Tonight Bernice and I will be meeting up with some old friends for dinner. Well, they are more my old friends. They came to know Bernice only since she entered my life but we are all good friends now. I first knew this couple before they were married. We were all students in the University of Singapore in the 70s. We have known each other for more than thirty years.
Old friends, like parents, remember embarrassing things from your past. This couple delights in reminding me of the time I asked a patient for biscuits. I was a young dentist then, trying to take the medical history of an elderly Cantonese lady. I was trying to ask her what diseases, if any, she had had. It came out as. “Do you have any biscuits?” This joke hinges around the different ways you can pronounce the Cantonese word “pang.” The lady replied, “No I don’t have any biscuits. Are you hungry doctor?” By then the nurses who had heard this exchange were rolling on the floor with laughter. As long as these friends are in my life I will not be allowed to forget this incident.
Thirty years is also time enough for us to have walked with each other though some of the most happy moments and some of the saddest tragedies of our lives. I know they had had to struggle to understand and accept some of the things that happened to me. But they never rejected me. And although the demands of this stage of our lives mean that we do not see each other that often (which is why this evening is precious) we can pick up the threads of our life conversations whenever we do meet up. Our default position remain a mutual desire to bless and encourage each other where we can.
As I have said often, I am truly thankful to God for friends like these. I do not know how I could have survived the journey of my life without these companions. I picked up a copy of Thomas Moore’s A Life at Work yesterday and found in it this beautiful write-up of the nature and power of friendship:
Though it seems ordinary and simple, friendship is one of the most powerful forces on earth. It is a kind of love, a special brand, that can support you as you search for a life work.
Friendship is a relatively constant love not disturbed by the ups and downs of passion as much as romantic love is. You don’t need a ceremony to initiate a friendship as you do in marriage, because friendship grows slowly like a small garden rather than arriving in full bloom like a huge floral display.
Friendship is a broad category that sometimes mean intimate connection and sometimes a loose tie. There are good friends, close friends, and friends who may be more like acquaintances it’s sometimes difficult to know which it is. However strong the connection, friendships allow you to go in your lifewith companions who will support you and be with you and talk with you. These ae simple but essential gifts. (London, UK: Piatkus, 2008, pp. 146-147)
No one should apologise for their need for friends. Our need for friends is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of our humanity. I was reminded of this when I had lunch with a new friend yesterday. He was about my age and worked in the oil and gas industry. And he was far from home. His wife was not able to join him yet because her father was ill and she had to help nurse him. My few friend had been in Singapore for about five months, living alone without his wife or any close friends. It didn’t help that his first language is not English. His loneliness was palpable. He shared that he couldn’t continue his life of loneliness anymore and reported with great joy that his wife was about to join him. Bernice and I are hoping that we can be friends with them.
Like all good things, friendship requires sacrifice and work. I can’t even begin to imagine how much my friends have sacrificed in their support of my life and my work. It also explains why Bernice and I were with a friend who was commemorating the first anniversary of his wife’s death, on the day when we were moving to a new home. Earlier that same day I had tea with an old friend whose wife had discovered that her cancer had returned. Even in a perfect world, it was not good for humans to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In a fallen world, friends could mean the difference between life and death. Which may be why Jesus comes to us as a friend (John 15:15). He is Saviour and Lord. But He also comes as a friend because we all understand our need for friends. It is as basic as eating.
When we meet up with my old friends tonight, I am sure we will talk about how we should invest our lives as we enter into middle age. We are no longer young undergraduates with our lives before us. We never had all the time in the world. This is very clear now. Bernice and I will report that we have started a new ministry called Graceworks. Our mission: to promote spiritual friendship in life and society through publishing and training. We can’t think of a better way to invest the next chapter of our lives.