Twenty-plus years ago we sat with our friends at McDonald’s as our kids climbed around in the PlayPlace. Even today I remember exactly where we were sitting when our friends announced they were moving to Arizona. Who could blame them really? Arizona is warm all winter while Minnesota is filled with ice, snow, and freezing temperatures. Even though it made perfect sense for them to move, I was devastated. We’d seen countless friends come and go and quite frankly, I was tired of it. No doubt my feelings (and my tears) were due to my selfishness, but at the time, my heart felt like it was being ripped out – again.
For a few days I considered the option of not making any more new friends because I was tired of the goodbyes. Of course, that would have required me to completely change my personality thus my plan had a serious flaw right from the start. Most of the time, however, when a friend moved away, we’d stay in touch for awhile but then our lives would slowly drift apart and a yearly Christmas card was all that kept us connected – sometimes not even that.
Just recently I was talking with a young woman who wondered why it is some friendships endure through moves, hard times and change while others don’t. “I’ve wondered that very same thing,” I confessed. I’ve seen the Facebook pictures of girlfriends with hashtags that read #foreverfriends or #besties and wonder if something is wrong with me? Why don’t I have best friends from college that I get together with on a regular basis? Why have my friends changed so often in my 60 years of life? At least I could tell my young friend she was not alone.
Don’t get me wrong. I have LOTS of friends whom I love and adore (and I like to think they feel the same way about me) but some people, it seems, are only in my life for a season.
After my conversation with my young friend I remembered a book, The Friendships of Women, I received as a gift 18 years ago. Maybe now would be a good time to read it. It’s actually a very interesting book in which the author, Dee Brestin, writes about what we can learn from biblical examples of friendship. She discusses the friendships of Ruth and Naomi (the book of Ruth), David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18 – 20), and Elizabeth and Mary (Luke 1). Dee includes lots of great examples of what it takes to be a good friend based on these three friendships.
The one thing I took away from this book is this: a friendship that endures the test of time is the result of what essentially boils down to a vow much like the one Naomi made to her mother-in-law, Ruth.
“But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth 1:16
This vow may never be spoken aloud but is more likely implied in the way the relationship plays out. Or, it may very well be the result of an actual discussion and promise to “be there” for each other. I have a handful of friends who fit this description.
If we’re honest about it, I think we’d all say we only have a handful of friends with whom we have that kind of relationship. It takes almost as much work as a marriage to have a friendship that lasts a lifetime.
So, what does this mean for the bulk of our friends? It’s likely most of them will enter and exit our lives over a period of time. Some may stick around for ten or fifteen years while others may only stay around for two or three. Should we avoid making friends so it doesn’t sting as much when they move away? I don’t think so (and if you’re like me, that’s really not an option).
I believe every person in our circle of friends is there because God has brought them into our lives. Perhaps there is something we need to learn from them or maybe it’s so they can help us walk through a trial or we can help them.
Friends are a precious gift, each adding a particular joy to our lives. We should learn from them, enjoy time together, and cheer them on until the Lord chooses for our paths to split. We should never avoid friendship in order to bypass future pain. Instead we should cherish it for the gift it is – a chance to learn, laugh, and grow.
I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun.” Charles R. Swindoll