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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

We Need Each Other

Mrs. Edwards, a guidance counselor, recalled a conversation she had with a young student. She wrote, “Cheri, a first grader, was having trouble adjusting to school. I called her into my office for a chat, confident that my many years of training as a guidance counselor had more than prepared me to handle the situation. ‘Cheri,’ I said, ‘I want to be your friend.  I will never tell your mommy or your daddy or your teacher anything we talk about if you don’t want me to. I want you to know that you can always trust me.’ With tearful eyes, she looked up and replied, ‘Gee, Mrs. Edwards, you’re just like my dog.’ ” In many cases a dog can be a man’s (or a girl’s) best friend.

It’s possible for a show of friendliness to become a formality that is shallow at best. A priest saw Robert Schuller’s TV program Hour of Power and was impressed by Schuller’s practice of having everyone turn to greet the worshipers seated near them. The priest felt that his church was a bit stuffy and could use a little more friendliness. So, one Sunday he announced that the following week they were going to initiate this custom of greeting each other. At the close of this same service a man turned around to the lady seated behind him and said, “Good morning.” She looked at him with shock at his boldness and said, “I beg your pardon! That friendliness business doesn’t start until next Sunday.”

True friendship is much more meaningful than going through the motions. The Bible provides a perfect example of it. When the apostle Paul was writing his last letter, just before his execution in Rome, he described his situation to Timothy. He included in that letter a revealing statement: “Only Luke is with me” (2 Timothy 4:11). That statement hints at the close relationship between Luke and Paul. Early church tradition suggests that Luke was born a Greek in Antioch and became a physician before being converted. After his conversion we know that he joined Paul, Silas and Timothy in Troas on Paul’s second missionary journey. In the book of Acts Luke described being shipwrecked with Paul on the island of Malta. The book of Acts ends with Paul being jailed in Rome with his friend Timothy close at hand.

After Paul’s death, early church tradition suggests that Luke went to Greece from Rome where he wrote his two-volume history of Jesus and the early church—the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. His second volume, the Acts of the Apostles, is mostly about Paul’s missionary journeys. In four passages, Luke includes himself in the story, using the pronoun “we” to narrate various events.

One second century historical record explains that Luke had remained unmarried and died in Boetia at the age of 84. As with all tradition, some of our information about Luke is conjecture. One thing about Luke, though, is certain. Paul never had a better friend.

We live in such a competitive society that it’s easy to overlook the importance of having a friend who isn’t in your life to compete with you, but is there to help complete you. Some missionaries to the Philippines set up a croquet game in their front yard. Their Agta Negrita neighbors came to watch so the missionaries taught them to play.

At one point the missionaries explained that when you hit an opponent’s ball with yours one of the options available to you is hitting the other person’s ball as far as possible off the field of play. Given that opportunity, a young Filipino didn’t understand why he would want to do that so he refused. As the match continued the players would go through the last wicket and then, surprisingly, go back to help the other players. It was a team effort. Finally, the last player finished. The missionaries watched as all the Filipinos shouted and cheered for the first time, “We won! We won!” That’s the spirit of authentic friendship. They weren’t competing against their friends, they wanted to help them win.

Dale Carnegie wrote “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and with it influenced an entire generation of Americans. One of his helpful suggestions on making friends will work for anyone. He said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” I have repeatedly seen the shyest people overcome their timidity when they start talking about a topic that interests them.

Where Gwen and I live there are quite a few fishermen. If you can get a quiet fisherman talking about fishing he is hard to stop. Many friendships have begun with someone simply taking an interest in another person’s vocation and hobbies.

That formula has always been effective. In Queen Victoria’s time, a young woman had the good fortune of being escorted to dinner by William E. Gladstone, who was considered one of the most brilliant statesmen of the nineteenth century. On the following evening, the same young lady was escorted by Benjamin Disraeli, novelist, statesman and twice prime minister of Great Britain. When asked for her impression of these two great rivals, she replied, “After an evening with Gladstone, I thought he was the most brilliant man I’d ever met. After an evening with Disraeli, I thought myself to be the most fascinating woman in the world!” There is no question as to which evening she enjoyed the most.

The truth about friendship is that our friends make us feel better about ourselves. There is a striking example of that in the account of a graduate student who went to live for one year with the Navajo Indians of the Southwest. Part of the research for his doctoral dissertation included living in the Navajo community. An elderly grandmother of the family with whom he resided spoke no English at all, yet a very close friendship formed between the her and the student. Over the months he learned a few phrases of Navajo, and she picked up a little of the English language. When it was time for him to return to the campus and write his dissertation, the entire tribe held a going-away celebration. As he prepared to get into the pickup truck and leave the Navajo community for the last time, the grandmother came to tell him good-bye. With tears streaming from her eyes, she placed her hands on either side of his face, looked directly into his eyes and expressed one of the highest compliments that can be paid to friendship. She said, “I like me best when I’m with you.”

We do feel better about ourselves when we are with real friends. Even when we are struggling, our friends bring out the best in us. Each of us needs a friend who will make us feel good about ourselves.

My regard for friendship was made clearer by the story of two young men who went into World War I together. They had been neighbors and friends all their lives. They played the same sports in school so they could be on the same athletic teams. They went into the army together and were assigned to the same unit. One day, after a particularly fierce fire fight, their outfit returned to the trenches and discovered that one of the two friends was missing. He was still lying in no-man’s-land between their position and the enemy.

His best friend asked the sergeant if he could go get his buddy. “You can go,” said the officer, “but it’s not worth it. Your friend is probably killed, and you will throw your own life away.” But the man went. Somehow he managed to get to his friend, hoist him onto his shoulder, and bring him back to the trenches. The two of them tumbled in together and lay in the trench bottom. The officer looked at the would-be rescuer, and said, “I told you it wouldn’t be worth it. Your friend is dead and you are wounded.” “It was worth it, though, sir,” he said. His commander responded, “What do you mean, ‘worth it?’ I tell you your friend is dead.” “Yes, sir,” the boy answered, “but it was worth it, because when I got to him he was still alive, and he said to me, ‘Jim, I knew you’d come.’ ”

I want a friend who will be there when everyone else gives up on me. Even more than that, I want to be the kind of friend who is there for my buddies. I want the friends in my life to be able to say to me, “I knew you’d come.” That’s what friends are for.

 

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