FRIENDS FOR LIFE
MAF Copywriter and Editor Gary Clayton checks his pulse whilst considering funerals, friends and the Christian faith.
After returning from a medical check-up prior to ‘lockdown’, I’ve been musing about who should speak at my funeral.
A friend, obviously, and presumably someone who’s younger than me would be my choice. (This of course would increase the likelihood of them being around when I’m not.)
But is there anyone I have in mind? Well, I do. But first, I need to ask him!
And that’s the problem. What if he says, ‘I’d prefer not to; I’m not sure there’s anything I can say that’s particularly positive’? Or, ‘I’d rather not. I’d be too upset to speak.’ Or, ‘I’ll do it. I never turn down an opportunity to preach and won’t feel at all emotional.’
If he says ‘yes,’ it might not necessarily be a positive sign. If he says ‘no’, it means finding another speaker. I’m not even sure I’m brave enough to raise the issue.
So perhaps I should just write about it here and maybe he’ll read my piece, put two and two together, and broach the subject himself. Or maybe I could show him the article to initiate the conversation. Of course, it’s just possible he’ll say, ‘Thanks for asking, it would be an honour!’ Or am I the only one who agonises over such things? One person struggles with whether God loves them or has forgiven their sins. Another struggles with the same concerns about their friends!
Crossing our path
And yet, God, in His eternal lovingkindness, allows people to cross our path, offering what pioneering aviation organisation MAF refers to as ‘help, hope and healing’. Others cross ours, so we can help them.
The UN website describes friendship as something that’s able to ‘weave a safety net that will protect us all, and generate passion for a better world.’
It’s interesting, that in 2017, the same year the UN’s 2019 ‘Global Humanitarian Overview’ calculated that 385 political conflicts had occurred worldwide, two psychological studies were published. These showed that people who strongly valued friendship felt more positive about their physical and emotional health and had fewer chronic illnesses.
Having surveyed 278,534 adults from nearly 100 countries, William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University, also found that participants who didn’t value relationships were prone to chronic illness.
But although friends are vitally important for our health and wellbeing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that making friends is easy.
An odd couple
I remember being part of an unusual friendship group at secondary school. There was me, short, bookish and bad at sport, a badly asthmatic boy who had a lazy eye, a skinny beanpole who was a bit of a slacker. Then there was an overweight chap who hit people with a hairbrush whenever he got angry. We were friends for one reason and one reason only. No one else would have anything to do with us!
So, having been rejected by nearly everyone else at school, I decided I’d never let myself be hurt again. ‘It’s impossible to be friends with you,’ a friendly acquaintance once said, ‘if you won’t let me know what you’re thinking.’
And yet, as the philosopher Elbert Hubbard once said, ‘A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.’ But it takes real strength to admit one’s weaknesses and be willing to make oneself vulnerable.
Some people only feel comfortable opening up to a small number of trusted friends. Some find it hard to open up at all. And some are happy to talk about themselves for hours on end. As a friend once joked, ‘But enough of me, I’ve been talking about myself for ages. What about you? What questions do you want to ask me?’
Others are far more comfortable getting others to talk.
Proverbs 27:17 tells us that ‘iron sharpens iron’, and friends can certainly be a helpful sounding board and useful check on our motives, ambitions and behaviour. One friend has a habit of telling me off for my occasionally un-Christlike manner towards others. But he does it so gently, it’s usually a day or two before I realise that I’ve received a well-deserved admonition.
Unfortunately, making friends tends to get harder as we get older. On the one hand the experience that comes with age probably helps us make wiser choices in those we befriend, enabling us to see the other person’s heart and true worth rather than merely being impressed by outward appearance.[i] On the other, by the time we’re older, we’ll probably have had decades of experiences that won’t only be different from our potential friend’s, but could well take ages to sift, unearth, examine and unpack.
There are also challenges for those who have children. Although we don’t for a moment regret having Christopher and Emma, we do lament the number of friendships that went by the wayside when our focus on feeding or nappies was almost all-consuming and we were simply too busy, tired or stretched to keep up with everyone we knew.
So it’s important to guard one’s friendships, ensuring that single or non-parent friends aren’t neglected. Unless we maintain these valuable relationships, by the time our children are independent enough to spend time with their peers, our own social life may well have diminished – not to mention that of our once cherished friends!
Perhaps you’re feeling sad, lonely, forsaken or betrayed. Maybe it seems as if you’re the only one initiating friendships or seeking to maintain them. If you don’t suggest doing something, then neither will your friends. It all may feel a little one-sided.
But Jesus knows of your struggles. He loves you. He sympathises with you. He’s been through it himself. At Gethsemane, he was abandoned by his friends and betrayed by Judas.[ii]
David the shepherd-king also knew what it was to be forsaken by friends and family. In Psalm 109:5, he wrote, ‘They repay me evil for good, and hatred for my friendship.’ The good news is that however we are feeling, Hebrews 13:5 reminds us that God will never leave us nor forsake us.
But perhaps there are people out there you’d like to get to know but are just too shy to approach? Be brave and do it now! Sometimes we leave it too late, and when we finally decide to contact a potential friend, we discover they’ve moved to another church, job or location, and the opportunity’s gone forever. So give it a try. Contact someone today.
Friends help us navigate the rough and rigorous road we call. ‘Life,’ according to science fiction writer David Gerrold, ‘is hard. Then you die. Then they throw dirt in your face. Then the worms eat you. Be grateful it happens in that order.’
For those burdened by the work they do, the lives they lead or the relationships they’ve lost, life without friends would be lonely indeed – which is why God gives us the precious gift of friendship. As Proverbs 27:9 remarks, ‘Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.’
The greatest Friend, of course, is Jesus. And he will never let us down. John 21:5 provides a telling picture. When the Lord calls out to his disciples, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’ and they answer ‘no’, he not only provides them with a ready cooked meal but reinstates Peter and, in Acts 2, gives them everything they need for life and service. True friendship!
And, while we’re still considering the subject of friendship, I finally had the courage to ask my young friend about speaking at my funeral. He said, ‘Yes, I’d be honoured.’ (It’s just a pity I won’t be around to hear what he has to say!)
[i] 1 Samuel 16:7
[ii] Mark 14:50-52