Three years ago I noticed that in the second half of February I became very busy seeing all my good friends, at the rate of almost one a day. It was a period around Valentine’s day/February half term and included dinner parties and birthday lunches, visits to see people further away – and of course coffee in Costa! This filled up a busy and happy 2 weeks – so I named it ‘Friendship Fortnight’ and decided to keep it every year 🙂
I love my friends. That sounds obvious – isn’t that what friendship is all about, mutual appreciation and being there for each other? What is it that causes that special spark: “I like you, I like being with you”? We get ‘connected’ to many people on our journey through life – in our school days, university or training, as young parents with children who play and go to school together, at special interest groups, church or in our line of work: each life stage brings new people into our path. We are attracted by similarities, sharing life at the school gate or office, excited about the same activities or even intrigued by another’s differences. Yet there are a few of these relationships that go deeper than the others. We may only have one or two lifelong friends (like my ‘sister’ Helen) and there is no doubt many friendships are seasonal as life moves on or we move on and we are just left with a card at Christmas, but we are surely made to live in community, sharing life and laughter, food and tears, the joys and trials – even if these days with nuclear and broken rather than extended families that community can be very spread out or even virtual.
Psalm 41v9 talks about “My close friend, with whom I shared my bread”…and what incredulity and bitterness when, of all people, that is the one who “lifts up his heel against me”. Betrayal is one of the most cruel things there is, the knife in the back – TV soap operas trade in that kind of emotion. Yet a good and faithful friend is a gift, a strength, a comfort – as we have discovered even more in recent months. Yet good friendship requires work, effort, choices… it is not called ‘making’ friends for nothing!
I like to think I am a good friend. I prize faithfulness; I insist on honesty and vulnerability, heart to heart communication. I want to know what makes someone tick, who they really are – to see their strengths and weaknesses and know that I know them. After the initial magnetism you always have to go through that ‘I’m not sure I like that bit about him or that part of her’… but when you have been through the disillusionment and still like them, still want to share yourself with them, when you have addressed the offences and found forgiveness and grace to continue to walk together, that really is something worth keeping. And it works the other way too… revealing the not so nice parts of me to them, needing their grace and mercy for my shortcomings: its always a risky business. But for me without that level of sharing and mutuality it isn’t all it can be. I know there are friends to do things alongside, sharing in the task rather than the emotions, and many people are satisfied with rubbing along with their buddies at the pub or the golf club: I too have acquaintances on that level and it is nice enough. But I am looking for more – a heart connection – the place where, as Ephesians 2v22 says, ‘we too (two) are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” and in which “iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27v17).
Jesus laid down his life for His friends. As I have said before (The 3rd degree) I want to find those God is putting around me so I can lay down my life for them. Jesus modelled that kind of open, vulnerable, servant life and that is how the world will see Him in and with us – so its pretty important!
I think the Lord must agree with me because the last 2 years ‘Friendship Fortnight’ has again filled up with meetings and meals with good friends – visits to some old ones and some special ones, and catching up with some distant ones or busy ones. I don’t really organise it, it just seems to happen that way. I knew it had started last night when someone I hadn’t seen for a year came to stay overnight and when she left today I met up with a new friend who seems to like me as I like her… and its been busy and tiring and fun and lots of talking! Time to focus on making friends: time to sow into what matters. Tomorrow lunch with a respected couple with whom we go back years, Sunday at our favourite fellowship and watering hole, Monday a bit of a drive…
So its a bit less blogging for me for a while and some fasting from facebook: not so much ‘screen’ time, instead some focussed face to face friendship to brighten up the end of February. I’m sure St Valentine would have approved: his message was never meant to be exclusively for lovers!