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The Gift of a Friend

(EDITOR'S NOTE: There are times when blogposts from the past are really speaking in the present. This is one of those! Please enjoy this slightly retooled blog.)

A true friend is one of the greatest gifts we can be given on this earth. I’ve had periods in my life when I lacked deep friendships, and those were, without a doubt, some of the hardest times emotionally for me. Interestingly, they weren’t the times I went through the hardest circumstances; sometimes my circumstances were just fine. Rather, I felt alone on my journey and isolated. The bone crushing, heart wrenching times in my life have been brutal to be sure, but I have been blessed to have deep, close, honest relationships during most of those storms. That, in and of itself, makes the storm much more bearable. God tells us, “A true friend loves regardless of the situation, and a real brother exists to share the tough times” (Pr. 17:17, MSG). On many, many occasions it has been my close relationships that have helped me hear God’s voice, allowing me to move away from adversity and ahead toward light and freedom. I believe God gives us friendships for that reason.

Consider the following: “ Wounds from a friend can be trusted,” (Pr. 27:6a NIV) “A man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.” (Pr. 27:9b NASB) “A despondent person deserves kindness from his friend, even though he strays from the fear

of the Highest One.” (Job 6:14 VOICE) “Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” (Pr. 18:24 MSG) “Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the

line for your friends.” (Jn. 15:11-13 MSG) “By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a

third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.” (Eccl. 4:12 MSG) Obviously, friendship is not only important to God, it’s part of what we need in order to truly understand God’s love and connect more deeply with our Creator. And not just the giving of friendship, but the receiving of friendship from others. Yet the Bible also makes clear not every friend is equal. Some friends come and go; some stay by our side no matter what happens. Some can be trusted; other’s can hurt us. Proverbs 12:26 puts it this way, “The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.” (NIV) There are many examples of positive friendships in the Bible – Jonathon and David, Elijah and Elisha, Naomi and Ruth, Paul and Timothy, to name a few. These were priceless relationships where each person helped the other to grow, strengthen and move forward in life in a powerful way.

Believe it or not, there are also some very negative examples of relationships in the Bible. In the very beginning there were Cain and Abel, then Samson and Delilah, Jezebel and Ahab, and even Barnabas and Paul. Some of these relationships were downright destructive. Each person spurred the other on toward evil, bitterness and heartache.

In the case of Barnabas and Paul, they sharply disagreed on an issue and parted paths. Their friendship was deep and powerful for a season, but their journey’s diverged, and they went their separate ways. Neither path was wrong; they were just different. I’ve learned one of the secrets to having those strong friendships that spur me on toward powerful growth, and it is to be intentional about whom I pull into my life. Not all friends are created equal, and some friends who were perfect for one season in our lives may not be the best fit for the current season in which we find ourselves. Just understanding those two statements puts great power at our fingertips – the power to choose a person (Yes, we get to choose!) who actually strives to build us up, and the power to realize sometimes a person is no longer the best companion to move forward with on our journey.

The first helps us to surround ourselves with people who genuinely “get” us and have our best interests at heart. The second frees us from the guilt we can sometimes experience when a friend, despite our best efforts, no longer “gets” us. Moving on from those who likely are not going to help us to grow and to make the best choices as we move forward. It hurts, it’s hard, and tears may be shed, but it’s a normal part of the growth process. No one is perfect, myself included! Friends have let me down, even the best ones in my life. And, I am certain I have let them down, as well. But because we are close, I cut them slack, just as God (and my true friends!) cut me slack. And working through those challenges together makes us better people. Helps us to grow. It’s worth the effort.