Ours was a friendship that had been forged, tested and lived out through the years. Almost three decades now.
They lived in Singapore. I in Kuala Lumpur. I was surprised when they said that we had not met up for almost a year. But when we took our places at the table, we also assumed our places as old friends. We picked up where we left off.
The topics of conversation never veered too far off the basic triad of church, work, and family. The important stuff. Instinctively, we looked for ways to encourage, affirm, and help. As David G. Benner so nicely puts it: “Friends show their love in an endless variety of ways, Undergirding these however, is a central desire for the blessing of the other person. Friends long for each other’s well-being and do whatever they can to support it.” Almost three decades now.
Not surprisingly, our friendship was established many years ago, in a less manic time of our lives. Shared times are the building blocks of any real friendship. And time is scarce in this chapter of our lives, a chapter chiefly defined by duties.
So I am very grateful for the old friends in my life. I could not have come this far without their love. We harvest the fruit of friendships sown long ago. Indeed, I often feel that I receive so much more than I give. Thank God that among friends, nobody keeps tabs.
In the twelfth century, a young monk named Aelred, wrote powerfully about the life sustaining nature of friendship:
“But what happiness, what security, what joy to have someone to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality as to another self; one to whom you need have no fear to confess your failings; one to whom you can unblushingly make known what progress you have made in the spiritual life; one to whom you can entrust all the secrets of your heart and before whom you can place all your plans! What, therefore, is more pleasant than so to unite to oneself the spirit of another and of two to form one, that no boasting is therefore to be feared, no suspicion to be dreaded, no correction of one by the other to cause pain, no praise on the part of one to bring a charge of adulation from the other. ‘A friend,’ says the Wise man, ‘is the medicine of life.’
I have thought long and often about the two friends on the Emmaus road (Luke 24:13-35). Their hopes were crushed, but at least they had each other as they walked their sad journey of disillusionment. But their companionship provided the context for the Divine Companion to appear to do His healing work.
I think of the friends who walked with me in the saddest moments of my journey. (And this is the short list.)
*The friends who fed me and comforted me when I was dumped by girlfriends when I was in high school. *The friends who helped me as I struggled through dental school. *The friends who came and stood beside me when I had to bury my wife. *The friends who accepted me and believed in me the last ten black years of my life. *The friends who give me hope and help right now as I go through a very stressful period of my life.
Their friendship provided the context for the Divine Companion to come alongside. No wonder friendship is so crucial to the soul.
I have often thought that friendship should be the primary motif for ministry in the 21st century. After all what is discipleship if not the provision of a relationally safe place for people to grow in the Lord? And what is evangelism but the introduction of our non Christian friends to our Friend? After all, didn’t the living God come to us to offer us His friendship? (John 15:13-16)
We live in a terribly lonely age where relationships are mostly functional if they are there at all. Without friends we are all a little less human, a tribe of lonely zombies sharing the road of life with other zombies, but not connecting.
I cannot live like that. Thank God I don’t have to. I raise my cup and toast my friends, both old and new. Thank you for being there.
Carole King was only partly right when she sang:
“And if you feeling just a little bit lonely don’t sit at home just hoping Come on down to where the spirit flows so free You know that door is always open At the Hard Rock Cafe come to the Hard Rock Cafe They will help keep your blues at day at the Hard Rock Cafe”
The food was great and the band did a good cover of Norah Jones. But the Hard Rock Cafe would have done nothing for me last Tuesday without my friends.