Friends share a unique connection with one another: a level of trust or intimacy.
In friendship there is a mutual commitment and desire to support and serve one another. In it there is a bridge of love that extends beyond the general love or respect of mankind, but that does not quite surpass the level of love that is shared in marriage. To differentiate, for example, an acquaintance is defined by Webster as “a favored companion”, or someone with whom one is familiar. An acquaintance holds less sway than a friend. They are important, but they are not to be equated with true friends. Though the term “friend”, like “love”, is often used somewhat broadly and casually, perhaps it should really be thought of as those deemed as best or closest friends. Most people can be friendly with others, and most people usually have various circles of friends. Acquaintances and casual friends are important and can lead to true friendships. But to be clear, when I write or think of friendship it will be with regard to those considered in the innermost circle: the closest friends—those whose opinions are identified and valued above the general crowd and who are shown the greatest attention and effort. Friends are, in effect, like family.
Finding, developing, and sustaining friendships throughout life may be rooted in these principles, but it is certainly not limited to them. It is messier than that. It is more organic, more stunning. As we progress through life the roots deepen and expand, but do not necessarily change beyond recognition or disappear. Ideally, they reach new depths and affix new layers. Ideally, they grow and branch out to strengthen our character and perspective—our ability to receive friendship and offer friendship to others.
In the early years, from birth through primary school, life is often understood through a filter of desirable and undesirable—likes and dislikes. Observe a baby for any time and this quickly becomes evident. Thankfully our worldview gradually expands and comes to include a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, and later even more complex realizations. Life seems simple as a child, often understood through a filter of playful possibilities protected by family and community.
For example, I generally made friends through shared interests and values as taught by family. There was little thought as to where the friendships were going or how they would benefit or hinder my pursuits. We simply wanted to share adventures with each other, to imagine new worlds and possibilities together. Friendship was about acceptance and encouragement at the most basic level. It was about just having fun together in almost any environment.
As I have grown older, however, life’s complications seem to persist in gradually revealing themselves and adjusting that worldview. I moved to southern Germany when I was twelve years old. It was hard to leave the friendships of primary school behind; yet it was also relatively natural in that we were all facing a significant transition anyway (i.e. middle school and puberty). I was excited to embark on a great adventure overseas from my place of origins. Though shy as a youth, I anticipated meeting and befriending new people, and having new adventures. That has not really changed. Yet so much does change when we enter our teenage years. By moving away to another country, most of my friendships faded due to distance and a lack of shared experiences (or growing up) together. The same occurred after I graduated from high school and returned to the United States to study for my undergraduate degree, as well as when I graduated from college and moved back to Colorado. Yet because I have deliberately tried to remain committed and loyal to my friends, I have by the grace of God preserved my closest friendship from the various chapters of my life: childhood in California, primary school in Colorado, secondary school in southern Germany, and college in California.
While each friendship is not the same as before—partially due to marriages and career pursuits, for example—the essence of our original connection remains untouched. I believe that time and distance cannot alter the original roots that form a friendship. They may be forgotten amidst years and geographical distances, especially when there has been no long-distance communication (e.g. writing or calling) between reunions. But when we see each other again it is as though the roots of the friendship are just as alive and strong as before. We have had different experiences, surely, especially having lived in different countries or cities. Our perspectives and personalities may have altered somewhat. Many things might have changed. Overall, the friendships may not have grown as they would have if we had lived in the same community, but neither have they diminished. They are ready to grow, given the nourishment of consistent time and shared experiences together. If that is not possible—if we are only able to reconnect through the occasional visit—then the friendship may not grow so much as just continue in a sort of time-locked state. Now, keeping in touch through long-distance communication tools in addition to visits does maintain a friendship stronger than if there was no communication. The friendship can grow, but not to the same affect as if both parties were actually living in the same community.
The challenge with distance relationships is to not confine friends in a box of memory.
Just as I hope that they will be attentive to the changes I have experienced, so must I be mindful of the changes they have experienced. I believe that there are roots of our personalities that do not change. But there are equally significant areas that do change. Again, there is a kind of mystery to it all. Memories are important. They are the moisture and sunlight that feed the roots of friendship. But everyone experiences seasons of change. To be strong, or be the best that we can, we must adapt and be open to the possibilities of the present and future.
Friendships are an invaluable extension of our lives.
Friendships are, for me at least, a considerable source of meaning and for gaining understanding. They are a means for success and failure. They can provide joy and sorrow. They can cause growth or sometimes even stagnation. Most of all they are a source of hope—a source of life. But they are more than a means, and they are more than an end. They are a journey, a growing thing. Without them I would be alone against the challenges of this world. Without a forest of community surrounding me, I would have probably broken from the strain of life’s pounding winds long ago.
A Spiritual Element
A belief in God, especially in Jesus Christ, offers another mysterious and complex dimension to relationships. In Genesis 2:18, some time after the first man was created, God said “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (English Standard Version). But as there are countless books written on the subject of friendship and marriage in addition to the Word of God (The Bible), I will not really delve into that pool at this time.
But I must conclude by addressing the reality that my strongest friendships have been with those who share my faith. My belief in an all-loving and presently active God who created mankind in His image and who redeemed mankind from its destructive nature shapes my worldview. It serves as the lens through which I discern, understand, and pursue friendship with others. It is not that I do not pursue friendship with those who do not believe. I do. It is just that those who do believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be have given me the most holistic relationships I have had. I believe that friendship is a gift from God. In truth it is one of His greatest gifts and not to be taken lightly. But they are more than gifts. Friendships, including all forms and levels of relationship with Believers and unbelievers, are one of our greatest responsibilities in life. Anticipating the afterlife—a new Heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21-22)—friendships are one of the only things in this world that can outlast death.
Yet there is a very real spiritual enemy battling against this hope. Lucifer, and the third of the angels of Heaven that were cast down to earth with him, is actively seeking to corrupt or destroy everything that is right and good. He is slyly seeking to counteract anything that is of God. He strives to disrupt and divide, to trigger our darkest natures, to fuel the fires of chaos by dividing cultures, nations, families, and individuals. He strives in order that we might join him in the destruction that awaits him and his servants when Jesus returns to seal the invasion that began with his life, death, resurrection. Death could not bind the Son of God. Even now his Spirit is active among those who would accept and believe in his victory. Even now he moves his followers to reclaim the world from its rebellion. Even now his Kingdom is spreading. Most evidently—most fundamentally—it is happening through the contagious power of friendship. Not only can the fruit of friendships define a life, but they can also serve as the primary weapon against the chaos of the enemy and the world.
What is friendship? Who is a friend? It can be many things. He or she could be anyone. It is a profound and beautiful mystery enhanced by mutual sacrifice and support through seasons of shared experienced. It is a gift ultimately unhindered by time and distance. It is a journey, a living truth. It is a calling.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master his doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
- The Gospel of John, 15:12-17, English Standard Version
To God be all glory. Now and forevermore. Amen.