I’m a celebrator by nature. I love throwing parties, surprising people, and making up excuses to celebrate the people I love. I love being the one to gather friends together to show them why they are worthy of encouragement, attention, and time. Celebrating is a love language for me.
But my birthday falls in January, which, I’ve found, is not a great time to have a birthday if you like celebrating. For most of us, January is recovery month. We’re tired, we’ve used all our vacation time, we’ve made New Year’s resolutions that forbid us from eating sugar or carbs, we’re sick of seeing people, and we just spent a lot of money at Christmas. We’re tired of celebrating once January rolls around. We want to hibernate. We want to hole away.
Therein lies my problem; birthdays are special to me.
But then, last year, a friend asked me how I would feel most loved for my birthday. She wanted to celebrate me, she said. Even in her asking, I felt loved. And I told her the truth: I wanted to be with my closest friends, and I wanted to share a meal together. No gifts, no songs—just time gathered around the table.
And that is what happened, in the cold and dreary month of January. Ten of us shared a meal. We paid for babysitters so that our conversation could go deep; that in and of itself was a precious gift of time and money. Each friend surprised me by sharing an encouragement for my coming year of life. They told me how they saw Jesus at work in me, and they prayed for me. I sat there and felt deeply celebrated, and deeply welcomed into the new year of my life by the friends I loved the most. In my memory, it remains a holy and beautiful night.
To me, I have come to realize how that night encapsulates what is meant to be at the center of every gathering; in fact, what is meant to be at the heart of friendship. For true friendship is a kind of gathering. It is pulling people together around a shared table or on a soft couch, and it will cost us in time and even in money. True friendship means giving those things that my friends offered to me on my birthday night—time, encouragement, intentionality, welcome, love. And true friendship is celebration; it is seeing what is worthy of encouragement in those we love and declaring those things over them. It is seeing the presence of Jesus in the other and acknowledging his beauty through them.
Birthdays only happen once every twelve months, but gathering to celebrate those we love—to speak truth and hope and encouragement to them and over them—that can happen any time of the year. We can gather in coffee shops and pray for one another. We can gather on playgrounds and encourage one another. We can gather around kitchen tables and welcome one another. We can gather in restaurants and celebrate one another. And we can gather, always, and love one another—no matter where, no matter when.