“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure (Sir 6:14).” I was praying this Scripture the other morning. As I reflected on the marvelous friends the Lord has put in my life, I realized again how precious deep friendship is. In the following couple of posts, in no particular order, I’d like to outline the elements of deep friendship.
Deep friendship requires respect for the other’s philosophy of life and a common ethical foundation. I and a friend from graduate school, “Beth”, differed greatly in our religious and political views. But we were able to talk and enjoy each other’s company. Her questions or comments were sincere. She was committed to honesty, kindness, respectfulness, and general human decency. In contrast, one of our peers was okay with spinning the truth, if not lying, if it was to his advantage. Nothing egregious. Only with strangers, not friends or clients. But it limited how close I wanted to get with him, as likable as he was otherwise. While Beth and I have grown out of touch, that is only because of geographical distance and her husband’s not-too-veiled hostility to Christianity. She is a good soul I was glad I got to know.
Deep friendship requires basic maturity. Maturity is a complex concept. Faithful friends have issues. Everybody does. But maturity assumes that your friend has good intentions unless you have good reasons to believe otherwise. A mature friend chooses his battles. He doesn’t make mountains out of molehills, but he faces issues when needed. A mature friend is willing to look at herself and take responsibility. Am I at fault? Could I have handled that better? Do I need to apologize?
Maturity includes being able to listen and to be okay with emotion. A good friend doesn’t have to be particularly emotional him- or herself. Rich is a calm, practical, good-humored soul. He does not gush emotion. But he knows how to listen. He doesn’t joke, change the subject, or otherwise get uncomfortable when I speak about feeling topics. When we first got to know each other, my friend, Mark did all of those things. However, when I pointed that out, he was able to turn it around. That enabled us to become quite close.
Deep friendship arises from a “philosophy of abundance”. When I was engaged to my wife, Mary, the Lord seemed to speak to my depths. “Beloved, I have set a feast in your heart. You must invite others in to share that feast. People are starving for the love I have to offer.” That word changed me. I actually felt “full”. It was as if I was overflowing and needed to pour out the many graces I’d received. I’d previously approached some friendships from a sense of neediness. I feel restless or lonely or down: who can I call? How can this person help me feel good? What can I get? Now I felt I had something – much – to offer. I was bursting with it. I wanted to share the wealth. I was also better able to appreciate the wealth the other offered. But it was with gratitude rather than greed.
A philosophy of abundance means there’s enough to go around. With my friend, if I don’t have a chance to tell my story this time, there’ll be other opportunities. I don’t need to be possessive. Because I want the best for my friend, I’m glad he or she has other friends. In fact, seeing how my friend is with other friends is a joy. It displays his other facets. It reminds me of what makes her so likable.
Deep friendship is not a be-all and end-all. Deep friendships often begin with a sort of honeymoon. We really enjoy each other’s company. Our time together energizes us. It’s exciting to find out the way the other shares our passions or reacts so similarly to certain situations. For example, Ed and I have similar temperaments. We tend to “grrrr” and “arrrgh”, as well as laugh and get enthused, at the same situations. The differences between friends are also a source of delight. I have anything but a poker face. But my friend Anthony can tell the most outrageous stories without a trace of expression. You have to watch for his wife Jen’s eye-rolling to tell if he’s pulling your leg.
Inevitably, the honeymoon does end. You get to know each other’s faults, and then you decide what to do with those. If you both have the qualities outlined above, or you are at least willing to grow in them, the friendship will flourish. You are grateful that he or she puts up with you anyway. Your friend similarly appreciates your patient love.
Even in that most special of friendships, marriage, my spouse is not to be my everything. God is. Jesus is enough for me. He will provide, directly or through others, what I need. He will do the same for my spouse, family, and friends. That knowledge takes a great deal of pressure off of everyone concerned. No one but God has to be the savior. Touchiness and drama lose their power, because the stakes are not as high. In Christian friendships, the knowledge that you each have a Friend, Who knows your warts completely and loves you utterly, supplies for human faults and frailty.
I’ll look at other qualities of deep friendship in my next post. To be continued…