I would cry often in prayer, letting God know how I felt.
Do you relate?
Many of us have gone through this experience. We have felt the pain and tears as we face new territories. We are territorial beings! We enjoy community. This is how God created each of us—to be social beings and to enjoy the company of other humans in friendship.
How interesting to realize that in the Garden of Eden, Adam was in constant face-to-face communion with his Creator, and yet he felt that something was missing! He yearned for another human who would understand him, because friendship is a God-given gift to the human race.
Throughout the inspired pages of the Bible we can see again and again how friendship has a transforming power on those who experience this amazing gift. Here is one wonderful example:
Abraham was God’s friend!
• Isaiah 41:8: “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend.”1
• James 2:23: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. And he was called the friend of God.” • 2
Chronicles 20:7: “Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever?”
The Bible also gives us the key to having and making friends. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” We must be friendly first!
Yet as we face new territories, we must be careful about whom we choose as friends. We’ve heard the proverb that says “by beholding we become changed.” Negative or ungodly companions corrupt good morals. We become more like those we associate with. During those fragile chapters in our lives in ministry when we start a new territory, the friends we make will produce good memories or destroy our effectiveness. Godly friends kindle godly behaviors.
Ellen White wrote: “It is a law both of the intellectual and the spiritual nature that by beholding we become changed. The mind gradually adapts itself to the subjects upon which it is allowed to dwell. It becomes assimilated to that which it is accustomed to love and reverence.”2
So, how did I make it through this new transition? First, I put a lot of effort into making sure our children were connected and well established in our new church. For several Sabbaths I observed a group of kids whom I could invite over. There was intentional effort and lots of prayers sent to God’s throne of grace. And by the end of the first year, they were established and content in their circle of friends and active in the church.
But what about us spouses? We can get so submerged in making others happy that we forget that we must look after our emotional selves if we want to effectively serve our spouses, kids, and churches.
One day about a year after our move, I realized an answer to my prayer. I was taking my youngest son to his swimming lesson. Every week I had seen a woman sitting all by herself, waiting for the lesson to finish before making a quick exit. She seemed to be absorbed on her phone during every lesson—a clear indication that she was not interested in starting a conversation with any nearby parents. Week after week I saw her there, alone and seemingly friendless.
Finally I found the courage to approach her, given that her daughter and my son were both taking swimming lessons and getting along quite well. I took this as an opportunity to start a casual conversation. Now, more than five years later, she has become my most trusted and loyal friend. We’ve shared many meals and outings together, and she has started coming back to church with her family. We have Bible studies once a week, during which we chat and share about life.
I’ve learned an important principle: We don’t need to have a crowd of friends to experience fulfillment. And to make friends, we must be friendly first!
“Things will go wrong with every one; sadness and discouragement press every soul; then a personal presence, a friend who will comfort and impart strength, will turn back the darts of the enemy that are aimed to destroy. Christian friends are not half as plentiful as they should be. In hours of temptation, in a crisis, what a value is a true friend! Satan at such times sends along his agents to cause the trembling limbs to stumble; but the true friends who will counsel, who will impart magnetic hopefulness, the calming faith that uplifts the soul,— oh, such help is worth more than precious pearls.”3
Friends are essential in our lives, and the older a person gets the more valuable friendships become. There is something special about having a friend with whom we can open our hearts, unburden our troubles, and share our joys of life. It’s not just about ministering to them, but being ministered to by them.
As we move about, obeying God’s calling, friendships are one of the most important assets in a ministerial couple’s life. God will present to you the friends that will complement your life. Just make sure you ask Him. Proverbs 27:9 says, “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice” (NIV).
1 Unless otherwise indicated, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.
2 Ellen White, The Great Controversy, p. 555.
3 The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 3, p. 1163