To live in this world you have to interact with other humans. We depend on each other for survival from birth to death. That is simply the truth. There are no guarantees about friendship. Nowhere is it written, every person to live on this earth will have at least one close friend throughout their life. Friendship is not a given, but a blessing. If you have even one close friend in your life, you are blessed beyond measure.
The love of another human being is something that is to be either accepted or rejected. If you are unable or unwilling to accept love and attention from others, you will find it impossible to experience the joy of friendship. You see, without love there can be no joy. Joy is not the experience of one loving oneself. Joy is the inevitable outcome of one loving another. It is a profound sense of wellbeing and gladness.
All of the things I have written about on this matter: desiring fun, uniting around a common interest, identifying with a group, developing character, sharing gifts, enduring suffering, and experiencing joy are all pieces to the whole experience of friendship. If you can share in these things with another person, with a friend, then you have much to be thankful for. And of course, there is much more to be said, and not said, about friendship. I see only a glimpse of the awesome reality. The road goes ever on…
I love my friends. You know who you are. Thank you for all of these things that I’ve written about. Thank you for all of those things that I couldn’t put into words.
May this serve as a testimony to your impact on my life.
Suffering comes to all of us. How we respond to it determines much. Will we withdraw from our closest relationships in order to protect ourselves like injured rabbits returning to their burrows? Or, will we allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable? The first option does nothing to build character or strengthen friendship. The second option is the path to joy.
When a close friend suffers, often the only thing you can do is be there. You want to fix them, or heal them, or bring a resolution to their situation, but this is almost never a legitimate possibility. You feel helpless, and often times they feel helpless, but there is nothing to do but endure together.
The willingness to endure suffering with a friend is the true test of trust, loyalty, and love. If you remain true in the dark times, it deepens the bonds of fellowship. I will follow you, even into the very fires of Mordor. At that point, your friendship is more than what you can get out of it. It’s about placing the other ahead of yourself. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
The value of suffering is found in its revelation of love. The lesser things melt away. The veil covering the heart is torn. When the suffering has passed, and you’re still standing side by side, all that’s left is…
the joy of friendship.
The final installment of this series is coming soon.
In the movie, Ben Hur, the title character says to a good friend, “The greatest gift of all is your presence.” Not only is this a nice play on words (Gift and presents/presence), it is also true of good friends. Being there for each other is more than a cliché. What gift could replace the presence of a friend?
The Gift of Service
There are many reasons to serve others. You may do it out of obligation. You may do it because you believe it is the right thing to do. You might even do it by accident. But what is it like to serve a good friend?
To serve a good friend is a gift in itself. We want our friends to succeed with happiness and dignity. If we can help them along in any way, it is a privilege and a pleasure to share in their progress.
Friends will also work together to serve others. Serving together is a gift because it provides yet another opportunity to help each other along. One of the most fulfilling things I do is throw a cookout at my house for my friends. But what makes it truly fulfilling is the effort that goes into it between my friend John and I. John puts so much energy and passion into the event that I know without a doubt it would not be the overwhelming success that it is without him. So when I experience the joys of a cookout with friends, I am also experiencing the fruits of service between friends. This is a good thing.
Learning to Give by Learning to Receive
Have you ever found (or made) the perfect gift for a friend? If you have, you understand the joy of giving. Sure, it’s satisfying to see them appreciate the gift. But what really counts is what went into the gift. Many people don’t know how to give. This is largely because they don’t know how to receive. Only those who can receive a gift with gladness will be able to give a gift with gladness. You may be questioning me on this. Dave, I’m good at giving gifts, but I don’t like to receive them. I like to see people happy when I give them things, but I feel uncomfortable when someone gives me anything. What are the implications of such a thing? Why can’t you accept a gift with gladness? Why don’t you deserve this good thing? If you could only see that it is to the benefit of your friend if you accept their gift with joy. They want to see you happy. Truly, you are serving your friend when you accept a gift with gladness. And when you experience this, you will be able to do the same. Giving a gift to your friend should serve both parties. Like any act of love, it is mutually beneficial, even if it takes different forms.
Enhancing Your Gifts
Are you an artist, or a singer, or a painter, or a florist, or a writer, or anything else that requires a gift? Friends enhance these gifts in a number of ways. They encourage each other to develop the gift. They offer helpful criticism, which is part of the development process. And since people have different gifts, they humble us. I couldn’t draw like Nate. I couldn’t begin to do the jobs that my friends seem born to do. I couldn’t be a cop, or work at Bose, or fix cars. But since they are my friends, I can appreciate the fact that they all have different strengths. Everyone has their own special thing that can be used to serve others. When a friend is better than you at a certain thing, and they don’t hold it over you, it melts your insecurities. We all have something unique and invaluable to offer the world and our friends. It is good to recognize this. It might stop us from making foolish comparisons.
Coming Soon- Part 6: Suffering
Friends teach us about the world. They teach us about people. They teach us about themselves. They teach us about ourselves.
Friends build character.
Have you ever been friends with someone who had an entirely different perspective on life? It can be very challenging to listen to someone with an opposing view without becoming angry or defensive. But if this person is a friend, how can you not respectfully listen? And even if you fight over the issues from time to time, aren’t you faced with the reality that a real person that I care about believes something different? What a challenge this can be to your own beliefs. But what a healthy one. It is too easy to demonize outsiders. But if you can love a friend who opposes your foundational beliefs, and if they can do the same, what a gain that is to both of your characters. I’m not talking about compromising your beliefs. Absolutely not! This is about strengthening your deepest convictions, while learning respect and patience and humility.
Have you ever been friends with someone who shared your perspective on life? This can also be challenging. The challenge comes when they share your most foundational beliefs, yet respond to them differently. An example would be a Christian who had a different political leaning. Certainly there are conservative Christians and liberal Christians. Once again, it would be easy to place the opposing group in a box if not for the presence and perspective of friends. How could you see their heart and devotion and then brush them aside as if they were less than human? Once again, an honest friendship forces you to look the “other” in the face. It will teach you wisdom regarding judgement. And, it will force you to examine your own heart.
Friends also have the authority to speak hard truth to each other. If there is trust and love between friends, there may come a time when one party must speak truth. If the friend is acting in a destructive manner, it is more loving to speak the hard truth than to say nothing at all.
There was a moment recently when I suddenly understood something incredible about having close friends. Friends bring out a certain something in you that no one else can. The chemistry between friends is unique. Having friends develops your character because friends contribute to your identity. Each person has something unique to offer.
Now, I recognize that all of this has been positive. But there is a flip side to all of this influence and character building. If you don’t know who you are, or what you truly believe, it is easy for someone to negatively influence you. Even if you are strong in your beliefs, you are still playing with fire when you allow unsavory individuals into your close circle of confidants. If someone is selfish, or passionate about engaging in unwholesome behavior, how could they not influence you? In the world in which we live, I’m afraid, it is easier to influence for the worse than for the better. That is why we should treasure our healthy friendships, and work to sustain them.
Even one good friendship can save us from death in all of its forms.
Coming soon Part 5: Gifts
Don’t let anyone kid you, high school is all about survival. You must find a way to survive, and that is the major cause of cliques.
A clique is an exclusive group. Oftentimes, it is formed around a common interest. A popular example would be a group of football players. You could even expand it to include all “jocks”. But it doesn’t have to be about common interests. In many cases, smaller groups of friends join together to form a larger circle. Safety in numbers. Either join the pack or accept exile.
Obviously, there are many downsides to this system formed out of fear. The idea of “the group” may be used to pressure individuals against their will. “We are going to do this. You probably should to.” And since you don’t want to be outside of the group, you go along with its ways. Another downside could be that it is mistakenly assumed that all members of the group are friends of equal standing. The reality may be that certain individuals are close friends and others are close acquaintances. Confusion about the difference will lead to jealousy and all types of hurt feelings.
If a friendship is based on the clique, it is weak. It is impossible to establish a deep and meaningful bond when the only time you’re together is with other members of the group. Going to the movies, or out to dinner, or whatever it is kids do these days is not the basis of a friendship. You can’t be friends with a group.
Yet, despite the drawbacks, cliques can serve as incubators for true friendships.
Part 4: Building Character
United by a Common Interest
In my previous post, I wrote about the simplest and purest form of friendship; the play-centered relationship of little children. This relationship is good. It requires almost no sacrifice, and leads to much happiness. But, the friendships of little children cannot compare in significance to those of mature adults. That is the direction we are heading. The next two posts, including this one, will take us from children to young adults. After that, once we have reached a certain measure of maturity, I will focus on specific aspects of adult friendship. And finally, I will bring it all together with my personal reflection on the joy of true friendship.
Gathering around a common interest is an occurrence that doesn’t end once we reach maturity, but I believe that it does have a beginning in childhood. As children, we begin to develop interests. Where these interests come from is the subject of much debate. The sociologist might say that gender roles and various other societal pressures are at the heart of development. Others may claim that it has more to do with our biological composition (brain, chemicals, the result of evolution), which translates into our various tastes and preferences. Regardless of how or from where these preferences develop, no one can argue that they exist. All of that to make a simple point; children are drawn to certain things over others.
I believe that children are first drawn to the object of interest before they are drawn to those who share their interest. Of course, there are occasions when a child will imitate a sibling or cousin in their interest, and over time learn to like that thing due to simple exposure. I’m not saying that doesn’t happen. What I’m saying is that the gateway to new relationships in childhood is found in shared interests.
Before I go any further, I want to address something. Often, children are placed in certain clubs or sports teams when their parents recognize an interest in the child. I was a cub scout, I played soccer and baseball, and I bowled. That being said, I didn’t particularly have a significant interest in these things. I liked them well enough to do them in most cases, but left to my own devices I wouldn’t pursue them with much passion. Many children do have a passion for these clubs and teams, and they find friends with similar passion. But in my case, I didn’t want to take them home. My real interests were located elsewhere.
For better or worse, the two most significant interests that I held as a child were in Star Wars and video games. Sure enough it was through these things that I found my closest childhood friends. The first time I met John, I was feeling sick on the bus. He was close to me so I turned to him and asked, “Kid, can you tell the bus driver that I’m going to throw up?” John responded like a second grader (we were second graders) and attempted to ignore me. That was the beginning of a long friendship. A few years later, we were in the same class and learned that we shared an interest in video games. Much of that early time was spent playing or discussing them. Around that time I brought a Star Wars book on the bus. A boy named Tim noticed and expressed his shared interest in the movies. We quickly became good friends. In both cases there was a lot of crossover between Star Wars and video games, and other things. I don’t want you to think that we never played outside.
At that time in my life I wasn’t thinking about how nice it would be to have friends. If anything, I just wanted to have fun and play with my action figures and video games, or watch movies. If someone happened to like the same things, we could like those things together. Over time, I realized that pursuing my interests with other people could increase the fun. And over time I found that friends can be more than people who happen to like what you like.
Many friendships throughout life begin with a common interest. The thing is, if they remain only that, the friendship itself stays shallow and lacks much joy. There has to be a shift in focus from the thing to the person. If liking the same things with the people I know was a qualifier for friendship, I would have over one hundred friends. But I don’t have nearly that many, despite what Facebook says. Most of the people we socialize with are acquaintances. Some of them can even be good acquaintances. But there is a gulf between a good acquaintance and a true friend. As we progress, I hope to make the difference more clear.
Our next stop in the maturation process will bring us to high school. Oh, high school.
Enter the land of cliques.
Be on the lookout for Part 3
What does it mean to be a friend?
What does it mean to have a friend?
What is the joy of true friendship?
In the following series of posts, I’m going to be looking into this crucial relationship as it relates to the development of character and the experience of joy. I will be drawing largely from my own experience, and also from observation. There are many things in this world that I have not yet experienced, but I count myself blessed to have experienced friendship.
Early Childhood Friendships
Children love to play. The first, and most simple friendship that we experience has everything to do with play. As a little child, we have not developed particular tastes to the degree that we can discriminate amongst peers. What I mean is, children don’t have specialized interests as adults do. This means that they are not joined by similar tastes or hobbies. Instead, they are united by the pursuit and appreciation of fun through play. Sure, boys will usually favor cars and ninjas, and girls will favor dolls and princesses, but if you put a group of children together they will find common ground in their desire for fun.
I can recall my preschool days when we would play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The boys would pretend that they were Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, or Michelangelo, and there would always be at least one girl who wanted to play as April O’Neil. I even remember playing house with the girls. Yes, house. Whoever we were with became playmates. Anytime we played pretend, we became friends. Friends who found joy in simple play.
These earliest friendships are innocent and precious. To the adults who witness them, they should speak of a profound truth. It’s easy for little children to find joy together. They don’t have to understand it. And they don’t have to be told how to find it. It’s simply written on their hearts.
But we all grow up.
Part 2: Gathering Around A Common Interest