People have different approaches to their relationships with others. I remember an Australian couple with whom I used to be friendly and whom I used to meet almost weekly. When they left the town they severed their ties with most, if not all, of those whom they had previously called friends. From the day they left, they didn’t write, phone or visit and yet their new home was only a three-hour journey from their old one. Strange. I didn’t even begin to understand their approach to friendship. What did they understand it to mean? Is friendship something temporary and disposable?
There are some people who call others their friends after only knowing them for a few minutes. They call a casual encounter that has no lasting quality a friendship. Here today. Gone tomorrow. I’m not sure. I think it is entirely possible to meet someone and to have a feeling, even after only a moment, that this person could become a friend, but this doesn’t happen very often. I’m not sure that a momentary, untested relationship is worthy of being called a friendship. To be a friend is not a trivial encounter, not something to be taken lightly.
Real friendship is something that stands the test of time and separation. It is a kind of loving. A true friendship takes a moment to establish and a lifetime to bring to fulfilment. It is a lifelong commitment to another person. It is a gift of all that I truly am to another individual, who makes the same gift of himself or herself to me. That is why, when someone puts his or her life into my hand in friendship it seems a contradiction if, after only a short while, I spread my fingers and let that gift trickle away like sand. That is why it is sometimes said that a friend is “a once in a lifetime experience”. It doesn’t mean that I have only one friend. It does mean that each friend is uniquely precious and irreplaceable.
Someone once said that a true friend is “someone who knows all of my shortcomings but likes me anyway”. True, but a real friend is also someone who notices “all the secret belongings that nobody else cared enough to notice”, the qualities that even I hadn’t known were within me.
Each of us is like a swimming pool with a deep end and a shallow end. Some of the people in my life are only allowed into the shallow end of my heart. Some are allowed into deeper water. A true friend is allowed to swim anywhere even though it means that my weaknesses and shortcomings will become clearly visible. Such a person will also discover and enjoy all the precious treasures that I don’t put on public display.
My friends change me, help me to become more truly myself, make me ever more beautiful and lovable. They help me to bring out into the daylight my best qualities. If my companions don’t do this and I become a worse person through being with them, then they are not friends. Changing for the better is not always comfortable and pain-free, but it is only someone who truly loves me, who is a friend in the best sense of the word, who will both challenge me to make the necessary changes and will accompany me on that journey.
Friendship doesn’t just happen. It takes commitment and time. It means sharing, not only laughter, but also tears. Anybody can be good company in good times. What about those times of pain, discouragement, failure, tragedy, sickness, when perhaps I’m not very good company?
Friendship means the sharing of values, not just superficially, but at the very deepest level of my being. Sometimes we don’t even have the opportunity to talk about those values: we simply recognise that they exist. In the last few days someone to whom I was saying goodbye made the comment “...but you don’t really know me!” Really? Do you think I’ve not seen the ease with which you can put a charitable construction onto a negative situation? Do you think I’ve not heard some of the words which you probably didn’t know that I’d noticed, words that showed me you have your values, your thinking and your judgement right? Didn’t you know that you let me glimpse a deeply good person? Somehow I think I know you much better than you realise!
Sharing of interests and concerns are an important aspect of friendship. We are not clones of each other, so there are areas where we will differ, but there is enough common ground for a relationship to grow, develop and flower. There is a determination to spend time together, perhaps not always talking. Sometimes it is necessary to share silence. It is because of the attitude of total giving, receiving and sharing that are the very fabric of true friendship that its highest human form is found in marriage, where two individuals give themselves heart and soul into each other’s hands in a lifelong commitment.
True friendship is a celebration of the life and goodness of another person. It is unselfish and outward looking. It helps to make life worth living, to make life an ongoing adventure of discovery. A true friend is a priceless treasure: no one can measure its worth.