Mafia Mentality

Did you know that being a pastor’s kid is a lot like being in the Mafia? Well, it is.

And growing up as a pastor’s kid, I think I may have adopted a little too much of a “Mafia mentality.” Don’t worry, I didn’t commit many serious crimes, but I also didn’t commit to friendships that got too close.

Think about it: to be in the Mafia (so I’m told), your family must be in "the business", you have to live by a standard of beliefs, and you always look out for your brothers and sisters. And as they say, once you’re in the Mafia, there’s no getting out. (Technically I think Kelly Slater said that, but I won’t tell if you don’t). Yes, these are the things that go on in my brain. You’re welcome.

Mistakenly, I had this idea as a kid that if I stayed friends with someone who left our church, somehow I was being disloyal to Jesus himself…. as if my church was the only church Jesus attended on a Sunday. And without realizing or intending it, in my childish mind, I decided that when people don’t meet my expectations, it’s easier to end than to fight for the friendship. Circle the wagons! Board up the windows! It’s self-preservation, the pursuit of perfection, and God knows that’s only here between these four walls!

My ‘Mafia mentality’ governed me, so when people made a decision to leave our church it was like a decision to leave ‘La Familia’… And that meant I said goodbye to a lot of really good people. With friendships, “Arrivederci” was easier to say. Attachment was much harder to do.

Maybe you can relate to this, maybe not. But I do hope you can see the underlying issue that goes beyond pastors’ kids and the Mafia.

In a world of instant gratification and shallow validation, how do we fight for the friendships that are Biblical? You know, "iron sharpening iron"?

In a world that celebrates followers, my heart craves the friendships I read about in the Bible that stand on more important things:

  1. Loyalty - Ruth to Naomi:

"Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” (Ruth 1:16)

  1. Conflict resolution #bestfriendsforlife - Paul and Barnabas:

 “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus.” (Acts 15:39)

  1. Staying power -  David and Jonathan:

“the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”(I Sam 18:1)

  1. And then there’s Jesus and me.

Jesus laid down his life while I didn’t even know I needed Him, a relationship that was founded on underserved forgiveness and unrequited love. In a world with instant access to "followers", it’s so much easier to hit the ‘unfollow’ button instead of pick up the phone. This has resulted in us keeping people outside our white picket fence instead of letting them see our dirty kitchen sink, and maybe strengthening the friendship through the trials.

I wish I had learned earlier that messy friendships mean more than manicured ones.

The question is: How do we have real friendships? You know, the type of friends that climb through the phone and onto our couch beside us; the ones that at times get a little "too close for comfort"? I mean, the type of friendships that offend us by their very closeness and imperfection? Those that love us when we get ugly, draw close when we push them away, and feel so much more like family at times than those that share our surname?

In a world that created filters to cover faults, we have forgotten that it’s those "faulted friendships" that make life so rich and rewarding, so maddening and yet so meaningful!

Filter, you say? Yes! We "filter our own faults" because we know how unforgiving our world has become. Ironically we cover up the very thing we crave. Authenticity. Because, let’s be honest: Don’t we constantly crave the moments that we get to look upon someone else’s imperfect humanity and are able to say “me too”?

It’s like looking in a mirror, and once we get over our selfie reflection, we realize that we can all help one another. Our friendships are the vehicle God often uses to heal us. I know for me it’s the heart conversations in friendships that allow me to feel human again.

Jesus said to come to Him like a child, but He never asked us at carry the fate of the world or the church as a child… And I think a lot of us missed that, including myself. 

Lord, help me to see the beauty and the lessons in messy friendships, and to become more like You along the way.  

Elyse Roberson

Elyse is a writer, pastor, international speaker, and wife. Her experiences of life as a pastor’s kid have led Elyse to write her first book “Confessions of a Church Kid.” Elyse now resides in Los Angeles, working with young adults and ministering as one of the pastors at Oasis Church in Downtown Hollywood. Connect with Elyse on her blog.

Join the discussion

Valery October 11, 2017 at 10:16am

Hi Sarah - not easy to form valuable friendships I agree - those that last and are of inestimable value. Perhaps the age old Proverbs wisdom may help: (about reaching out first)
Proverbs 18:24 New King James Version (NKJV)

24 A man who has friends must himself be friendly,
But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Nashy August 27, 2017 at 2:45am

Well put. This world we live in has become more disconnected than ever.

Brenda August 21, 2017 at 5:03am

I struggle with this mentality. When someone doesn't meet my expectations I say goodbye. And I've said goodbye to a lot of good people. Right now I'm struggling to even identify the people who are my friends vs those who are acquaintances. This has been an issue since I became an 18 year old adult. But thanks for the reminder to look a other through God's eyes. A filter of grace and love.

Demetrice August 20, 2017 at 9:46pm

Great reminder. Cherishes the gifts God give you. And too never take them for granted. But we do but to acknowledge it right away. Lord thank you!

Aimee August 20, 2017 at 4:05pm

Thanks for the great article and reminder to be authentic!

Carol, I'm so glad you are thinking and wrestling about the issue with your friend! I feel like this shows you really care about her and don't want to cut her off. My perspective is that Jesus wasn't afraid of sin rubbing off on him as he loved and hung out with sinners. In Christ, I don't think we have to be afraid of sin either, if we stay close to him. I reckon your friend might need your love more than ever at this time!

This is just my point of view. I pray that you will have a sense of peace about how to approach this!

Carol August 16, 2017 at 10:29pm

This is a great topic and a thought provoking article. Here's the thing... i'm struggling with letting go of a friendship or not. My friend got divorced with no biblical grounds, and now she seeing a man and sleeping with him. I tried to talk to her about it, but she said she has freedom in Christ . That's basically her excuse . That, and it's no different than everybody else's sin . The Bible talks about walking away from someone Who claims to be a Christian and yet refuses to walk away from sin . Help! I've been so torn on this subject… On this friendship… For months now

Sarah August 16, 2017 at 6:35am

Excellent article, definitely something my heart longs for. How, though, do you propose one forms relationships such as this? Real, authentic friendships seem to be harder and harder to come by. I long for heart connections in a culture where many people do not have (make?) space. It is so needed and so refreshing to know and be known. Still trying to figure out how to find these types of friends.

Michelle August 16, 2017 at 4:32am

Great reminder to cherish friendships.