January 6, 2004
True friendship versus false friendship
I’ve just read another section in Eugene Peterson’s book, Leap over a Wall, on the life of David. This section highlights David’s special friendship with Jonathan. Peterson insightfully reminds me that a true friend is someone who enters our lives, not with a hidden personal agenda, not with a snap judgment concerning our wellness or wholeness or how this friendship will in some way have personal benefits for them et al. Rather he writes that a true friend is someone who “…is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what’s deepest within us.” (page 54)
Our experience in Christian circles as well as in the world is sadly too often like Peterson’s following description: “Each of us has contact with hundreds of people who never look beyond our surface appearance. We have dealings with hundreds of people who the moment they set eyes on us begin calculating what use we can be to them, what they can get out of us. We meet hundreds of people who take one look at us, make a snap judgment, and then slot us into a category so that they won’t have to deal with us as persons. They treat us as something less than we are; and if we’re in constant association with them, we become less.” (page 54)
Over the past days and weeks, I’ve been reflecting on our own need for friendship with a couple with whom we can share both rich fellowship and also relaxing fun. With whom we can be real. In whose presence we feel fully accepted for who we are. With whom we don’t have to perform or behave in a certain way in order to be sure of their ongoing love and affection. (We are blessed to have couples around us as well as a few who live in other countries with whom we have this kind of friendship.)
However, what about me? What kind of “friend” am I to Frieda on a daily basis? I fear that sometimes hidden goals or personal needs get in the way of my being a true friend to my darling mate. I’m thinking of a shopping experience I had yesterday when I chose to give my beloved mate the afternoon to accompany her in her search for a pair of sandals suitable for wearing in India during our forthcoming ministry there. Our hours of searching yielded nothing!
I stuck with her as we went from one store to another. But I sadly didn’t really enjoy it. This troubled me. So I have searched my heart to find out why. I began by viewing these hours as an opportunity to support my darling, to do something she wanted to do regardless of how I felt about it, but as time went along without finding anything, I allowed some hidden desires to influence my attitude. My lack of enjoyment was affected by my desire to help her through her shopping so I could go off and look for some things I wanted to look at.
God has used this experience to help me see more clearly that if I am to be a genuine friend to my wife, to anyone, then it requires of me a willingness to go of my own selfish agenda and desires in that friendship in order to love and serve that person as he/she needs. To look to that relationship and friendship, not for the purpose to fulfil my own need to feel useful, but rather just to be for that person a friend without any strings attached. To give myself in such a way as to pour out my time and energies in unselfish wastefulness for the good of another – just as Mary poured out on Jesus’ feet in wastefulness the extremely costly perfume/ointment.
How much richer we are as persons when we can give ourselves as friends like this. Yesterday showed me my need to continually repent of that hidden, sinful selfishness that hinders the growth of my friendship with my very best friend. It also reminded me that the real essence of living according to God’s plan for His people is not “achieving one’s goals” (even ministry goals) but “loving and valuing people” for their sake.
God calls me to keep putting off my self-centred ways of thinking about how friendship with this or that person will benefit us personally. Rather He calls us to engage in the lives of others because they like we are human beings who have a profound need to live life amid the unfriendly environment of this world with people who are genuine friends to them. God calls us to give this kind of gift to others generously – including our fellow-workers.
At the end of our lives, we will be seen to have lived well if we have loved well. Our true greatness will not be measured then by how great or small our “achievements” and “accomplishments” in life may be – though some will evaluate our worth with this criterion. Blessed and rich is the man, the woman, who is a friend like this to others! Beginning with the ones we live closest to.