Years ago over coffee, a friend slapped me in the face.
Well, maybe not physically but let’s just say my attention was grabbed.
I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about but it’s very likely the conversation had been dominated by some grandiose rendition of the latest drama in my life and I guess she had finally had enough. With a heavy sigh she quietly murmured “You know, it isn’t always about you” and stood up to leave.
No one had ever spoken to me like that before.
After we parted, and with her words still hanging in the air, my indignation was quickly eclipsed by embarrassment as I wondered who else might think the same thing?
A review of my roster of friends revealed that the majority of my social connections were actually pretty superficial. With few exceptions, I had surrounded myself with people I could either control or from whom I could get something. There were very few equals in my circle and certainly, no true heart friend. I needed an overhaul.
But where to start?
Someone once said that in order to have a good friend you must first be a good friend. I soon realized I really didn’t know how, so starting on that painful day, I got busy.
I began spending time with non-churchy folks who loved God and had the mindset of a servant. They helped me understand that I needed to adopt the perspective that although I am special and “made in the image of God”, I am no better than anyone else. In fact, I needed to just be a “worker among workers”.
I began to create some space between myself and people who didn’t share my core values. I focused on the people who demonstrated a capacity for the kind of friendship I always longed for.
I zeroed in on those who love and believe in me without reservation, recognizing that anyone functions at their highest and best when they have their own private cheerleading squad.
I also started to closely watch people with strong friendships and tried to emulate what they did. Although it wasn’t easy to implement actions that didn’t come naturally to me, over time and with a lot of practice, behaviors that were once foreign became automatic and the impact on the quality of my relationships was immeasurable.
That was over twenty-five years ago. And although the learning will never be finished, I have picked up a few truths along the way:
- Real friendship isn’t about you. Let’s face it: it is rarely convenient to really attend to someone else at their level of need… not on the level that’s well, convenient for us. True friendship that lasts and deepens requires intentional effort, can cramp our comfort, impinge on our time, and sometimes even cost money. But the payoff is priceless. Today, my friendship quiver is full: one remembers and then acts on what matters to me, another can be counted on to just plain show up, even when it costs her deeply. Still another gets in my face, pulls my covers, and calls my life as she sees it… but with love that knows no bounds. And yet another loves by giving until her own gas tank is dry.
- Friendship plays to each other’s strengths and celebrates its differences. There are no two more different people walking the planet than me and my long time friend and ministry partner Billye. We both agree that we have no natural chemistry and, without a doubt, our 26 year friendship has been the most challenging either of us has ever had. In our early years we often brought out the worst in each other as we’d try to change the other, creating needless division and stress. But over time, we have learned to value those differences and even rely on them, recognizing that together, we’re stronger.
- Friendship leaves its ego at the door. My ‘good intentions’ only go so far if I don’t notice how my friend needs to be communicated with, served, and loved, regardless of how I need to be communicated with, served, and loved.
- Friendship is trustworthy. Beyond simply keeping a confidence, a trustworthy friend comes through. She keeps her promises, is reliable and would never do anything that would compromise the security of her friend, no matter how she might gain otherwise.
Anything that counts for something typically comes at a price. But who wouldn’t pay dearly for something with such a great ROI?
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a sister.