Friendship. Not a small idea!
Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (ESV)
Merriam-Webster defines friendship as: the state of being friends, the relationship between friends, a friendly feeling or attitude, kindness or help given to someone. The obsolete meaning is “aid.”
Is it safe for me to say that many of us have thought at one point in time or another that a particular individual we felt very close to and considered a best friend, turned out not to be so “best,” or even a friend at all for that matter? I think it is, and for those of us who have experienced this disappointment or even betrayal from a friend, the resulting emotional havoc can be overwhelming.
At first we’re “shocked!” That word is apropos because it’s like an unexpected jolt that sends painful, radiating waves through you. Second, we have to try to reconcile ourselves with how we missed the signs, or even worse, maybe we saw it coming but chose to ignore it. Third, we have to accept the dissolution of that relationship and then finally, we must do our very best to move beyond it.
As I mentioned in the title, friendship isn’t a small idea. I claim this because of the commitment the word itself demands. Relationship includes the word, “ship,” which indicates a very big idea! It carries with it a responsibility of not only being “friendly,” but in order to truly demonstrate its full intention, it requires us to be kind to or aid those we consider to be our friends, without selfish motives.
This word, this concept is attenuated when taken lightly. For example, I overheard someone at a restaurant saying that they have more than 300 “friends” on a particular social media website and 920 “followers” on another. I must say that at first, I was pretty impressed, but then it got me thinking.
After a devastating experience as a teenager with someone I thought was my girlfriend, my mom tried to comfort me, reassuring me that this would pass and I would grow from it. She told me that most friends “come and go,” and if one is able to count how many friends they have on one hand then that person is truly blessed! I wonder what she would say about someone having 300 friends!
Today claiming “more than 300 friends” doesn’t seem unusual and in some cases it sounds low, unless of course the idea of having that many friends is prosaic. I can’t help but wonder, if that individual who claims to have that many friends needed to call upon all them for help, would those friends render expeditious aid? How wonderful it would be if they did, for that would be a demonstration of the true meaning of “friend-ship.”
There’s a particular story in the Bible that helped me to gain a clearer understanding of how to be a better friend and expect more from my friends in turn in the book of Job (which you can find in the Old Testament).
Job had three friends, all of whom visited him during the very worst time of his life, when he was tormented and in utter despair. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much to help Job feel any better.
Eliphaz was the first of his so-called friends to enter the scene and he asks Job, “...who that was innocent ever perished?” Here, Eliphaz is primarily accusing Job of bringing his suffering upon himself (Job 4:3-4, 7-8, ESV).
Job’s second so-called friend, Bildad (Job 8:20, ESV), who basically agrees with Eliphaz, just says it differently, intimates that God would not “reject a blameless man, nor take the hand of evildoers.”
The third friend to visit Job is Zophar who supports Elphaz and Bildad by repeating their sentiments and opinions of Job. In fact, this entire exchange of verbiage from these three supposed friends of Job rests entirely on the notion that he is deserving of this crisis because he must’ve done something wrong to manifest it. When in fact, this is in contradiction to what God says about Job in calling him a “righteous man.”
In Job’s condition he did not need friends like those who shared their judgments of what God’s purpose was for him and what caused Job’s grief. He needed friends who would comfort and support him, ones who would open their hearts to compassion and empathy, rather than dig for an explanation for his tragedy.
These three men continue with their rhetoric, which escalates into more damaging comments. Eventually, though, Job realizes that’s not what God intended friendship to look like, and he takes a stand against Bildad, Eliphaz and Zophar and the relationships take a turn (see the book of Job).
A true friend loves. A not-so-true friend judges. Taking account of how we act towards the ones we declare to be our friends is more legitimate than counting how many we may have, even if you can only count them on one hand!
ESV-English Standard Version
Blood Is Supposed to Be Thicker Than Water.
I saw my mom huddled over in the corner, crying almost uncontrollably. I asked her what was making her so sad, and although grief had her hostage, she did her best to explain that she had lost a very good friend.
I gently touched her on the shoulder, sat beside her, and asked if she meant that her friend had died. She said, no, that a conflict between my dad and her friend’s husband had caused the death of this most valued relationship between my mom and her dear friend.
We sat and talked for a while, and soon I learned another relevant lesson. It was then that she said to me, “Blood is supposed to be thicker than water.”
She went on to decode this truth: she had believed the strong bond she had with her friend was unbreakable, especially because she had been so loyal to her girlfriend and protected her when her girlfriend’s husband was abusive to her girlfriend so when it came time for her friend to fight for their friendship, her friend had chosen to stand beside her husband.
At the time I thought “blood is thicker than water” meant that if someone had to choose between a family member who was not a good friend or a loyal friend who was not family by blood, that person would always choose family. But what it really means is that even our own family ties, or “water from the womb,” should not be the determining decision as to whom one should be loyal to.
An example of that loyalty is in times past there was a ceremonial custom of mixing blood. Two people would each make a small cut on one hand, to slightly draw blood, and then shake hands so as to seal the bond; in doing so, they were forming a covenant to treat one another as blood brothers. This signified an everlasting alliance. In simple terms, it meant this blood relationship was thicker or more substantial than just sharing the same DNA with someone. Hence the saying, “The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
Later in life, when I had my own experiences of losing friends I thought I would have for life, I came to understand the pain my mom felt and the fear that argued to her over the loss of her friend and that void would never be filled again.
As an adult, I have opened my heart, my home, my wallet, and my mind to share all that I had with people I presumed to be my blood comrades, only to receive a meager return. And when I saw how those same individuals gave to their family members, though they were treated unkindly by them, my mom’s face came to mind and I recalled the pain in her heart that was now mine.
I didn’t want to give up on people and be a loner, but I knew I had to develop a higher concept of relationships, so as I usually do when challenges arise, I searched for the highest solution by turning wholeheartedly to prayer. I continued to search for a greater understanding of love, and it became clear to me that love is meant to be shared, exchanged, and felt—we are not to withhold its splendor.
I read, I studied, and I pondered, finding precious pearls of wisdom; one idea came from the gospel of Matthew 12:46-48 “While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. 47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. 48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?” (KJV)
I searched for a deeper understanding of this and found Matthew Henry’s commentary, “His mother and brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him, when they should have been standing within, desiring to hear him. Frequently, those who are nearest to the means of knowledge and grace are most negligent. We are apt to neglect that which we think we may have any day, forgetting that to-morrow is not ours.”
In consulting with my mentor at the time about this subject, she led me to a particular concept that was like a message directly from heaven. It was written by theologian and author Mary Baker Eddy and can be found in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures:
“Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return. Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it. The wintry blasts of earth may uproot the flowers of affection, and scatter them to the winds; but this severance of fleshly ties serves to unite thought more closely to God, for Love supports the struggling heart until it ceases to sigh over the world and begins to unfold its wings for heaven.”
I was so moved by this passage that it changed my entire belief system on how love is supposed to look, even though it meet no return. Love still looks like love. Not one thing changes about love. It is still kind, it is still benevolent, and it remains forever merciful. It never becomes unloving. But this concept is not an easy one to uphold. It requires a discipline of selflessness, which is not always easy.
I love to love, and I certainly love to be loved, but now I get it. Love is not always going to be returned the way you’d like just because you have shared it, and even if it does, there is no guarantee it will last a lifetime.
There are still times when I long to hear a thoughtful message from those I have loved but have since left my experience; times that I hope to receive a message of why they really left or even just an update as to how they are doing. But even if I never do, I must remain satisfied and without regret for loving them in the first place.
I trust that if I continue to be filled with the love that Love is, one day it will no longer matter if anyone else shares love with me, because the true fulfillment of Love leaves no room for loneliness.
I love you!