Thank you

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.




Hard Won but Never Lost

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.