It was January of 1993 – the lonesome stretch of winter when the novelty of the season has worn off and everyone knows there’s still a long way to go until spring. I was between college and seminary and traveling around with a Lutheran Youth Encounter team. I’ve shared with you stories of those years before. We put on programs in churches sharing music and stories and puppet shows. The team I was on that year traveled mostly in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Canada, and North and South Dakota.
We traveled in a beige paneled van from place to place and this was in the days before everyone had a cell phone with GPS. We used maps and directions given to us by people at the churches we were headed to. We learned in those days that most people are not very good at giving directions. We also learned that there are some roads in North Dakota that are not plowed all the way through during the winter. We figured this out one day as we were trying to take a short cut from one small town in North Dakota to another, cruising along on a wintery gravel road. We went over a small hill and as we came down the other side were stopped abruptly as we were buried up to our hood in snow.
So there we were. No cell phones to call for help, the winter wind swirling the snow all around us. The temperature hovering around zero. Miles from anywhere. The seven of us all responded differently. One stayed in the van eating snacks. Some tried to dig out the van. A couple more walked down the road for help. One put on headphones and waited and worried. And after briefly attempting to help dig out the van but feeling our efforts were futile, me and my friend Chris bundled up, took pictures, trudged to an abandoned house nearby to explore, pretended we were the Ingalls family in the Long Winter, and laughed until our sides hurt. I maybe should have been worried and afraid – and I’m sure if I had been alone, I would have been. But I wasn’t alone. I was confident that help would come and in the meantime, I had a ball goofing around with Chris. Sure enough, within a couple hours, the two who had gone for help returned with a tractor to tow us out of the snow bank. All was well.
But I have often thought about that day – how what I remember the most of it wasn’t being lost or stuck or cold or scared or how we were late for our program that night. No, what I remember is laughing with my friend and how a friend can make even the least favorable circumstances better just by being there.
The Bible contains many scriptures about fear, anxiety, and worry. God knew that part of every life is experiencing those emotions. And it seems to me there is plenty to feel anxious about. Pandemics, finances, the well-being of people we love, what might happen, what might not happen, aging, will I say something stupid, will I miss my chance, am I wasting my time, will he fall off the wagon again, how will that debt ever get paid off, will the business crumble, will I ever feel healthy and good again, will my loved ones be deported, why are there so many guns, will somebody take away my guns – you name it. Fear, anxiety, and worry are our daily companions.
But they aren’t our only companions. Something we talk about a lot is God’s promise that God is with us to help carry the burdens, shine a path along our way, give us wisdom we need step by step. God is our daily companion along the journey of life and knowing that brings us comfort as we face the fears, anxieties, and worries of life.
But God knew that sometimes we need God with skin on – so that is why God has also given us the companionship of friends. What a precious gift friends are. It’s our first friends who teach us important lessons about sharing and taking turns and forgiveness. Friends we meet when we are young help us survive the growing pains of the pre-teen and teenage years. Whether playing on a sports team together or going to camp together, it’s never simply experiences that make life rich, it’s experiences shared, isn’t it?
Studies show that friendships not only make us happier but they help us live longer and better lives. People with friends recover more quickly from illness. Social ties reduce stress which helps to lower blood pressure. Getting together with friends helps lower depression. And this doesn’t mean one has to be a social butterfly – even having one or two real friends is all that one needs.
We experience the grace and love of God through our friendships – God works through them in our lives to remind us of important things – to laugh, to relax, that it’s okay to talk about things that matter, and that we aren’t alone as we journey through the seasons of this life. As the old saying goes, “Friendship multiplies the good of life and divides the evil.”
And friendship is something we find in our community of faith as well. While the word of God gives us life and hope and grace, we come to understand what that means through our life together. Oh, congregations are far from perfect – there can be hard feelings or misunderstandings or brokenness in a congregation just the same as in any group of human beings – and yet, somehow God works through us to help dispel the darkness for each other.
I know many of you are missing the community we share here – it’s hard to not be together. And I know many of you carry worries of all different kinds, maybe things only you and God know about. And when you are feeling fear or worry or anxiety, remember you are not alone. God is with you.
And remember also that at any moment you can be God with skin on for someone else by sharing your word of kindness or compassion or grace. Your friendship to someone today will help make their burden easier to bear. You have the power to do that. Your words and actions are incredibly powerful – you can bring healing and hope and joy to someone today. Your phone call or letter can shatter the loneliness someone is feeling today.
We rarely think of ourselves, our words as that powerful – and yet it is so true. Oprah tells a story about Dr. Maya Angelou. She said they were at a party at Dr. Angelou’s home and a guest told a “joke” that had foul language and ideas. And to everyone’s shock, Dr. Angelou quietly escorted that man out of her home: kind, firm, but unmistakeable. And she said to Oprah that she did that because words have power and weight especially in our homes. She said something like, “I will not allow you to paint my walls and my furniture with your filthy toxic words.”
Words matter. Your words matter. Words build or destroy, plant seeds of friendship and goodness or division and pain. How will you use your words today?