At a wedding on Friday evening, I had the privilege of watching a group of people gather to celebrate. They had grown up together, invested time in each other, had their disagreements and disappointments, and still after 30 years, they were friends. Even though I was the ‘outsider’ it was a warm, inviting atmosphere.
Exactly what makes people bond? Why are some people more ‘likeable’ than others? How is it that some attract a circle of friends that stays strong while others struggle to maintain even a few close relationships? Physical attractiveness and social status can be things that make a person ‘popular’ at first, but unless there is character and depth under the surface, those people are not going to be able to sustain friendships.
So what builds and strengthens the kind of friendships that will enrich us for life? In no special order, let’s explore a few.
Commitment is a key. We want to know that if we put in time with a person, they are not going to abandon us when somebody ‘better’ comes along. Ruth, whose story is told in the book in the Bible that bears her name, went through tragedy, losing her husband. Her mother-in-law, also widowed, decided to return to Israel from Ruth land, Moab.
When the time came for their paths to diverge, Ruth asked to accompany Naomi. Her words are an amazing declaration of commitment. “Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17, NIV) How many people have you made that kind of commitment to? “I’m going to be here for you, share your life ‘til one of us leaves this life!”
Christlikeness must be in evidence, too. Jesus is my Lord, my Savior, my Hope. The people that I want closest to me are those who love Him, too! “Spur one another to love and good deeds,” the Bible says. Paul invited those he knew to “Follow me as I follow Christ!” We need friends who help us keep the right focus, who help us overcome our failures, whose very presence in our lives makes us better people, for God’s sake.
Selflessness is important! Paul urges us to learn to love each other in a way that wants the best for the other guy. “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:1-3, NIV) Who can form a real and deep attachment to a person who is only interested in himself? It is tiresome to spend much time with a person who we know will always make they take care of themselves first. Real friends are encouraging, listening, loving, taking an interest in us – through the up’s and down’s of life. And, we do the same for them.
Be yourself! Nobody really wants to be the friend of a person who is pretending to be someone else. Have the confidence to live with yourself, to be who you are, not who you think someone wants you to be. Yes, authenticity is important in lasting friendships.
Resilience matters. Life is going to get tough, sooner or later, for us all. Death will visit our family. Things will go upside down in our job. Sickness may come. We are attracted to those who do not fold up under the pressure, who do not turn into victims. Those who are hopeful, who choose authentic joy, who get back up when they are knocked down, inspire us and we want to learn from them. “Where does your strength come from? How can you bounce back from that experience?”
David gathered friends who stuck with him in the worst times. Those men were willing to go to battle with him, ready to live in exile alongside of him. Why? One of the things that makes David’s life so compelling is his resilience. He fell. He had hard times. But, he also had faith and stood up time and time again. These were not just words for him, they were the declaration of the way he lived in faith. ” A psalm of David. In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. … Praise be to the Lord, for he showed his wonderful love to me when I was in a besieged city. … Love the Lord, all his saints! The Lord preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (Psalm 31:1,21,23-24, NIV)
And, of course, there is LOVE. In that famed chapter, Paul describes the kind of love that makes friendship what it ought to be. “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end. ” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, The Message) Not the stuff of a movie romance, is it? Do you love?
When you are in a crisis, who can you call at midnight? Those people are true friends. If you have not built those kinds of relationships, start now. Pray for a place to invest yourself. Show up, be part. Make a commitment to your family, your church, your friends. Find those who also love Christ. Serve joyfully. Refuse to play the victim, forgiving, growing, anticipating God’s future for your life. And, friendships will form that will be among your richest resources in this world.
Here is a word from the Word. Lord, inspire us to richer relationships, make us friends in the family of God. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (1 John 3:16-18, NLT)
(listen to this old song at this link)
Packing up the dreams God planted
In the fertile soil of you
Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted
Means a chapter in your life is through
But we’ll keep you close as always
It won’t even seem you’ve gone
‘Cause our hearts in big and small ways
Will keep the love that keeps us strong
And friends are friends forever
If the Lord’s the Lord of them
And a friend will not say never
‘Cause the welcome will not end
Though it’s hard to let you go
In the Father’s hands we know
That a lifetime’s not too long
To live as friends
With the faith and love God’s given
Springing from the hope we know
We will pray the joy you’ll live in
Is the strength that now you show
No a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends
Deborah D. Smith | Michael W. Smith © 1982 Meadowgreen Music Company (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing) CCLI License # 810055