Several years ago The New York Times featured an article exploring our current confusion about friendship. “Ask people to define friendship, even experts who research friendship, and you’ll get an uncomfortable silence followed by “er” or “um.”
“Friendship is difficult to describe,” said Alexander Nehamas, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, who in his latest book “On Friendship” spends almost 300 pages trying to do just that. “It’s easier to say what friendship is not and, foremost, it is not instrumental.” It is not a means to obtain higher status, wrangle an invitation to someone’s vacation home, or simply escape your own boredom. Rather, Mr. Nehamas said, friendship is more like beauty or art, which is “appreciated for its own sake.”
Ronald Sharp, a professor who teaches a course on the literature of friendship added, “It’s not about what someone can do for you, it’s who and what the two of you become in each other’s presence … The notion of doing nothing but spending time in each other’s company has, in a way, become a lost art. People are so eager to maximize efficiency of relationships that they have lost touch with what it is to be a friend.”
One example of being the best kind of friend is found in 6-year-old Blake Rajahn. For his big first day of school his mother, Nikki, offered to make him a T-shirt with anything on it he liked. She assumed it would have something to do with basketball, football or some other sport, but his request surprised her. After thinking on it, Blake asked her for a shirt that said, “I will be your friend.” He explained it is “for all the kids who need a friend to know that I am here for them.” While most kids are worried about feeling lonely at school, Blake was thinking of his neighbors. We have no doubt the T-shirt and his friendly grin helped a lot of first-graders. Blake’s action may have long-lasting effects on the lives around him. We often hear that bullying and rejection play a role in future violent actions. Blake’s willingness to be a friend may indeed save lives.
It has been over 50 years ago now, but as a young, brand-new college graduate who had just moved to a large community to start a new job, knowing no one in that community except for the people I had just met at that new job, I discovered that one of the greatest issues I was facing in my life was loneliness. That feeling of loneliness began small, but gradually over those first months there, began to grow to a point of almost desperation. I did all sorts of things to attempt to overcome it and fill the void that seemed so huge in my life. In fact, my autobiography during those months could have been well expressed in that country music song, “Lookin’ for Love in All the Wrong Places.”
But then one night, in a practical moment of desperate thinking, I pulled down the New Testament which my Grandpa had given me when I was 9 years old. (Isn’t it interesting that turning to God is often our last resort, not our first?). In the front of that little book was a table a couple of pages long which bore the title, “Where to Look When You Are…” As I scanned down through the entries in that table, I saw terms such as suffering, feeling guilty and worried. And alongside each of those terms were appropriate Scripture references to read to help in such times of need. One of those entries struck paydirt: “Where to Look When You Are…Lonely”. When I saw those words on that page, they hit me like a ton of bricks. Perhaps there would be some wisdom from God to help me. So I looked up the passages listed there. There were three.
First was Psalm 23. I knew that one: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” That helped. The second was almost as good – Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”
But the third passage listed there really spoke volumes to my soul that night — John 15:13,14: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatsoever I command you.” As I read those first four words of verse 14 – “You are my friends…”, it could just as easily have said, “Chuck, you are my freind.” The solution to my loneliness suddenly became apparent.
Jesus was saying to me, “I want to be your friend, someone who will walk with you down the pathway of life, spending time with you as you go through the ups and downs where that path will take you. I am here for you.” And He has been just that for me ever since that night.
Right now, you may be struggling and in a desperate need for a friend. Jesus will be that friend. He gave His life for you, and He wants you to know that He is there for you. The song is true when it proclaims, “What a Friend We have in Jesus”. Turn to Him in your time of need.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette and a former Hillsboro area pastor. He can be reached at [email protected]