Kelly Needham, author and wife of musician Jimmy Needham, talks about the benefit of being real in our friendships. She remembers an instance when a friend shared difficult words, and instead of fully listening, Kelly preached at her. Another time she avoided a friend she didn't want to face. We've all been there. The Scriptures remind us to speak the truth in love if we want our friendships to have deep roots.
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Kelly Needham, author and wife of musician Jimmy Needham, talks about the benefit of being real in our friendships. Kelly gives scriptures to remind us to speak the truth in love.
Bob: A good friend is somebody who tells you the truth/who speaks the truth in love. Here’s author Kelly Needham.
Kelly: I had a friend sit down with me, and she knew it was a hard season for me. The thesis of what she shared with me was: “I know you are in a hard season, Kelly; but you are so focused on your own problems right now that you don’t even have the ability to see anybody else’s.” I couldn’t see it because my head was just so down in my own, you know, heart and mess.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 16th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. The Bible talks about the wounds of a friend. Let’s be honest; they are still wounds, but God uses them powerfully in our lives. We’ll talk more about that today with Kelly Needham. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I was driving from Nashville to Little Rock; this was many years ago. As I drive, I like to listen to sermons or to—I’m an audio learner—but I was listening to a series from Paul David Tripp. He had done a series on the need for community in the local church. He used a phrase—and it’s something that we’ve used at our church over and over again—he says, “A healthy church is made up of people who have”—here are his criteria—“grace-based, Christ-centered, intentionally intrusive, redemptive relationships.”
Ann: That’s good.
Bob: I kind of took that apart and just started chewing:
Grace-based, which means we’re always going to give our friends grace. We’re always going to say, “Okay, I know you’ve messed up; I’ve messed up, but we’re going to minister to one another out of grace.”
We’re going to be Christ-centered: we’re going to have that same focus.
We’re going to be intentionally intrusive. That’s the one, where people always go: “I don’t know about intentionally intrusive”; right? “I don’t know that I want you getting into my business unless I tell you.”
But intentionally intrusive says: “No, you’ve got free reign. You can ask whatever you want, and I’ll be honest.” That’s risky, but that’s real and then redemptive. We’re not doing this for any purpose other than so that all of us can grow in grace together to be more like Christ.
I bring that up because I thought of it as I was reading through the book, Friend-ish, written by Kelly Needham, who is joining us this week on FamilyLife Today. Kelly, welcome back.
Kelly: Thank you so much.
Bob: Kelly is an author and a speaker who lives in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Her husband Jimmy is—he is a worship pastor.
Kelly: Yes, he is.
Bob: Kelly has written this book I mentioned called Friend-ish. Again, that definition just jumped to mind for me because you’re talking about these kinds of relationships and the need for them and the power for them. Church ought to be a place that’s a natural breeding ground for this; right?
Kelly: That’s right; it should be. Sadly, I think most of us—I’ve seen this in churches—that the superficiality of our friendships is, sometimes, not any different in the world than it is in the church. We’re all waiting for someone else to do something about that.
Kelly: I think, at the end of the day, if you have a heart to see that change, then you go be that change in your community that you want to see. That will both be really hard and scary and will cost you something; but it will actually bring about, probably, the richest flourishing of deep and meaningful friendships that you’ll have otherwise by taking that risk and jumping in there.
I know I shared in the last program some about my willingness to do that—to, you know, email people and say, “Will you be my friend?”—and really go that direction and invite those people into my life; but then that intrusive part came back to bite me! It was like: “Oh, I forgot; I’m welcoming that too.”
Kelly: I know, theoretically, I want that; but when it’s actually in front of you, it feels very different.
Bob: Do you remember a time when you froze up [with] somebody getting intrusive with you?
Kelly: Oh, I have more stories to count than I could even share right now—[Laughter]—but one in particular—a friend of mine sat down with me. We were just getting together for coffee to just catch up. She left to go to the bathroom. I found out later she was nervous about what she had to share with me.
Dave: Oh boy.
Kelly: She had to go collect herself; but she came and sat back down and was totally different. She said, “Hey, I need to talk to you about something.” I was like, “I have no idea what’s coming.”
Bob: “Where is this going?”
Kelly: Because we were really good friends; but I could tell that she had something to share that was going to be really hard for her to share, and it had to do with me.
Essentially, she shared some hurts she had felt from me that were totally unintentional—my conscience hadn’t yet been pricked by it—you know, it was a blind spot in my life. She had shared a few things with me over the past month; and as a verbal processer and a Bible student, I had like sermonized her in response—just processed—“Oh, that makes me think of this I’m learning….”
She just needed somebody to listen; but instead, I probably talked to her for like half an hour about what I was learning. It was really hurtful, and I couldn’t see it. I think she knew that, and she had stopped wanting to hang out with me. She valued our friendship enough to say something.
As soon as she shared, I could see it. It gave me eyes to see. It was like: “I totally get that. I couldn’t see it before. Thank you for sharing.” I cried; she cried. We prayed together. She prayed for me and was like: “I’m not mad at you. I just value our friendship, and I needed to say that.” I needed somebody to help me see that blind spot.
Dave: That’s where the value of a friend is so critical—
Kelly: That’s right.
Dave: —because we all have blind spots.
Kelly: We all do.
Dave: I mean, everybody else does; I don’t. [Laughter] No, I mean everybody does.
Kelly: We all do; yes.
Dave: We have a tendency not to see them because they are blind spots.
We did an exercise, years ago, with these guys in my life. We were meeting once a month: have a meal together; spend the whole night at one of our houses, talking and studying—whatever. We decided—I think it was my idea—“Let’s identify each other’s blind spots as a group.” It probably wasn’t my idea, now that I think about it. [Laughter] I mean, it was like, “What?!”
Yes; so when it’s Dave’s night—and we did this—so I leave the room. Six or seven guys are in a room, talking about me. They’re going to decide what three things—we said, “Give me three gifts”—we called them gifts—“Give me a gift.” I remember, when I went into the kitchen of this house, nobody is there. I’m like: “Well, I hope this is over in like five minutes. That means there aren’t that many, and it’s…” I was out there like 25/30 minutes. I am like, “Oh my goodness!” I go in there.
One of the things I had done in this group is—I remember I brought to them a pass that I was given as the Detroit Lions chaplain. For every game, they give you an all-access pass to the stadium; so I can be on the sideline and be in the locker room. All the security will look at that pass. I gave this to these guys and said, “I’m not giving this pass to more than five or six people in my life; but you have all-access,” which was a beautiful picture. It was like: “I’m not giving this to the congregation. But my wife has this; she can ask me anything; she can probe anywhere she wants. You guys can too.”
That’s sort of the blind-spot thing. I remember walking back in there and sitting down; so here goes “all-access.” They go: “Okay, Dave, here are your top three.” I wanted them; but when they said them, I—everything in me was like defensive—yet, I’m looking at these guys, going: “I can’t get defensive, because I’ve told them to do this,” and “They’ve talked about it, and they’re not doing it because they are mad at me. They are doing it because they love me, and they want to give me a gift; and I don’t see this.”
Everything in me is like, “That’s not true!” Yet, when you look at one person who says that, you can, maybe, dismiss it; but when you have five or six, you have to go: “This is true. Oh my goodness!” “Okay, tell me what that looks like; tell me how that comes out.” What a gift God gave us in friends that do that.
Kelly: It is such a gift. It’s a protection—
Kelly: —because we can’t—like you said, we can’t see them; but like Proverbs says, “The wounds of a friend can be trusted.” Our friends that—it is a wound; it hurts.
Kelly: It’s painful, and it’s okay to name it that. It’s a wound, but it’s from your friends; and therefore, it is trustworthy. When you have friends that just are flattering you—right?—“the kisses of an enemy”—watch out for them. We should be aware of people in our life who never have anything to say to us like that.
Ann: My insecurity has been that I am not a good friend, so I feel like I’m not great at initiating. I’m not great at reaching out. I don’t have a shepherd’s heart that will continually reach out and see how they’re doing, so then I’ll feel like I don’t deserve to be befriended by someone.
Have you ever dealt with that?—that you’ve ever pulled away because you’re wondering if you’ve invested enough time into the relationship? For me, it was out of insecurity, feeling like, “I don’t know if I deserve to be befriended.”
Kelly: I definitely have felt that way. Some of it was, in my early years of college and even being a young, married woman, I did a lot of reaching out and almost burned out. I didn’t have enough energy even for my husband so that was kind of a point of contention. I pulled back the other direction and started to feel insecure that, if I didn’t go above and beyond all the time, that they are going to be mad at me/something is going to be off.
Yes, I definitely—my habits before marriage and in those early years made it really hard for me to try and figure out, “What is the balance there?” I learned I really have to trust my friends that they are going to let me know. Some of those friendships, I verbalized that/said, “I struggle with what’s appropriate and how/what I should be giving.” Some seasons, we have more to give than others; you know? Sometimes, we need our friends to pick up the slack; and sometimes, we have to do that for them. I’ve asked them, “Will you just be faithful to let me know?”
Bob: You talked about your friend—who you were trying to teach, or help, or counsel—and she just needed empathy; but you had a situation in your life when you were going through a season of depression, and you needed something other than just empathy. You needed some people to kind of point out, like we’re talking about here, the blind spots.
Kelly: Be a little bit intrusive; yes.
Bob: Tell us about that season. What was going on?
Bob: Was it because of the miscarriages that you were dealing with the depression?
Kelly: It was actually a little bit after that. It had a little bit to do with just the exposure that God had done in my life with my pride. He’d exposed some spiritual pride and given me a true, godly grief over that. I mean, I really grieved that in a beautiful way; it was really refreshing. That’s when I started to get opportunities to teach and speak; and I was not interested because I thought, “Well, I’m going to fail at that; so I’m writing it off.”
My husband really felt strongly that that was not right for me to do—that that was self-protection for me—and he really felt that God was bringing those opportunities and was encouraging me into them. It created a terror of personal moral failure in my own heart—that I felt afraid that I was going to dishonor God with my own spiritual pride—so it was very introspective; you know? I’m in this, probably, two-year funk of obsessing about my motives and just becoming really in my head all the time. I became very depressed by just the reality that I was always going to struggle with this sin to some degree.
I did—I had a friend sit down with me; and she knew it was a hard season for me. The thesis of what she shared with me was: “I know you are in a hard season, Kelly; but you are so focused on your own problems right now that you don’t even have the ability to see anybody else’s. I know you are struggling, but so am I.”
And we had had an interaction that—again, it was hurtful to her; and I couldn’t see it because my head was just so down in my own, you know, heart and mess. That was a really, really painful moment. I just/I don’t know how many other things have felt as uncomfortable as that. I took that, and I sat in my closet for probably two hours and cried and talked to God about it. It was what I needed to get my head out of the fog of my own self-obsession; because what I couldn’t see was, in God convicting me of spiritual pride, I course-corrected way too far into a different form of pride and just was becoming very self-piteous and still self-obsessed, but in a negative way. She really helped me see that, and it was a big risk for her.
I’ve talked to her about it after the fact; but she knew how I felt—that I wanted to sleep all the time because I felt so, just, defeated in my life—that I really was struggling with some of those presenting symptoms of depression. Yet, here she was willing to say what was on her heart to say, and it was like the lancing of a wound. That’s the best—I feel like it was so painful; but after that was a difference—I turned a corner—it was what helped bring me out of that funk.
Bob: So, I’m imagining a listener, who is thinking, “I’m observing something in a friend’s life—
Dave: Yes, Bob, I was meaning to talk to you about this. [Laughter] Now is my shot!
Bob: —“something that’s one of those, ‘I think I need to say something.’” There are some people, who are like, “I’m ready for that, yes.” They are the speak-the-truth kind of people.
Dave: They are the sermon-ators.
Bob: Yes, the prophets; right?
Kelly: Right. [Laughter]
Ann: I’m good at that.
Bob: Then there are others, who are like, “I could never say anything like that because that could harm the relationship.” Ephesians tells us: “Speak the truth in love.” Some people run to truth; some people run to love. We’ve got to bring both of them to the table.
Kelly: That’s right.
Bob: If somebody is feeling that, “I wonder if I need to say something,” what kind of counsel would you give them to pray through to know: “Do I say something? How do I say it? When do I say it?” What’s the process you go through rather than just saying, “I need to say something. I’m calling them right now.” Probably, a timeout to do a little evaluation before you have that conversation; right?
Kelly: Definitely. I think there is a category in this conversation we have to have for overlooking offenses—that the Bible does tell us it’s godly to overlook an offense.
Usually, when I know I need to say something, though, is when I don’t want to be around them or I’m tempted to be false. That verse in Ephesians says, “Put therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak the truth in love.” So when a friend comes up to me and says, “Hey, are we okay?” I’m like [thinking], “We’re not, because I’m actually secretly offended; and I [falsely] say, ‘We’re fine!’”—I’ve embraced a level of falsehood in that friendship. Maybe, I’m doing it under the guise of love and overlooking offenses—but when I notice that I’m starting to be fake with my friend or I don’t want to be around them—then I know I need to say something.
That conflict moment that’s coming is actually the way we fight for unity; because we’re sinners, we’re all going to offend one another. We have to be willing to go to those moments and address them. So when I know that’s coming, I, then, start praying. Then I give myself, probably—it depends on the nature of the situation—but I give myself probably a week to just pray and talk to God about it; ask the counsel of my husband; sometimes people, who don’t know that friend, who live somewhere else and share confidentially.
And then I ask the Lord to pull the log out of my own eye. The thing that I feel offended about in them: “God, show me where that is happening in my own life”; because then, I will become like Jesus says in that parable: you pull that log out first so that you are able to pull the speck out. It actually humbles you and tenderizes your own heart that you could come into that conversation with an understanding that you are just as weak and needy as they are.
Then, I’ll set aside time to meet with that friend and ask for that meeting, which is usually when the awkwardness ensues, when you say: “Can we meet without our kids?” or “Can I talk to you about something?”
Bob: They sniff, “Something’s up here”; right?
Kelly: They know something is going on!
Bob: If somebody calls you and says, “Hey, could we get together, just the two of us?” you go, “What’s coming here?”; right?
Kelly: Oh, yes; exactly! It feels horrible, and it’s super uncomfortable; nobody likes it. Maybe, some people do; but I think most people, when I talk to them, they don’t like it. They’d rather do what most of us do, which is slowly back away from the relationship and go build friendship somewhere else in the church or in the community, and just kind of go, “Oh, that was weird,” and move on. Then we have fractured communities, I think, because of that. We don’t have the depth of unity that we could have if we’d be willing to go there.
You have to be willing to do that: “Hey, let’s have a conversation,” “Let’s talk.” Embrace that awkwardness and then remind them: “This is—I love you. Because I value this friendship, I want to talk about something. I don’t want us to fall apart; I want us to have unity and peace between us,” and then to go there.
Dave: The courage to do that is big, because I’ve seen it’s so easy to do the opposite, which is to go talk to Bob about Kelly—
Dave: —when I need to go talk to Kelly. Now, not that I have anything—you know what I’m saying? In the church, it’s almost like accepted; it’s almost—
Dave: —even put under the prayer requests time: “Hey, we need to pray for Kelly.” “Really?! Why?” “Oh...” It’s like, “Oh my goodness, I’m just afraid to speak to a friend in love/truth.” Yet, when you do it, that’s when maturity happens; right?
Kelly: That’s right.
Ann: I think the counter of that is making sure that we speak life into our friends, too; because we can see these great qualities in our friends and the people around us, without ever saying it.
I remember I was out to lunch one day, and all of [us] girlfriends were together. It was probably a table of six; and we were talking about, you know, just kind of topics that were super light of: “Hey, where did you get that jacket?” and “Who’s doing your hair?” After a while—and this is what I’m known for—I love to go a little deeper. I’m like, “Hey, let’s go a little deeper,”—and I was younger; and my words were actually, “Can we not talk about nothingness for a while?”—which was so offensive to my friends—[Laughter] [Whispering]: “We’re talking about nothingness!”
Ann: They were so like, “What?!” I wouldn’t have said that the same way now, but I think just to go a little deeper into speaking life into one another too.
I know, for our birthdays, we’ll go around the table—whoever’s birthday it is—and we’ll just speak life of even victories of what we’ve seen our friends going through that year, like, “You’ve gone through some really hard stuff; but these are some of the character qualities I see God has put in you that is really helping to deal with what you’re going through…” I think that, too, countering the speaking the truth in love is so beneficial; because it’s building one another up.
Kelly: Yes; and I think if you do that, it actually builds the foundation and trust for when that moment might need to happen with a friend—that that’s not the only deep conversation you’ve had is a negative one—but you’ve been encouraging one another and spurring one another on. That friend can now trust you that you are for them; because you have been for them, verbally. I agree; you have to have that in your relationships.
Bob: What can churches do to help promote and foster better friendships in the congregation? Programs aren’t going to work. We’ve got to figure out how we model this or how we facilitate this to happen, organically, in our churches. Do you have any thoughts about them?
Kelly: Well, yes; I think part of what we can do is normalize these uncomfortable parts of friendship and remind people: “This is what it feels like to be friends with fellow sinners in a real way. When we really do life together, it’s going to feel like this.” When we normalize that, it—then when somebody is facing that, they don’t feel like something is broken in the friendship; or “I’m broken”; or “I’ve messed this up”; or “This is wrong.” We can go—“No, the Bible—we see this in the Bible—we see Paul confronting Peter. We see Jesus saying, ‘You go to your brother and confront him when he sins against you.’”
There are categories for that; it’s normal. We can give stories when we have a platform to make that known. Our pastor just recently preached on friendship and was very vulnerable about when some of his friends had been faithful wound-ers in his life. I think, for our whole congregation, that kind of gives like a [sigh of relief]: “Oh, okay; you’ve faced that. Okay, I can face that, and expect that from my friendships, and not be scared of it when it happens.”
Bob: Did your husband lead the congregation in singing, “Friends are friends forever; the Lord is the Lord of them.” [Laughter]
Kelly: Of course.
Bob: Yes, okay.
Dave: I think we should do that right now, Bob. [Laughter] [Softly singing]:“Friends are friends….”
No; I was going to add—I think it’s so important to model it in the church—
Dave: —like your pastor did. It’s like I don’t remember growing up in a church and ever hearing our pastor talk about a friend or the vulnerability of being weak and needing a friend in his life.
I remember we had a young high school kid stay at our house for ten days; and right at the close of his time with us, I said to him over dinner, “Hey, so you’ve been with the Wilsons for almost two weeks; what did you learn?” It was very interesting what he said—he goes, “Yes, it’s a lot different than my house.” I go: “Yes? In what way?”—not knowing if that was good or bad—he said: “Your buddies come over. You have friends. They come over, and they show up unannounced. They’ll eat here. You’ll go out and shoot baskets.” He goes: “I’ve never seen that with my dad. He doesn’t have any friends.”
I thought, “Wow; that’s a beautiful thing.” I didn’t even realize it was that central to my life—that these guys are really soul mates. I will show up at their house; they will show up at my house, and that that was uncommon when it should be common—that’s what the church should be—you know?
Bob: Well, maybe, if a few more people read Friend-ish, that could help; right? I mean, imagine if our listeners got together with other people in their neighborhood, in their church, where the kids go to school—get together with the moms or the dads there—and go through Kelly’s book together. There could be people you know who are lonely, who would be desperate for that kind of interaction, and this is a great book to help you think through what the Bible has to say about friendships.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book, Friend-ish, by Kelly Needham. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Again, the book is called Friend-ish by Kelly Needham. Order online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or order by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Speaking of books, there’s another book we’d like to give to you. Our friends at Desiring God Ministries are helping make this available. John Piper has written a brand new book called Coronavirus and Christ. We talked with him about this earlier this week and it was a great conversation.
In fact, if you didn’t get a chance to hear our conversation with John Piper, it’s available online at FamilyLife Today.com. His new book is available in e-book format or as an audio book for a free download. You can go to our website FamilyLife Today.com and download either the e-book or the audio book for free. The print addition will be available in about a week and if you’d like to pre-order that there is a link on our website. Again the title of the book is Coronavirus and Christ.
I would say this is an important book because we need to be thinking rightly about God and the Gospel, the Good News, in the midst of our current situation. We have friends and neighbors who have questions. This book will help equip all of us to be able to address those questions. It may answer questions you have about how a good God could remain good when there are thousands of people dying all around the world every day as a result of this pandemic.
So, again get your copy of the audio book or the e-book Coronavirus and Christ by John Piper. The download is free for either of those resources. Go to FamilyLife Today.com to request your copy.
And thanks to those of you who support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today. You make it possible for us to make resources like this available to you and to hundreds of thousands of other people all around the world. We are grateful especially in these times for those of you who are able to continue your financial support of this ministry. I hope you’re being generous with your local church and generous with people who are challenged. If you can make a donation today to support this ministry we would be grateful.
We hope you can join us again tomorrow. We’re going to talk more about friendships—going to talk about those friendships that can be draining—people who are needy. How do we handle those kinds of friendships? Kelly Needham joins us again tomorrow. We hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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