Ask Jani: “How do you walk through trials with a friend?”

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Episode Synopsis

Heidi and Jani discuss friendship—how to walk through trials together and also how to handle differences in theological beliefs and practices.

Audio Transcript

Jani Ortlund: Welcome everyone. We’re glad you joined us today. We’re having a special podcast today, an “Ask Jani.” And we’re going to look at some of the questions—well actually, two questions—that you’ve sent in.

Question 1: “How do you walk through trials with a friend?” 00:28

Jani: The first one is from a listener who asks, “How do I walk through trials with a friend?” And I would really like Heidi to speak to this because, as some of our listeners know, Heidi, you’ve walked through a very hard trial. Maybe you could refresh us on what that trial involves and how friends have walked through it with you in a helpful way.

Heidi Howerton: Yes, I think this is such a good question, Jani. As you guys know, about three years ago I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and our kids were so little at the time. Gideon was three months old. James was 18 months old and Hannah was three years old. So, not only had we just had a baby, but we found out that I had thyroid cancer and it was so hard and we were, we were just trying to keep our heads above water with three kids under three. And thankfully I’m doing really well now, but that trial taught us so much.

Heidi: One of the things I remember talking to people about it is one of the beautiful fruits that God brought out of it is that we know a little bit more how to walk with people through trials. Mike and I didn’t know how to before. If somebody had been going through suffering, I don’t think I would have known what to do. But seeing other people love on us really gave me wisdom and insight or just to know what can I do that’s helpful.

Answer: Do Something. 1:52

Heidi: So how do you walk through trials with a friend? I think more than anything, you do something. You show up in some way. So often I don’t know what to do, but I want to do something. And so Lord, help me think of something to do.

Heidi: Some little ideas that come to mind. I’ll never forget the friend who, the day I was diagnosed and I sent her that text message, she showed up with her three little kids in the car and a tiny bouquet of flowers and said, “Heidi, I don’t even know what to say, but my heart is breaking for you and I just want you to know I’m here.” She drove 30 minutes with her three kids to deliver a small thing of flowers and it meant the world to me to have somebody go out of their way unannounced and just show up on my doorstep. It was so sweet.

Heidi: I’ll also never forget the family, that night that I was diagnosed and for nights to come, that offered to bring us a meal, and this is one of Mike and I’s favorite. We kind of have an ongoing rule that we trust each other, that if we see somebody in suffering—typically we ask each other, “Oh, I want to spend money on this and what do you think?” We both need to give the thumbs at—but our ongoing rule is if we see somebody suffering that needs help, we’re just going to offer to bring them a meal. And I often don’t have the time that day, probably, to cook a meal with my three kids and go to the grocery store. So you know what we do, Jani? We offer to buy them a delivery meal. So when we hear one of our friends is going through a hard time or a small group, we just say, “We would love to get you a meal tonight. Would that help?” And then we say, “What’s your favorite restaurant? We’ll order it. We can either pick it up or we can deliver it to you or does the restaurant deliver or if it’s close to you, would you be able to pick it up and we pay for it?”

Jani: What a great idea, Heidi.

Heidi: Yeah. Just food can be such a gift from the Lord and just to not have to think about a meal. So that is to do something—to buy flowers, to bring a meal, to put together a care package or even to send a note in the mail. I remember so many people, probably 20 plus letters I got in the mail over the course of when we were waiting for my surgery, and it would just bring a smile to my face to know that people were there, that they cared, that they were praying. And so I feel like the Lord has pressed into me, “You don’t know what to do Heidi, but as long as you try, it really means so much.”

Jani: That’s such a good point, Heidi.

One caution… 4:11

Jani: Let me ask you this: did people ever come to you once they heard about your diagnosis and say something like, “Oh, Heidi, I’m so sorry. Please just let me know if there’s ever anything I can do”?

New Speaker: Yes, Jani and that’s, I love them because I know that their heart is for me and they want to help, but that that was so hard. Have you ever experienced that? Because it was so hard because I didn’t know what to ask for. I didn’t know how to, I felt like I was putting a burden on someone’s shoulders.

Jani: That it put more of a burden on you than lifting it.

Heidi: So my heart is to do something. If I don’t know what to do, instead of saying, “How can I help you?”—which is sometimes helpful depending on the relationship—but just more to think, “What is something that I can do, one way I can love on them, whether they’re asking for it or not. I know everybody needs to eat. I’ll bring a meal. Or I know this friend, after surgery, would love to read a magazine. Let me just try.”

Jani: Yes, any little thing, a plant, a magazine, whatever could help. Something for the children. Maybe a little book for each of the kids or…

Heidi: Even an Amazon gift card. People sent us Amazon gift cards and said, “Here’s to buy a movie for your kids.” Which was helpful because some moments my mind was so overwhelmed or I was spending hours talking to our insurance company. It was just nice to say, “This family bought us a movie and we can watch a new movie together to get through that season.”

Jani: So the point you’re making is, “Just do something.” Extend yourself in some way to say, “I see you, I hear you. I know this must be very hard and I, I want to tell you I love you.”

Heidi: Yes and know that it’ll bless the person so much. It’ll make them smile for you to just do something.

Jani: That’s good.

Question 2: “How do you walk through friendship when theological beliefs change?” 5:59

Jani: Now our next question, deals with friendship as well. It’s this, “How do you gracefully and biblically walk through a friendship where your theological beliefs and practices seem to be drifting more and more apart?”

Heidi: That’s a good question, Jani. I’d love to hear your insight on that.

Jani: Well, Heidi, you’re going to have to help me with this. My goodness. I believe this question shows a desire to stay close in the midst of change. And that’s really hard. Friendships end, I’ve found in my life, for a variety of reasons, but it’s never easy and I never want to give up too soon. Friendships are so precious. I want to be very careful with them and I don’t want to do anything that would complicate them, injure them, divide them, or end them.

Answer: Ask these questions 7:00

Jani: So how have Ray and I tried to gracefully and biblically walk through friendships when theological beliefs and differences have arisen?

Ask: “Is this a heaven or hell issue?” 7:12

Jani: I think I asked myself a couple of questions. The first question I ask: “Is this a heaven or hell issue, so to speak?” I mean, will this person—who is a friend of mine, but who believes something, now, a little bit different than what I understood her to believe—will this person be in heaven with me? If so, if, if I’m going to be serving Jesus together with her on the new earth, then I don’t want to be too quick to separate here this side of heaven. If it’s a difference between two Christians, an honest difference, than let’s try to keep communication open. I mean, we, we may decide to go to different churches. That’s okay, but we could still get together for lunch once in a while or coffee. We could still email, text, exchange babysitting or birthday cards or something. We don’t have to cut off the friendship entirely.

Ask: “Is this a denial of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross?” 8:12

Jani: Now what about this idea of theological beliefs and practices? Oh, that could be such a huge range of issues, Heidi. My goodness. I think a question I would want to ask myself is this: “Does this person’s different theological belief or practice deny Christ and his work on our behalf to bring us to God?” Is it a denial of the redemptive work of Christ on the cross?

Jani: Let me give some examples. This is kind of a funny story, but I was saved and raised in a Baptist home at a Baptist church, so I grew up believing in “Believer’s Baptism”, affirming that, practicing it. I fell in love with a reformed man who was baptized as an infant and believed in infant baptism. That was not enough to keep us separated. We married each other and we’ve worked it out through the years. Three of our children were baptized with believer’s baptism (we “dedicated” them as children). Our last child was baptized as an infant. He now is a Baptist minister, so go figure. I mean it’s just not worth separating a friendship over. It doesn’t deny Christ and his work on our behalf. They’re godly people on both sides.

Advice: Go to God (yourself) 9:51

Jani: Or there are other questions about divorce. Is remarriage permissible after divorce and on what grounds? What about, uh, the role of women in the church? That can be a huge dividing issue. Or what about issues of gender? That’s such a tender, hard topic these days. Maybe your friend’s daughter is marrying her girlfriend and your friend is a believer and she asks you to come to the wedding with her. What should you do?

Jani: Well, I can’t give an individual answer for every situation in life. Fortunately! The Lord leaves it up to us. In all of these areas, go to God yourself. Romans 14:12 puts it this way. “Each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” Each one of us. So we ask ourselves from Ephesians 5:10, when Paul tells us, “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” We ask, “Lord, what would please you in this situation? Help me to discern that. What would bring a smile to your face?” Or ask yourself what would extend his kingdom and lift burdens from his people rather than putting more burdens down on his people. What theological belief or practice is worth separating over? Go to scripture as you’re seeking an answer, ask the Lord to show you.

Advice: Review Romans 12:9-21 – “If possible, so far as it depends on you…” 11:37

Jani: Heidi and I have memorized together Romans 12:9-21 because we believe they are so important as we relate to other Christians. Paul is writing to Christians there in Romans Chapter 12 and and he tells us things like this, “Let love be genuine, Abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good.” That evil, I think in that passage, in that context doesn’t just mean any evil, although we should abhor all evil, but he’s talking about abhor what is evil in the unloving-ness of your relationships and hold fast to what is good in the love-ability in your relationship. Or verse 10 talks about “outdoing” one another in showing honor. Here’s this friend I disagree with. How can I outdo her in showing honor to her? How can I listen well, listen deeply, really try to understand what it’s like from her or his perspective? Or verse 16 in Romans 12 says, this, “Live in harmony.” Isn’t that great? We don’t have to sing the same note. We just have to sing the same song. Let’s be in harmony together. Or Verse 18 Heidi, I love this.

Heidi: I love it, too.

Jani: Will you read that, verse 18 for us?

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

Romans 12:18

Jani: I love those three phrases. “If possible.” Dear listener, that means sometimes it won’t be possible. Okay, then that’s when you separate, but not until, not until you’ve tried these other things. Loving and outdoing one another in showing honor and trying to live in harmony and seeing if it is at all possible. And then Paul says, “so far as it depends on you.” Don’t worry about their part, worry about yours. Take that before the Lord. Stop complaining to God about them and commune with God about your relationship with God, your relationship with them. What is your part to try to live peaceably with them?

Jani: So hopefully this can give you some ideas on how to walk gracefully and biblically through a friendship where your beliefs and your practices might be differing a little bit. Oh, may God bless you in your friendships. May he use us to help restore the souls of our friends as we try to walk with them through difficult times.

Thank You

Thank you for joining us today. To discover more about Jani and Ray, visit their webpage at renewalministries.com. If you have a question for Jani or would like to learn more about this podcast, please visit our website at herestoresmysoul.org.

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He Restores My Soul with Jani Ortlund seeks to encourage women with God’s renewing power for their busy lives. Episodes include relevant biblical teaching, stimulating gospel conversations with other Christians, and “Ask Jani” sessions where we talk about what’s on our listeners’ hearts.

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