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A good friendship is like a fantastic piece of cake – soft, rich moist sponge coated with creamy, sweet icing. The problem is – most of us go through life filling ourselves up on EITHER sponge OR icing when it comes to friendships. Icing is OK by itself – but in small amounts. Ever tried to eat whole bowl of butter icing? You’d feel pretty sick and your teeth would be pretty much screaming at the abuse they’d been given. Icing tastes best when it’s eaten as it should be – as part of the whole cake. Similarly a sponge tastes a bit bland without a filling – it’s remarkably enhanced by icing or some jam in the middle.

What am I rattling on about you’re probably wondering? Well with most friendships you’ll have icing – by which I mean the kinds of conversations where you talk about that project you’ve been working on for a while at work, your prospects of promotion, that funny thing your boss said when you were leaving the office last night, your latest holiday, the car you’re hoping to buy next or the progress of your DIY. You might bemoan the fact that Leah was robbed in the Voice, debate whether Edward Snowden was right to put the US government’s dirty washing out to dry and criticise the Church of England General Synod for writing off women’s chances of becoming Bishops. You could go to the cinema, out for a meal, shopping, to the pub, to the cricket, to a museum, to a barbecue….

Christians are pretty good at icing. We talk about how many people came to church on a Sunday, about how terribly Christians are portrayed in the press, about how this church is getting it wrong because of X and this other church is getting it right because of Y. We attend meetings, we put a lot of effort into presentation, we talk theology.

I love a bit of icing. I’m looking forward to singing myself hoarse at VFestival when Beyonce comes on stage and shaking some questionable dance moves!  My sisters and I do a pretty good job of putting the world to rights – we’re all fairly politically charged and have our own opinions on the way public sector cuts are effecting the disabled and the vulnerable -and we like to voice them;)  Cooking a good meal and experimenting on people with new recipes is sweet icing indeed.

But the thing that makes the icing sweet and not sickly – is the sponge it comes with. I was hanging out with some of my Christian community recently and we were chatting about what we look for in community. The Bible is pretty helpful on this – it says to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. We are to bear with each other and forgive one another if any of us has a grievance against someone. We’re to forgive as the Lord forgave us. And over all these virtues we’re to put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity (Colossians 3). There’s your sponge right there! All these things create trust, mutual respect, value and love.

Sponge is receiving a card from a friend thanking you for being their friend and telling you they value you. Sponge is going round to a friend’s house and scrubbing their kitchen floor and cleaning their toilet when they’re feeling under the weather – even after you’ve worked a full day’s shift. Sponge is reaching out when you’re experiencing a miscarriage and praying it through with those around you. Sponge is telling someone who’s hurt you that you forgive them and meaning it. Sponge is telling someone who’ve hurt that you’re sorry and meaning it. Sponge is celebrating a spiritual breakthrough with someone. Sponge is confessing when you’ve screwed up, being honest about your temptations and struggles – and asking for support in fighting them. Sponge is leaving an important work event to race across the city to pick a friend up from the station and take them home to save them waiting for a connection.

Once you have that sponge, the icing just tastes better. How much better is it having dinner with people who know you love, value, trust and respect you than it is with a bunch of people who have no idea what is really going on with you?

The thing is, icing tends to happen without much effort. If you want to make a sponge, often, you’ll have to do consciously work at it. The main thing it requires is time –  making yourself available says to another person that they are of value to you.  Never having the time to meet up, always being too busy to talk  – this tells another person that they are low in your list of priorities.  It also requires the “one anothers” from Colossians – bearing with each other, forgiving one another, having compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience with one another.  When you get dressed in the morning, it’s an intentional thing – it’s an active thing. You don’t just go from being naked to being fully dressed without determining to do something – and then doing it.  I think the same applies with clothing yourself in all these things –  although, as a Christian, I know that it is God who gives me the strength to do these things – I have to be purposeful and make a decision that I will choose to be this way.   That I will make time to visit someone, to meet someone for coffee, to allow people to mess up my schedule and inconvenience me. And I have to choose to be vulnerable  – to allow others to demonstrate compassion, kindness, gentleness and patience with me. To have the humility to accept discipline, advice and wisdom from the people around me.

I think if a relationship is to be a “cake relationship” it need to have the right balance of sponge and icing. If all you have with the relationship is a series of intense conversations and experiences – that would just be too much.  I used to get the balance way out with that and it turns the pressure up in a relationship to a point whereby you get a small explosion at some point down the line! Too much sponge can be equally as sickening as too much icing! I know it’s not possible (or advisable!) to have a lot of depth with everyone I meet  – but in the future I want my existing and any new relationships to be full of cake! Over the last year I’ve made two new friends – they’re my cake friends – they have the goods on me – and I know them pretty well too. My family is getting bigger  and the cake tastes goooooooooooooooooooood!


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