Monday, December 29, 2008
Being a Better Friend
A few months ago, I attended a luncheon held by a prominent local church with a strong reputation for caring for church starting missionaries. As the program began, the moderator of the event, a seasoned church planting veteran with a deep passion for reaching people for Christ and a concern for the loneliness that church starters face in ministry, opened the event by encouraging those of us who attended the conference to learn all that we could and to take advantage of the time we had together by skipping the surface banter and "going deep" with the people at our table! I almost laughed out loud! Though I knew he meant well, and I knew that there is a serious need for deeper relationships among those who serve in ministry, I also knew that it was very unlikely, at least for me, that I would feel comfortable "going deep" with a table full of people I had barely known for 5 minutes!
I further contemplated the importance of going deep when a dear friend and colleague in ministry informed me of a critical situation a fellow partner in ministry was facing. We met for lunch and he had suggested that we might make a road trip together to visit our ministry compatriot who was then facing an incredibly difficult trial. When our colleague was approached about the idea, he graciously and lovingly communicated that perhaps it was best that I not be a part of the reunion as he really needed to do some deep sharing about his situation and my friendship with him just wasn't quite deep enough for him to feel comfortable sharing in the way he really needed to. His request wasn't at all difficult for me to understand, and I really appreciated his directness which prevented what might have been an awkward situation from occurring. His decision caused me to honestly evaluate my relationship with him and brought me to the understanding that any critical life test readily provides - that though our relationship was a friendship, it was not at a sufficient depth to warrant the kind of sharing one reserves for those closest to you as one deals with the Really Big Issues.
As I reflected on this honest interaction with my ministry colleagues and friends, I realized that it is very easy to paint all friendships with a broad stroke and to fail to understand the different characteristics and depths that friendships can assume. With that in mind, I invite you to consider my reflections on how friendships can be better understood, appreciated, cultivated and deepened.
As I examined my own friendships, I noticed that my friendships have formed from a variety of life experiences and seasons. I have friendships that formed during my childhood, friendships that developed during my educational career, friendships that formed in my professional life, and friendships that formed through a variety of specific events where a shared experience produced a valuable relationship. It is also evident in my own life that there are different levels of friendship. I have friendships that are comfortably casual, but not very deep. In these friendships, I know I'll have a good time and pleasant conversation on any given occasion, but I don't rely on these relationships as my "go to" friendships should I face a significant personal problem. On the other hand, I have friendships that are so deep, they have developed beyond friendships and have virtually become family relationships. One such friendship came up in a family discussion last week as we recounted funny family episodes over dinner during the Christmas Holiday. My daughters began telling stories about their Uncle Joe - whom I often refer to as "Bubba" - sharing how much they loved this brother of mine and how much he and others like him meant to them. My son-in-law was a bit confused and interjected, "I thought your dad was an only child?" "He is!" My oldest daughter responded, but these people are such a part of our lives that they have become family - not pretend family, REAL family!" Friendships like those are very special and are the hallmark of what friendship is all about.
Quality friendships like my friendship with Bubba stand the tests of time and distance, and are maintained without diminishing the intensity of affection or level of commitment. In fact, commitment is the cornerstones of such a friendship. It is the wilful bonding with another person that vows to remain connected regardless of circumstances, trials or the changing seasons of life. Commitment means effort - taking the time and energy to cultivate and nurture a meaningful relationship because the risk of losing such a valued friend is just too high of a price to pay for relational laziness.
We are fortunate to live in a time where technology has given us many tools that make cultivating relationships just a little bit easier. One of the reasons I love e-mail and I love to blog is that it gives me a convenient, almost instant and efficient way to share my thoughts with many friends, even friends who are geographically impossibly far away, on an on-going basis. A particularly favorite tool I added to my relational arsenal this year is facebook. When I first heard of facebook, I didn't think much of it and dismissed it as a youthful fad. It wasn't until my older daughters asked me to check it out so that my younger daughter could join in that I recognized it's value. More than that, when out of curiosity I did a search for a few old friends with whom I had lost contact - for almost 20 years - and I found them, I realized what a great way facebook was to keep in touch a reestablish connections with friends. With facebook it's possible to keep current on the goings on in a friend's life through pictures, video clips, music, short messages, e-mail accounts, instant messages, fun messages an more. Other similar sites like Linked-in, Plaxo, and Friendster provide similar opportunities for friendship maintenance and business connections as well. Of course, there's still connecting in through good old fashioned letter writing via "snail mail", and telephone calls. For the ultimate connection, nothing can replace face to face visits when "sending the very best" just doesn't quite cut it, and the ever-trusty "meeting over coffee" or a meal for friends who are geographically near.
As the New Year approaches, and you consider making some critical investments to enrich your life, don't leave out the precious investment of building and developing your friendships. The tools are all around. It's up to you to take the time and effort to make the friendships happen. It took a refused invitation to make me renew my efforts to invest in my friends in the coming year. Don't you let a "wake up call" be required to move you to "reach out and touch someone" you care about in your life. Write, call, e-mail or visit someone you care about today. There's no time like now to rekindle a friendship and to do all you can do to be a better friend. Until next time...