I sat in a comfy chair in Katie’s house. A steaming mug of hot chocolate warmed my hands as we chatted. It was lovely. That is until Katie asked, “Ruth, are you available to face paint at my daughter’s party? You don’t have to but she would love it if you did.”
The truth was, I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t think of a way out. Instead of “no,” I managed, “Yes, I could do that. When is it?”
Details followed, with a promise from me that my face paints and I would be there. We continued to chat, but for me, the evening had lost its sparkle.
Later as I got in my car, I felt the familiar surge of annoyance at being roped in to yet another commitment. Why did Katie have to ask me? Didn’t she know how much I already had on my plate?
Instead of joy at being able to serve my friend, I was angry with her for asking me, and even angrier with myself for saying yes.
All the possible excuses I could have used ran through my mind: I need to catch up on some stuff. That day is my only free day in the midst of a busy few months and I need it to unwind and relax. I’d planned to spend time with my family. They were all true. If only I’d managed to get one of them out before the word yes. Such a tiny word, so many problems.
I suddenly realized I wasn’t living up to my name. One of the meanings of the name Ruth is “a true friend.” Being a friend is tough. Being a true friend is even tougher.
Stopped at a traffic light in North London, I took a minute to reflect on my thoughts. I felt the tiny knot in my stomach grow bigger. What if Katie could hear my thoughts—my unfair, unkind, selfish thoughts? What kind of a friend would she think I was? I put my head on the steering wheel and prayed for forgiveness. I asked for help to be a good friend, to be a real Ruth.
As the light turned green, new thoughts dominated—they turned to Jesus and his friends Peter, Martha, and Judas.
Peter. Peter sounds like the typical annoying friend. The one you do like but who never understands what you’re trying to say to them. As a result, the conversation goes in circles.
Many times I have been a Peter to my friends. There was one instance, not so very long ago, when Emily attempted to explain something to me. She remained patient as I interrupted again and again to insert my own views. While my thoughts were valid, they had no relation to what Emily was saying. I just wasn’t getting the point. I thought that what I had to say was far more important than Emily’s thoughts. I wasn’t being loving. I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t being a Ruth.
Martha. Martha was a good friend to Jesus. She cared for His needs in a practical way, unfortunately she was too busy to spend real time with Him.
On quite a few occasions I have been a Martha. I have had friends who needed help, and often the best service I could have offered was to spend time listening and encouraging them. Instead I have baked them cakes or sent a card. These things are kind and helpful, but my problem was that I hadn’t taken the time to determine the real needs of my friends. Instead, I was too busy to think about them. They didn’t need cakes or cards, they needed someone to listen to them, cry with them, and encourage them. I needed to examine the problem and to prioritize—I needed to put my friends above myself.
Judas. He was the friend who was with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry. The close friend who listened to Jesus preach, who sat and ate with Him, and who ultimately betrayed Him.
I’ve never betrayed anyone in quite the way that Judas did, but I have let my friends down. I remember a situation at work. I got in trouble for something that someone else had done. Though I wasn’t totally separate from the situation, I hadn’t actually done the deed. So, I pleaded “not guilty” and gave inside information on who the real culprit was. In that situation I was not being a Ruth. I was showing a “me first” attitude when I should have shown a “you first” attitude.
Peter, Martha, and Judas all had flaws, and they remind me of my own, very significant ones. As I look at them I’m constantly reminded of how frail and weak my friendship is. But I can learn to be a good friend because I have the perfect model—Jesus. He is there all the time, He knows and cares for our needs, He listens to what we say and acts on it, He always forgives, and He has showed us the ultimate act of friendship—He laid down His life for His friends. If I want to be a better friend, then I need to learn from the perfect friend.
I’ve started to ask myself what I call “The Friend Question” more and more: What sort of a friend am I being? Am I a Peter, a Martha, a Judas or a Jesus? Am I truly a Ruth in nature as well as in name? And I’m hoping that with time, I live up to my name more and more.