I have included this next topic as ‘inessential’, as wacky or non-serious. It could go down as either. Take friendship too seriously, and it disappears in its own intensity. Friendship is about connections that last – chance encounters that lead to long-standing relationships. In a way, we cannot do too much about our friendships. Yet a light touch with them goes a long way.
We all like to be needed. We love it when someone else wants our company. Who cares why – let’s just meet up. It can be the shared topics of conversation; it can be the chance to air a view that you know is going to be accepted. It can be that critical update on a life decision. There are friends I see from time to time, and life marches on in between. I don’t sit down to list what has happened since I last saw them, but life always does things to us. It is both fun and sometimes shocking to discover what has taken place for someone else.
Friendship is a treasured idea in literature and popular culture. I remember reading a novel Light a Penny Candle, by Maeve Binchy, in my teens that was about the friendship between two women that outlasted the twists and turns of romantic relationships. The metaphor of the title was that the romantic relationships were the penny candle, as opposed to the steady burning light of their friendship. For my wife, a very happy moment on our wedding day was when a friend appeared after the service, as we were being photographed, and it made her cry – they had been estranged for some time, but since then their friendship has been renewed and it’s been a source of strength for her.
While we have to work, we have to eat, we have to keep certain obligations, friendship is a choice. That’s partly why I’ve made it a ‘wacky’ thing. I suppose we could get by without it. But I sure as anything would not want to. There are a few suggestions I would make in no particular order:
1. Friendship with older people is so rewarding
2. Encouragement is the basis of friendship
3. Be loyal to your friends
4. Speak highly of and honour your friends
5. Be sparing in criticism – don’t judge them. Words cannot be taken back.
6. Join clubs or groups and you will make friends
7. Highly value friendships that emerge at work
8. Treat everyone as a friend in acts of kindness
9. Acts of kindness will create new friendships
10. We often feel friendship connections with people we have just met, but that will require nurture and attention if that is to become a real friendship
Friendship disappears when it is looked at too closely. But a good friendship is not static – it develops. Friendship is about caring for someone else, but it needs to take place in a context. Shared interests are so important. If you want to develop a friendship with someone, work on things that you both like. Ask yourself whether what you are getting into (I don’t know, papier-mache, parkour, joyriding) is stretching you and growing you as a person, or if it’s better to call time on that relationship.
We think we know it all and we say to younger people (our children) “I don’t want you spending time with that boy”. But do we evaluate our relationships? If we spend time with those who are too much like us, our personal views will simply be reinforced. If we push the boat out, and build on time with people who are different, we will be more challenged. Once we trust that person that they like us enough, we can spend more time with them.
I don’t worry too much about friendships. I try to pray for my friends as God leads me to. When I feel that a friendship is a bit lacking, I pray that we will get to spend more time together. And if my friend has clear needs, I pray for them. Sometimes I worry that my friends don’t tell me the things they worry most about – and then I pray that God will sort those things, or show me if I need to be helping them.
Friends aren’t there to help each other out. They are there to be the froth, the fun, the space, the difference – the backdrop to our lives. Yes, we love to help our friends out when we can. There is an obligation to help family – but friends, it is a joy. But if you are cultivating friendships so that you can make use of a person; this is unhealthy.
Finally (yes, this is a short post!) without a doubt, friendship is one of the best things in all the world – I am always proud to call someone a friend, and I hesitate more and more to claim someone as a friend, as connections get ever more tenuous and fleeting in these days of virtual reality. Someone said that you can’t really have more than five good friends. There are many connections I have that could blossom into close friendships – I’m not sure I’ve got as many as five, but I’m so grateful for the ones I have.