Last year, I began a presentation on the power of friendship with two scenarios.
First, imagine you won a trip for you and four people to anywhere in the world. No one will get mad if you don’t pick them. Who is coming with you?
Second, imagine you just got “that call” from your doctor where he shares terrible news. You need to pick four people to take care of you, to drive you to appointments and to bathe you as you battle for your life against illness. Who are you enlisting?
Friendship is an essential piece of life, for all of us. Without it, the highs are lower and the lows are even lower. Not only do we want friends to celebrate success with, but we want friends to walk through the hellish seasons of life with too.
And it is often to those hellish seasons that reveal the true or false nature of our friendships. I came across a Will Smith quote recently which read, “If you’re absent during my struggle, don’t expect to be present during my success.”
I am not sure when Will Smith said that (and because I read it on the internet – I’m not even sure he did say it), but the sentiment resonates with me. Shared success means much more when we have also shared struggles.
I wish I could tell you that I have perfectly shared struggles with my friends. But I haven’t. I’ve missed opportunities to be there for them and I’ve often resisted being vulnerable enough to share my own struggles.
For example, we often forget people we love are still grieving. Grief is a process. People heal over months and years, not hours or even days. Too many times that I can count, I have forgotten someone I cared about during that season. I know you know this feeling too.
Like you, I’ve been on the receiving end of great acts of friendship…and frustrating acts too. I’ve learned the friends I need in those horrible seasons and the friend I need to be to others in those moments utters few words and shares even fewer answers.
Henri Nouwen put it well when he said,
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender heart.”
Those people who share our pain instead of giving advice – they are the same people we actually want to listen to advice from when we are making decisions in the future. We can trust others, and others can trust us in return, when we respect pain and sorrow enough to sit in it without solving it.
Brené Brown calls this “empathy” and this video from RSA illustrates her point well. It’s well worth 3 minutes of your time.
In the Bible, in the book of Galatians chapter 6, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Friendship and the experience of true community are gifts that transform us. The friend you need and the one you need to be…the friend I need and the one I need to be – they are mirror images of one another. If we understood this, we might discover selfless service is the path to having our needs met and hopes realized.
We have all made a ton of relational mistakes. While teaching yesterday on the subjects of courage and purpose, I asked my church if they had been wounded by others and wounded others themselves. Nearly every hand went up in the room! We all have room to grow when it comes to the kind of friend we are to others. As one friend once told me, “You only get better by making lots of mistakes. Just keep failing in the right direction.”
Today, I’m writing a thank you note to a friend who was there for me in a major way last year during a challenging season. I’m checking in someone with whom I’ve lost touch. I’m leaving some time in my schedule for God to let me cross paths with someone who needs me to listen. And I’m not just asking, “what kind of friend do I need?” I’m also asking, “What kind of friend do I need to be?”
What will you do today to be the kind of friend you need to be? What kind of friend do you need in your life?