Building Friendships With A Gospel Focus

It is hard to imagine Miah Johnson ever feeling lonely. The bubbly AFLBS junior from Camarillo, Calif., feels equally comfortable discussing cultural trends with adults twice her age as she does engaging in lighthearted chats with new friends between classes in Heritage Hall. Face forward, eyes locked on the face next to her, Miah has an innate sense of how to connect with people of all ages. She is a relationship builder.

But Miah doesn’t fit the trends that sociologists are defining for her generation. The statistics say that teens her age—the age of AFLBS students—lack authentic relationship skills. Coming of age after the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, Miah’s generation—known as iGen—has learned to form relationships in a virtual world, communicating through apps that keep them one step away from flesh and blood relationships. They may be connected to the world at all times, but often that connection gives them the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.

The result of this trend is a pervasive loneliness amongst teens, and it is one of several undercurrents sweeping culture farther away from the firm ground of a gospel-centered life. “Being alone together” is how John Stonestreet described this cultural current during a student assembly in November. Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, tackled the topic as he identified how a lack of spiritual maturity has led to a shift in authentic relationships, a loss of community, and a ubiquitous loneliness.

Miah sees it, too. She sees how texting creates distance, how social media creates a pseudo reality, and how a small device can capture her attention for hours on end. It is a problem she struggled to control in her early high school years.

“My mom even told me, ‘Miah, you used to be so present and now you are Mrs. Phonegirl.’” It was a comment that cut to her heart. She thought, “No! I don’t want people to know me as that.”

So she put her phone down and started having real conversations, give and take. “I find that my most valuable conversations happen when I am totally zoned in. … You build off of each other’s ideas. You gather insight from each other,” she said. A discussion.

She started talking about her faith, too. One particular new friend at that time, an admitted atheist, calls her a “Jesus advocate.” High praise, indeed. It’s a comment that she has swirling in the back of her mind these days, when culture would pull her farther away from her advocate, Jesus. She remembers that He is the message she carries with her, the message of the cross.

“We have this gift of sharing the gospel. If you receive Jesus you can live forever and you get to live in eternity with Jesus,” said Miah. “That is a gift you share.”

It is a gift she is reminded of each day as she sits in classes at AFLBS and studies God’s Word. “When I read the Bible, it is an encouragement to me. God is speaking truth to me. I am reading about my purpose, my hope, how God sees me. It makes me excited because it makes me realize, what am I looking for if I am not sharing this excitement with people?”

It is a perfect attitude for such a moment in history, a perfect antidote for a cultural illness that would separate, divide, and leave empty those who were meant to have a hope and a purpose in Christ.

[Ruth Gunderson]

This article first appeared in Kinship Magazine, Winter 2019 Edition.

Kinship is a magazine of the Free Lutheran Schools. Stay up to date on latest news, student stories, classroom highlights, and fun tidbits about life on the AFLBS and AFLTS campus.

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