I’ve done a load of thinking about friendship recently. It started a couple of weeks ago when I read James’ epistle, and when I was spending a lot of time with a poorly friend, and I thought about it some more when she died, and was reminded about friendship when I wrote a eulogy, and again when a friend dropped a book off, when my daughter (and friend) sent flowers and a silly cheerful message to make me laugh aloud…. everywhere I’ve looked the subject of ‘friendship’ has cropped up.
James is all about real friendship, proper solid practical friendship, not soppy ‘oooh, give us a hug you poor thing’ stuff. I love a hug, from the right people, but hugs are easy. Hugs are, like sentimentality, without cost. Hug me but when the hug is done for pity’s sake, don’t just walk away. Stay long enough to meet my eyes and to have a real moment.
Hey – can I tell you about someone I had dinner with a little while ago? She doesn’t read this blog and no names will be mentioned to protect the guilty, but this lady is a great talker and doer and achiever of wonderful things. Really. She is a high high high achiever. My daughter once said “Mum, time how long it is before she asks you how you’re doing.” and that evening it was 45 minutes of her life and adventures before she met my eyes, as if just waking up to the fact that I was there, and asked “So, how are you doing, Luce?” But I do like this woman, and two weeks ago we went for an Indian meal. We met in the carpark and walked, chatting, to the restaurant. We waited, chatting, for a table, we ate our poppadoms, and we ordered our main course, and then we ate it, and we had coffee and then, as we waited for the bill, my dining companion turned to me with a big smile and said “Come on then, Luce, what’s been happening in your life?” This time it was nearly two hours!
Is this lady a friend? Yep, that’s what I call her, but there’s friends and there’s real friends. You know?
I suppose we have to define terms right at the beginning – I’m not talking here about meeting for a meal, or a coffee and a chat. My definition of a real friend? Someone I trust with my darkest realest self, someone to laugh with even when the laughter is unwise, someone who could call me at 4am , or I can call at 2am (never done that!), someone I understand and fail to judge just as they fail to judge me, someone who makes me smile when they walk through the door, someone I can be unreasonable with, unload to, someone whose load I’m ready to take on my shoulders, someone indeed whose load I want to take on my shoulders, someone I can trust to say when I’m going wrong, when I’m selfish, unfair, too loud, too sullen, too anything. Someone I think of when I see something they might enjoy, someone I never fail to pray for. Someone I trust so much that when they say “Don’t do that, Luce.” I listen, knowing they’re wiser than me in this one tiny instance (because, obviously, I am much much wiser than them in the great scheme of things). Someone, who, to repeat myself I can trust with my darkest, realest self.
So. I lost one of those real friends a couple of weeks ago, and it’s her funeral today, in two hours. She didn’t fulfil all those criteria, no one could, but she fulfilled enough of them for me, and I fulfilled enough of them for her. She wasn’t flawless, and in that we were a perfect pair.
There aren’t a lot of these real friends in any one life. And I’ve realised this last month or so, that it’s completely unreasonable to look for them. They come into view unexpectedly, from all sorts of weird angles and random backgrounds, and they are surprise gifts. They can’t be manufactured. I can’t set out to find a friend like this. I can’t create that magical relationship, because it grows of its own accord, over time, as social muscles relax, and we begin to recognise ourselves in each other.
I’ve realised something else too, something that was said from the pulpit a few weeks ago (we don’t have a pulpit, but you know what I mean); when we are right with God, when we are following him, or living in and with him, then all our other relationships, thrive. When we live as God intended us to live, we create the conditions in which friendship can grow. When we submit to his love, it tumbles into our laps, cascading down like a waterfall, too much to hold, too much to absorb, and so it tumbles on from us to others, God’s love and friendship,
‘ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.’
I think that sometimes my late dear pal and me got it wrong. I think we took a tad too much delight in laughing, a tad too much sharp joy in our own witticisms, and we looked too much at others with a degree of judgment. So, we didn’t get it right all the time. But we got it right a lot of the time. And the times when we got it right, well, they came from God.
I’m thanking God for my real friend, Jane. Right now, I’m thanking him. ‘Thank you.’
OK. Time to put on my best top and bung my earrings in…. funeral, here I come.