Genuine friends are not only priceless; they are essential to our survival and an important part of survival preparedness. Genuine friends listen thoughtfully to our sorrows, laugh with us and celebrate our joy and victories as though they were their own. True friendship is far more than regular association and cordial behavior. Once established, neither poverty, wealth, honest human failings nor distance can sever the bonds of true affection and mutual support . . . just call out my name, and you know wherever I am . . .
A true friend patiently accepts our imperfections, ever ready to offer encouragement and hope during hard times. For such friendships to endure the test of time, vigilance, empathetic awareness and nurturing skills must be constantly employed. True friends overlook the imperfections in our communications skills, our sour moods or our quoting of scripture or silence, when that is all we can offer.
Too often, friendship is taken for granted, confidences are betrayed, and gossip or complaining begins to fray the fabric of once healthy relationships. Only at the brink of disintegration are salvage strategies attempted. Arrogant individuals, filled with themselves, usually relinquish close relationships with ease when faced with the prospect of humbling themselves and begging pardon for offenses, or perhaps sharing their abundance with a temporarily material-challenged friend. For these proud dysfunctional folks, running away is just a fact of life.
Blessedly, most functional people realize that friendships require great emotional sacrifice and are willing to do whatever it takes to preserve them in these increasingly turbulent and difficult times. For friendships to survive, we must be willing and prepared to head off misunderstandings, unfulfilled expectations and misdirected frustration. How many of us wish we could take back something we said or did to some innocent soul who just happened to be in the path of our inappropriately expressed anger?
All people, being human, periodically experience an overload of negative feelings. Physio-therapists know that if these feelings are internalized they will endanger necessary life functions. Often a friend will release anger inappropriately and we take it personally, when in actuality, no harm was intended. If one is filled with unconditional love and awareness, they understand that they aren't the target, but just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is especially true for a physically ill person. Their feelings are just sitting right on the top, ready to boil over, and woe be to the person who agitates them in any way! This is a serious consideration for any person who suffers from the debilitating effects of environmental illness, cancer, or a host of other life threatening dis-eases or conditions Being friends with such sensitive persons is a high calling, and one that requires a great deal of restraint.
For those taught to suppress negative feelings as children, there is always the unconscious fear that if they ever show their "bad" side, they will be found out and their feelings of low self-esteem thereby validated. These folks need unconditional love, the stabilizing ingredient they never received as children. If these emotionally deprived individuals associate with others as insecure as themselves, true friendship becomes a remote possibility. It is pretty hard to interject stability into relationships when both parties are hiding their true feelings and are volatile reactors, mirroring and reflecting back negativity. Thus, the cycle of anger perpetuates itself as each person, in turn, feels they are the target of unjustified criticism or rage. To break this destructive cycle, Christ taught humankind to turn the other cheek, forgive others as we would be forgiven and to love not only our friends, but our enemies also, thereby destroying our enemies by making them our friends. Anger cannot subdue anger, only love and acceptance can.
The quality of friendship we are able to express, will depend on shared values and other interests held in common. These friendships will vary in degree and intensity, from minimal courteous greetings to lifelong supportive relationships. The supreme test of friendship is laying one's life down that another may live. While this extreme sacrifice is unlikely, we must be prepared to live for our friends, which in most cases is difficult enough. Many people are guilty of expecting more from friends than they, themselves are willing to offer. Magnifying small inconsistencies and faults in others, these disloyal friends rarely feel bad if they break a promise or abuse their friendships with excessive borrowing or other no-nos. They may have good intentions, but those expecting rewards for good intentions will always be disillusioned. After all, isn't that what the road to hell is paved with? For friendships to survive, they must be nurtured with conscientious reciprocity, forgiveness and true charity.
Our choice of friends says much about our survival in the temporal world and our place in the world to come. The friends we gravitate toward vibrate with the same resonance and are dedicated to the same goals and dreams. If our friends are ruthless, spiritually indifferent, lacking in appreciation, petty or mean-spirited and yet, we still feel comfortable in their presence, it is because we are like them.
Whether our friends lift us up or pull us down, God will not have a difficult time determining where we shall spend eternity . . . it will be with our best friends.
2001 Laura Martin-Buhler