Some Thoughts On Friendship

How do you define “friendship”? For you, what makes a good friend? What do you do to be a good friend?

I’ve been considering these thoughts lately. I’ve also been trying to read and study on the topic. However, I’ve been dismayed to discover books on the subject are extraordinarily lacking! While we can use much of what is mentioned in books on basic people skills, it seems like almost no one has written much of anything on friendship itself.

I wonder why? Could it be because friendship is so hard to quantify or define? Or is it that the qualities which make up a good friendship, like other things, was just so well understood by previous generations they saw no need to write about it? They just understood it and lived it and taught their children by living it in front of them.

A notable friendship in history is that of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. The literary world is greater and vastly broader due to the deep friendship between these two Oxford Dons! It was the encouragement and support of Lewis through the Inklings club that led to Tolkien writing and publishing his stories which became the wildly popular The Hobbit and the trilogy (and follow-up books for) The Lord of the Rings. Their contributions might have been even greater together, save for a misunderstanding which led to a miscommunication, which eventually resulted in an estrangement.

Some of the things which the friendship of Lewis and Tolkien shows are:

  • friends are there for you and support you
  • friends love you where you are at
  • friends encourage you to be more than what you currently are

I was thinking about friendship because of something that happened a while ago. I was upset and unhappy about some things going on in my life. (I won’t bore you with the details.) On my lunch break at work, I used my office line and called my best friend Cindy, and told her my troubles. She listened and advised, but we were both realizing she seemed to be unable to break me out of my “blue funk.”

A call on my cell phone from a family member interrupted us. The family member was reporting on some trivia I couldn’t handle from work, and I asked them to deal with since they were there. I finished that call and went back to my call with Cindy, who had heard my end of the conversation. I told her what it was about. She reminded me of a funny story of when we were newlyweds together, dealing with stuff for the first time as adults on our own. She related it exactly to the frustrating call from my family member. Using the story and the memory, Cindy was able to give me a hilarious mental picture to replace the one frustrating me, and a good laugh to top it off. The laughter gave me needed perspective on the things that had been troubling me, and she was then able to help me reframe the things that had been bothering me when I first called. I ended the call in a much better mood, with ideas to solve my problems.

Friends are there for you and support you: Cindy was there for me and supported me. She was having a tough day herself, but took time out to listen, counsel and make me laugh. Her presence on the phone, while I was having a problem, was part of my solution.

In another example of support, after my mother died, our friends Tony and Pat drove 1 1/2 hours from their Utica, NY home to our Albany, NY area for Mom’s 4:00 pm wake. They met my whole family and stayed until almost 5:00. Then they drove back past Utica and on to Syracuse, NY, a 3-hour drive, where they were scheduled to speak at an event, and arrived on time. Now that’s what I call being there and supporting a friend!

Friends love you where you are at: Cindy knew I wasn’t thinking right when I called after about the first few sentences. But she didn’t work on the errors of my thinking or suggesting any behavioral changes until she helped me out of the “blue funk.” Instead, she listened and loved me where I was at, “blue funk” and all.

Friends encourage you to be more than what you currently are: After she had me laughing, Cindy was finally able to encourage me to think differently about things and to suggest different things I could do about the situations that were troubling me. We brainstormed together and came up with some possible answers. I later tried to put them into practice. I was also able to come up with more on my own because Cindy had given me the reinforcement that I was able to find better solutions.

These aspects of friendship are by no means the entire list! I could talk about how friends make you laugh, or cry with you. I can mention friends correct, counsel and advise you. I could outline different types or levels of friendships, from casual to intimate. Perhaps, that’s another reason why a definitive book (or 3) on friendship has yet to be written. There’s just so much to say!

Please join me in the conversation, and say something about it in the comments. (I might even edit the post to include it!)


Mirror Moments

Have you ever looked at an image in a mirror and wondered, “Who is that, and where did that person come from? When did I get to look like that??!!??”

I had something of that experience recently. I was getting ready for work. Sitting at my vanity, reaching for something, my glance hit the mirror and I saw something I hadn’t seen before. When I moved my arms forward to reach for things, the skin on the lower part of my neck got wrinkly.

My glance then happened across my hands. While grabbing things, my skin was the smooth, even texture I had always seen. But when I just held them in a resting position or was using them in other ways, wrinkles appeared where none had been before.

Where had these come from? When had time done its inexorable march on my physical self to cause me to start to look so much older than the me inside feels??

Now, lest you think these thoughts are rooted in the mind of someone so selfish and vain all I care about is my image and appearance, allow me to correct that assumption. I wear makeup because as a business owner, it makes me appear more credible. I put it on as a necessary chore, not a pleasurable one. After years of searching, I finally have a hair style that doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort to look good in the morning. I wear coordinating clothes and jewelry because of my creative, artistic sense, not to be fashionable or to please anyone else (except my husband, who gave most of it to me!). I tend to wear the same necklace (my husband gave it to me for our latest anniversary) and the same bracelet (he gave it to me for Christmas last year) every day. In other words, my appearance is something I give about 1/2 an hour of my day to in the morning, and only scant attention to any other time. It’s an issue of practicality, not vanity.

So, why did the wrinkles bother me? Because when I saw them, I was instantly reminded of a conversation I’d had as a child with my grandmother. And I suddenly realized what an egotistical, self-centered jerk I had been, and how loving and gracious my grandmother had been.

I was no more than 8 or 10, and visiting their home in Syracuse, NY. I was there for the week with my older brother for Vacation Bible School, which we often did in the summer.

We were in Grandmother’s kitchen, and I was helping Grandmother and a friend of hers with some baking. At some point, I looked at their hands, compared them to my childish ones, and made some comment about the wrinkles on them. I then further compounded the immense insult by remarking about the wrinkles on their faces!

Grandmother and her friend could have rightly chosen to be offended. They could have chosen to become upset. They could have chosen to speak harshly to me. They chose none of it. They answered with love, kindly and graciously, simply saying these were signs they’d so far lived long and well, and someday I would understand.

There was something thing I realized as I reviewed that conversation in my memories. Looking at it now, from the adult’s perspective, Grandmother and her friend were likely around the same age I am now! At the time, they seemed immeasurably old. Now, at the same relative age, I look in the mirror and see someone still young looking back (except when I see wrinkles!). But I have a calendar awareness of the passage of time, as well as tangible proof like grandchildren, arthritis and gray hair (just ask my stylist).

When I look in the mirror, I see someone who could have 30, 50 or 100  years left to do all I want to accomplish in life. Okay, I admit it, 100 is pushing it! Or, I could be hit by a bus, get into an accident and my life would be over tomorrow. Don’t believe me? See When Life Turns Upside Down, in which I talk about life after a near-death experience last year. The point is, you never know.

I realized I needed to repent, and say I was sorry to God and the memory of Grandmother for being such an obnoxious, selfish and self-centered jerk of a kid. I know what you’re thinking. Kids have no filters. I certainly didn’t that day. But if time has taught me anything, it’s that a heartfelt “I am sorry” is never out of place when your conscience hits you with a guilty sting.

Finally, I realized as I reviewed that conversation the passage of time has done its work. I understand what Grandmother and her friend meant that day. I have tried to live well, for as long as I’ve had so far.

The Bible has a lot to say about aging and the experience and potential of wisdom that comes with age.

Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life. Proverbs 16:31

Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days. Job 12:12

My absolute favorite on the topic, however, is this one:

So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalms 90:20

I know, you’re asking, “Number our days?!?!?? What does that mean??!??” It means more than that calendar awareness of time I was mentioning before. The ancient Greeks called that calendar awareness of time Chronos time. It’s the time of clocks and calendars, that we can understand, quantify and measure. What we need is an understanding that our lives, that we see as so long, so significant, so important to us, are really just blips and specks on the timeline of eternity. In other words, what the ancient Greeks called Kairos time. Kairos time is not something quantifiable, understandable or measurable because it’s eternal. It’s all that was before and all that is and all that will be, all in one package, all in one big picture. It’s God’s view of eternal time, as He Who was and is and ever will be.

When we get a Kairos view of time, when we learn to “number our days,” as the psalmist says, we understand our own insignificance in the vastness of God’s perspective. That sounds like it would be something to bring down our self-image and not give us wisdom, right? Well, God’s views are different. When we look at things the way He sees them, we look at ourselves and our lives through His plans, His purposes and, most importantly, His immense and overwhelming love for us. We see our faults, our failings, our flaws and yes, even our wrinkles, in the light of what He has taken us through, and where He is taking us to.

One of LIFE Leadership co-founder Chris Brady‘s favorite quotes is by noted author Henry David Thoreau:

It’s not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?

In our lives of Chronos busy-ness, getting a Kairos view of things from time to time gives us a perspective to understand what we need to be busy about. Day to day living can smother purpose, gobble up passions and devour dreams in the minutiae of things that just have to get done. An eternal view from time to time realigns our perspective, sharpens our focus and reminds us what is truly important.

So, where do we go from here? For me, going back to the start of the post, I’ve earned my current set of wrinkles, and hope to earn lots more. I want to earn more doing things that matter in life, things that have a Kairos impact on a Chronos world. For me, these are things like loving people, sharing the Gospel, and being all the light I can be wherever my life’s candle is placed, just to name a few. On a more selfish level, I want to have some more adventures, a bit of fun, and maybe even acquire a few more gray hairs (for my stylist to hide) by doing exciting things in incredible places with wonderful people.

What about you? Who do you see in the mirror each morning? How are your “mirror moments” lately? Our “mirror moments” are the best when we see not only who is physically looking back, but who is looking back from within. I wish you joy in your journey of discovery.