What is a friend?
You may know who your friends are, but do you know what makes them friends, what qualifies them in your life as friendship material?
It’s hard to define, this friendship thing. But I’d like to take a swing at it.
Now by “speak into” I don’t just mean the words we say. There’s a lot more “spoken” between friends than the words we form with our mouths, although of course those words do indeed count for a large portion of the ongoing conversation between pals. By “speak into” I mean the things we teach each other, the attitudes we convey, the subtle messages we “speak” with our body language, the unspoken words behind the gifts we give each other, the little ways we serve one another, and even the things we don’t say, deciding instead to let some things go unsaid.
The conversation between friends is more than just the last time you talked over coffee on your regular Starbucks date on Tuesday at two. That ongoing conversation is made up of all the time you’ve spent together, all the phone calls, all the cards you’ve exchanged, all the little looks, all the laughter and tears, all the embraces, and all prayers you’ve prayed with and for each other.
To better understand what distinguishes a friendship from other important relationships, let’s consider a few relationships which are not friendships.
Mothers and children are not friends, not while the children are little and learning anyhow, not if the mother knows best. For a mother is supposed to speak into a child’s life and a child is meant to listen and learn and obey. Sure, a mother grows from the experience of loving her child and that child can, in its innocent and precious way, speak into her life subtle and sweet messages. But friendship has to be reserved for later, anticipated for another day, once boundaries have been observed and lessons have been learned. Then, as the child grows in wisdom and knowledge there usually comes a day, in the late teens or early twenties, when a mother begins to speak less into her child’s life and she begins to permit the child to speak more freely into her own life.
I have a precious little plaque given to me by my own mother which expresses the sentiments of this wondrous time perfectly. Given to me when I was in my mid twenties, this framed artwork simply says, “My daughter by birth; My friend by choice.” And indeed, now we are friends.
In the same way, teachers and students are not inherently friends. The teacher speaks into the student’s life and the student takes notes. Likewise, a doctor speaks into a patient’s life and the patient pays a lot of money to take the doctor’s advice. While any of these pairings could potentially become friendships, they do not usually begin that way and additional steps are required to move them in that direction.
Friendship is a mutual relationship of giving and receiving, speaking and listening. Friends do both, neither just one or the other.
Today I’ve offered you my definition of friends and friendship. What do you think? I’d love to know. And over the next couple of weeks I’d like to share a few other things I learned about friendships as I recently prepared for a message I presented at my home (as in childhood) church in Georgia.
You see, once we realize that friendship is always a mutual relationship and one that is defined and quantified by the ongoing conversation we have, we can also begin to look at our own relationships with a little more clarity. We begin to see where we might need to change the conversations, elevate the discussion to a higher level, listen more or share more, and consider some new, better defined boundaries.
So I hope you’ll join me as we look at a Bountiful Harvest of Friendships!