Many people are still feeling the after-shock of the Covid-19 pandemic that forced them into isolation. One of the significant challenges has been the restrictions on physical interaction. While remote gatherings can provide levels of human interaction, many have found that virtual gatherings are not sufficient enough to fill the relational void caused by isolation. It requires an uncanny type of resilience and creative methods to cultivate authentic friendships and develop new relationships.
In this week’s blog, we are excited to highlight a resilient and creative group of young people from Young Life Boston who have been intentional about developing genuine friendships even through the pandemic. According to Emma Dickinson, the writer of this blog, “this restricted season has limited our ability to host and lead traditional Young Life programs, and for the greater Church, our ability to gather in typical fashion. But it has by no means slowed our collective ability to tell the people of Boston about Jesus through the bonds of friendship.”
Emma is the Area Director of Young Life in Downtown Boston. She moved to Boston with her husband, Billy, to begin this role in September of 2020 after completing three years of Young Life staff in Buffalo, NY. As the world emerges with more and more openness beyond the pandemic, Emma shares about the need to consider the quality of our relationships as Christians.
As you read her blog, we hope you will be inspired to be more resilient and strive to find creative ways to cultivate friendship as we emerge through a season of social disconnectedness.
Can I pull back the curtain and tell you what we are talking about in one of our Young Life high school small groups?
How to be friends.
I’m not talking about how to form the elusive high school clique. And I’m definitely not talking about how to grow your Instagram followers, a perceived community based on incomplete windows into each other’s lives.
We are breaking down examples of friendship that we find in Scripture. We are talking about Ruth and Naomi, Mary and Elizabeth, Jesus with John, Peter, and James. We are asking each other hard questions about exclusion, rejection, and selfishness. We are seeing God’s good design for community, how His way is for us to live at peace with one another, by any means possible. (Romans 12:18).
We are earnestly praying for every high school student in our city – that they would know of the love Jesus has for them. And we are humbly praying for ourselves – that we could be a bright light amongst the darkness in our schools.
We don’t believe that the gospel goes out into our communities of young people because of great programs. It’s because of the Holy Spirit. It’s because of the relationships we are building with students. And it’s absolutely because of the relationships we are empowering them to have with others. One leader received a text from a student that read:
“hey. i just wanted to say thank you for inviting me to young life tonight. it’s exactly what i needed.”
This student, we will call her Julie, reached out to one of our Young Life leaders at the beginning of January with an “enough is enough” attitude. She was done doing high school on her own, done with trying to follow Jesus in her own strength. Julie did not ask for more programs and she did not ask for more resources. She asked for friendship. She asked for someone to walk alongside her as she walked toward Jesus again, after a season of waywardness.
A consequence of the pandemic has surely been further isolation for our young people. Do you want to know what I’m seeing in a culture that prioritizes self-protection and survival over gospel friendships? I am watching young people and the generations that precede them dive deeper into chosen isolation than ever before. While there are many people in Boston in isolated situations by circumstance, there are potentially many more who are simply but profoundly numb from the trauma of the last year.
This restricted season has limited our ability to host and lead traditional Young Life programs, and for the greater Church, our ability to gather in typical fashion. But it has by no means slowed our collective ability to tell the people of Boston about Jesus through the bonds of friendship.
We can be encouraged and motivated by what Paul writes in Philippians 1:12, that his difficult circumstances served him in advancing the gospel. Our pandemic chains are no match for the love of God, displayed through the body of Christ, by laying down our lives for our friends (John 15:13).
Boston, what would it require of us to continue to press in, brush off discouragement and pursue meaningful friendships? What if the revitalization of our gatherings as vaccines roll out and restrictions decrease only matter if we are fully engaged with one another in a Romans 12 kind of way?
It can be truly messy. It is most always awkward. It will cost you. You will definitely be inconvenienced. But if friendship is God’s design, and we are God’s people, and this is the city He’s asked us to serve – how else would we spend our days? Who else would we want to be?
I am praying, Boston brothers and sisters, that we’d be known for the way we pursue one another and the “other”. I am praying we’d be a witness to the friendship God has offered us. I am praying the words of Jesus, that we would be one (John 17:22).