by Barry Howard
Throughout the seasons of life, most human beings are going to be engaged in dynamic human relationships. Home, the classroom, the workplace, recreation, and church all present diverse opportunities for acquaintance and interaction. Among the thousands of people we encounter, a few will move beyond the realm of casual acquaintance, and we will share more profound experiences, we will communicate on a deeper level, we will cease striving to impress, and we will refine each other’s character. These individuals will be in our circle of friends.
This week I am cleaning up the contact list in my computer, which happens to be synced with my I-Phone, which is also synced with my I-Pad. As I eliminate the obsolete data, I am also deleting a few folks who are now deceased or whom I have lost contact with. This exercise has caused me to think about the blessing of long-term friendships.
A wise teacher once said, “A man that has friends must first show himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24).
In a highly competitive world where individuals can quickly become dominated by self-interest, how do you keep relationships healthy and growing? Sustainable friendship is a gift from God.
What is a friend? One writer answered this way: Friends are people with whom you dare to be yourself. Your soul can be naked with them. They ask you to put on nothing, only to be what you are. They do not want you to be better or worse. When you are with them, you feel as a prisoner feels who has been declared innocent. You do not have to be on your guard. You can say what you think, as long as it is genuinely you. Friends understand those contradictions in your nature that lead others to misjudge you. With them you breathe freely. You can avow your little vanities and envies and hates and vicious sparks, your meannesses and absurdities, and in opening them up to friends, they are lost, dissolved on the white ocean of their loyalty. They understand. You do not have to be careful. You can abuse them, neglect them, tolerate them. Best of all, you can keep still with them. It makes no matter. They like you. They are like fire that purges to the bone. They understand. You can weep with them, sing with them, laugh with them, pray with them. Through it all–and underneath–they see, know, and love you. A friend? What is a friend? Just one, I repeat, with whom you dare to be yourself.
Churches are built on both faith and friendship. Members of a congregation are actually diverse friends from a variety of backgrounds who stick together in tough times, who bring out the best in each other, and who collaborate in missional effort, despite their differences, out of obedience to a common faith conviction.
Maybe, the Quakers have it right in referring to their faith community as “The Society of Friends.”
As we continue to learn to bring out the best in others, treasure the friendships you have, and look forward to making new friends in the days ahead. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “So long as we are loved by others, I would almost say that we are indispensable; and no man is useless while he has a friend.”
Maintaining a good friendship requires grace, mercy, patience, and perseverance. E.C. McKenzie observed that “some people make enemies instead of friends because it is less trouble.” I contend that true friendship is worth the labor.
(Barry Howard serves as senior minister of the First Baptist Church of Pensacola.)