A dear friend of mine, whom I have known since childhood, passed away on January 29 and I had the honour of speaking at his funeral service in Lacombe. We were close in age and became believers in Jesus at approximately the same time. We regularly exchanged, via email, our writings and opinions. We enjoyed occasional telephone conversations which would begin with discussion about our families, talk of friends and relatives at home and then invariably turn to Biblical topics, most notably Christian apologetics. I will miss him.
My friend’s passing caused me to ponder the matter of friendship. My first thought was, that while I have hundreds of acquaintances, I may not have very many close friends (what Anne of Green Gables would call bosom friends). Consequently, I probably don’t have any to spare, so I should treat them well.
How can you tell the difference between a friend and an acquaintance? George Elliott, pen name for Mary Anne Evans (1819 – 1880), wrote something very profound about friendship that I believe answers the question. She wrote, “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts, nor measure words, but to pour them all out just as they are, chaff and grain together knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”
Friendship needs to be built upon certain characteristics and requires intentionality and effort. Some years ago, Psychology Today surveyed 40,000 people and discovered that friendship rests upon three pillars. They are, in order of importance, trust which is the ability to be discreet with confidential information, loyalty and predictability, with warmth and affection coming in third. I would add integrity, for a faithful friend will intervene with honesty if their friend is wrong, or headed for injury. An old Jewish proverb says, “A friend is one who warns you.” This can be risky, but is often rewarding. Proverbs 27:5 states, “Better an open rebuke than hidden love.”
Having friends is important. The Bible says, “If one person falls, the other person can reach out to help. But those who are alone when they fall have no one to help them” (Ecclesiastes 4:10). This gate, of course swings both ways. If a friend is there to help me when I fall, then I need to be there for them when they fall. The first thing I did after learning of my friend’s death was to share the news with other friends. First my wife, after that, a close friend in my hometown and then a gentleman whom I have referred to as “my coffee buddy” for 20 years. All three encounters were most encouraging.
“Friends are like good health; you don’t realize what a gift they are until you lose them.”