What Is A Friend?
I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15
Psychologist Rollo May believes that most people make 500 to 2500 acquaintances every year–people you work with, individuals whom you meet at church or school, acquaintances with whom you share an elevator every work day, or who live in the same apartment complex as you. The checker at the grocery store, the gas station attendant, your mailman or doctor. You nod or wave politely when you meet these folks, but by no stretch of the imagination could most acquaintances be considered real friends, the kind that would stand with you no matter what happens. But of that large number he believes that, on an average, only seven are real friends.[i]
Question: We sometimes use a term to describe acquaintances as “fair weather” friends. But are such individuals really friends? The travel agent whom I have never met was talking to me about travel plans, and he kept saying, “Look, I’m telling you this as a friend. You really are my friend, you know!” I don’t know the man. He is probably a very fine gentleman, but for all I know, he may be an escapee from a mental institution or have a police record.
What is a friend? An Arab proverb answers the question, saying, “A friend is one to whom we may pour out the contents of our hearts, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away!” Not bad.
How many real friends do you have? Many of the letters and email which come to us at Guidelines tell of strained, broken relationships. I’m thinking of the rather plaintive, sad letter which came from a young man whose marriage had failed, who seemed to have problems getting along with people at work, and then wrote, “I would give almost anything for just one real friend!” Can you relate to that?
I suspected, however, that he was waiting for someone to bequeath friendship upon him much like the inheritance which comes from an unknown benefactor. Those things just don’t happen. Like anything else that is really valuable, friendships take work as well as risk.
Friendship begins as you reach out to someone else. Proverbs 18:24 says, “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly….” Could that be your problem? General George Patton was a man of great talents but he had very few friends. One of his biographers says of him, “He gained the generalship, the medals, and the glory, but he was never able to make any friends” [ii] Strange, isn’t it, that someone who was such a leader of men ended up being respected but not considered a real friend to anyone?
An individual who is aloof and separate doesn’t have many friends. Possibly you want friends, but it seems you end up without them. You withdraw, not because you are afraid to get down on the level of the playing field, but because you feel inadequate or insecure. You are afraid of being rejected.
Look, somewhere there is a person who shares your interests, your thoughts and ideas, and is hurting for a friend as badly as you are. There’s a strange thing about friendship: Two individuals may be from different social backgrounds, even different generations and even different cultures, yet are drawn together in a friendship that spans the differences.
Remember to have a friend, you need to be a friend.
Resource reading: John 15:1-15.
[i]As quoted by Jerry and Mary White, Friends & Friendship, (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1982), p. 33.
[ii] As quoted by Muriel James and Louis Savary, The Heart of Friendship, (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1976), p. 160.