For me, friendships are hard won. I don’t make friends easily. If I count you as a friend then, boy oh boy, you are a rare and exotic creature. If I count you as a friend you are also a creature with great longevity. Long long longevity.
I put people off. I have, I’m told again and again, a fearsome or daunting persona. It’s all rubbish, but that’s how I come across, so there aren’t battalions of eager people queuing up to befriend me.
Friendship is commitment, not for my friends but certainly for me. I don’t expect them to feel about me as I do about them, some will, but some won’t. That’s not my business. My business is to value, cherish and ENJOY them. Celebrate them. Think about them. Accept them. Be open and honest with them but most of all to care about and pray for them. That’s friendship.
Some relatives are friends but that’s relatively rare (see what I did there?) and, with a family fractured by death and military service, I didn’t know my relatives. Apparently there are over 35,000 people in the world with the surname Gannon so some of them must surely be third cousins fifteen times removed, but I haven’t got a clue about any of ’em! And I don’t want to. I have enough trouble with the people I know without going out and scavenging for more. When you’re 70 you hesitate to get a new dog, so I certainly don’t actively search out relatives who might turn out to be serial killers or mad old women wheeling a pram full of chihuahuas dressed in baby bonnets (Sorry, personal fear there. I think it’s how I might end up)
I’ve been reading Thessalonians, and what’s struck me is the warmth of that book. Paul sounds positively amiable. It’s a total love-in. I used to think that Paul was a didactic misogynist but I was oh! so wrong. He’s a good friend, a good good friend. He’s the sort of friend we need, because like His master Jesus, Paul is straight, uncompromising, anything but soft. But it’s taken me a while to realise that he could be a friend. That the epistles of Paul are already acts of warm friendship. To get to that point I had to read and read and re-read his work, look behind his words to find the man. His teaching is from God, I never doubted that, so I’ve always listened and tried to obey, but now I see the man who said the words that God gave him. And I see the love he had for those he wrote to. The love of Christ.
Why do I recoil from soft people? I love warmth, and affection but ‘softness’? No. Blah. Softness implies the lack of backbone, integrity. I imagine foam rubber, or a waterbed, all wobble and wobble and no structure. Jesus was strong and true, a cornerstone, a rock, a plumb line. There was no fooling Him and he never compromised. And yet as I read the New Testament I see that He was loving and gentle.
The English language confuses gentle with soft. There’s a difference.
This afternoon I had a moment of clarity. I was driving to the supermarket and thinking of a friend and wondering why I trusted this person. Me, who finds friendships precious but rare, and usually concealed behind a mask of ‘don’t-care-either-way’. And I realised that in this person, younger than me, very unlike me, I see Jesus. The coolness and straight-talking, gentleness and discipline, affection and wisdom of Jesus. Not all of it of course, humanity pokes through undeniably (or as Mr Trump would have it ‘bigly’). But it all amounts to the love of Jesus and I can trust it. I can trust that in this relationship I will be held accountable. If I veer off down some dead end, I’ll be hoiked back. As I see Jesus in this friend, so I now see Jesus in Paul. I know I’m separating the person from the writing but the two are not the same. One is divine and one is human, and the unity is Christ.
So, although I’m a bit befuddled today, a bit emotional and tired, I’m going to clear my brain and sit down with my new good friend Paul. I’m going to listen to what he has to tell me about my walk with Christ, and I’m going to be thankful that I’ve found this friend. Hard won, never to be lost. In his words, straight from God
“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
If that’s not a prayer of love, I’m a kipper. And I’m not.