Friends are Friends

I’m sitting here wondering… who are the people in your life you trust, and why do you trust them? I know that’s a deeper question than it sounds. Each of us has people in our lives we’ll trust for one thing but not another. Still, there are those we keep close in everything. They are second selves in a way—people we’ll lean on no matter the circumstance.

I’m guessing that for many of you, it’s your family that best fits within the boundaries of this description. Speaking for myself, I can certainly affirm that my wife, Jennifer, is the one person I trust unreservedly with everything. She’s also the person I can trust to not pester me when there are situations happening that, while I need to keep them confidential, are clearly weighing me down. She never pries, but instead, does what she can to cheer me up, all the while encouraging me to keep pressing forward, especially when she can clearly see that I don’t feel like I can. This, again, is an aspect of her trustworthiness.

I have a trustworthy Bishop, too. He’s more than an ecclesiastical supervisor. He’s a friend. Even better, he’s a pastor’s pastor to all in the district. What I mean is that for any of the church professionals out there within reach of his supervision, if they have no one else to trust aside from Christ, they can trust him. I’m glad for that.

Since I mentioned the idea of confidential things, in contrast to those you’d trust, there are those around each of us who display a tendency for handling secrets in the same way they handle cash. They circulate them, using them to buy and sell with others. By the way, those folks are often the first ones to pester for secret information, ultimately betraying their lack of intention or ability for ever keeping to themselves whatever it is you may share. There’s another term for those people: Gossipers. For the record, I keep gossipers at arm’s length. In fact, anyone who knows me will know I have a tendency to come down hard on gossipers. Gossip is poison to the Church and it should never be tolerated.

Of course, keeping confidence isn’t the only thing that makes a person trustworthy. Again, speaking only for myself, the people I keep closest are the ones I know will receive my words honestly—easy or hard—and in turn, they know I’ll do the same with theirs. I hope Jennifer doesn’t mind that I’m repeatedly using her as an example, but this reminds me of something she articulated so wisely a few years ago. In fact, I mentioned it in The Angels’ Portion, Volume III. I may have shared it with you before. Either way, here’s what I wrote:

“‘Friends are friends until they’re not,’ my brilliant wife has observed. And the substance of her meaning is a direct outflow of her life as a pastor’s wife. She knows all too well that her husband is always just one decision, action, conversation, or sermon away from ticking someone off and seeing that which once was become a thing of the past. She knows all too well that if she shows up on Sunday and gets the cold shoulder from someone who only last week was as fresh and friendly as a springtime sprig, it’s because of something I did.”

Friends are friends until they’re not, which is why I’m guessing that like me, the people you trust the most are the ones who continue to prove the long-lasting nature of real friendship that can withstand being over-taxed by mistakes, careless words, or whatever else might cause division between people. Most often the first action of a trusted friend, at least the kind I’ve described so far, won’t be to attack you, but rather will be to seek peaceful ways to fortify his or her friendship with you through faithfulness to Christ.

I appreciate the phrase, “True friendship is never serene.” Marie de Sévigné said that. She was right. And her point: True friendships are not without turbulence. Still, I’m guessing they have something that other relationships do not: Humility and forgiveness.

Humility will always be a sturdy bridge for carrying heavier issues over from one person to another. And if forgiveness is there waiting on the other side, the friendship will be proven capable of withstanding what breaks all other relationships.

Christians, in particular, know these things very well. And why wouldn’t we? We know that even as we were God’s enemies, completely dead in our trespasses and sins, Christ humbly submitted Himself to death on our behalf (Ephesians 2:1; Romans 5:6). The forgiveness He won for us by His death is the foundation of our very identity as human beings. From this, we know without question that He is the absolute epitome of “friend,” having made clear to us that there is no greater love to be found among friends than that one would be self-sacrificing, that one would lay down his life for the other (John 15:13). When Jesus speaks this way, of course He’s referring to Himself as the only One capable of being the truest friend. And yet, He certainly gives this faithful Word in order to establish the same selfless relationships between His people, knowing that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we would be found emitting to each other in much simpler ways what He first demonstrated to us in the greatest of ways.

You may have other criteria behind your determining of trusted friends. I certainly have others I’ve not shared. Nevertheless, what I can tell you with relative simplicity is that when humility and forgiveness are present in a person, the rest of what we might consider to be not-so-likeable qualities are most often barely noticeable—which makes complete sense. It’s a lot harder to see the bad stuff when Jesus is blocking your view.

Conversation

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. But then again, for as quiet as it might sometimes seem, there’s always a lot happening here at Our Savior. A good part of my time lately has been spent in one-on-one conversations with so many of you—which is a good thing. Conversation is good.

In a basic sense, conversation is the transmission of information. It’s a means by which one person takes what’s in his or her own mind and puts it into the mind of another. When that uncomplicated mechanism is functioning as it should, the experience can be incredibly beneficial. Maybe like me, some of the best conversations you’ve had in life are the ones in which you don’t necessarily recall anything in particular that was discussed, but rather you simply recall an enjoyable time together with another person, and you remember hoping to be able to visit together again, soon.

That’s not only how I feel about the people in my congregation, but so many others beyond her borders.

There are, of course, those conversations that we sometimes wish had never happened; the ones we regret. These lamentable interactions take various forms.

For me personally, I suppose the most obvious of these are the conversations in which I said something or exhibited a demeanor that I wish I could go back and erase, and not necessarily from my own memory, but from the memory banks of others involved. I’ve always believed that a man’s reputation is one of the only things he truly owns that everyone else keeps for him, and yet it seems most often others keep that reputation in mental lock boxes impervious to the man’s repentance and amended life. In other words, no matter how hard the man tries to restore himself to them, his good reputation will forever be an island from which he set sail and is never allowed to return.

It’s probably safe to say that most folks reading this write-up will understand the sadness that comes with the guilty tolling of damaged integrity. The honest readers will understand, that is.

Beyond this, some of the more regrettable conversations I experience are the ones in which gossip is the predominating tenor. Precarious are the moments shared with someone who lives by the creed, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about others, then don’t do it from way over there. Come sit by me!” I say this because it would seem their only goal is to malign someone else or to continue the spread of an infectious rumor. Either way, I regret the time lost in such conversations. I suppose while they’re occurring, my truest hope is that I won’t become diseased by the darker spirit that’s actually fostering them. Admittedly, it’s harder than one might think to remain neutral in such conversations. When we spot a gossip, it’s instinctual to try to find favor with them, because if they’re prone to speaking this way to you about others, what might they be willing to say to others about you? Additionally, it takes a steady heart to forget the juicy bits of information shared. I regularly pray for God’s protection from gossips.

Other conversations I typically regret are the ones in which my counterpart is someone who knows everything about everything. The person who’s always on board with his or her own phenomenality is, for me, a huge bore. Personally, it only takes a few minutes of listening to someone establish their own greatness before I get bored. When I get bored, I get fidgety. When I’m cornered by an overtly proud person, you can pretty much bet that I’m already looking for a polite way of escape, having been reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s wit when he said something along the lines of, “The more he spoke of his honor, the more we counted our spoons.”

Another form of regrettable discussion for me are the ones laced with profanity. I don’t like to read messages bearing the language. I despise even more so hearing it. Those particular interactions leave me feeling like I’ve been invited into a conversation among bathers in the catch basin of an outhouse. I’m not sure how else to describe it. They’re crass, and as I’ve written in other places, I believe such conversations genuinely devalue human interaction. Even worse, when such low-level language is strutted before others as though it were a sign of deeper sincerity or intellect, I think the person has somehow been fooled into a grave misconception. For one, I’ve never observed profanity-pocked prattlings do anything to convince a real opponent. I’ve only seen such things make an enemy more fervent. I suppose I’d add—and for as backward as it might seem, since I’m trying to promote goodness here—I’ve seen more success emerge from a well-crafted, profanity-free invective than from a retort filled with swear words. I’ve seen a well-spoken insult convince an adversary to not only investigate an opposing argument, but to consider the adversary worthy of collegial respect.

Perhaps the worst conversations of all are the ones in which no one is really listening. These seem to be the most common these days, which is probably why I’ve found myself confessing privately to others my suspicion that dialogue is dead. More and more folks are arriving at conversations with their minds made up, and so modern discourse surrounding the more contentious topics just seems to be less about convincing an opponent to the benefits of an alternate viewpoint and more an exercise in foes taking a breath between individual monologues. With that, very little seems to be accomplished.

I suppose I could go on. But if I did, I’d only be listing more of my own sinful failings and yours. We all fit into one or more of these descriptions. And so as Christians, we continue to pray most fervently, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Stepping forth from this desire born of faith, we add the request for a patient heart and a listening ear in the midst of conversation. And then bearing a contrite spirit, we accept the Lord’s instruction by way of His Word, taking into ourselves that “a gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1), and “he who answers before listening, that is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13), and “a false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will perish” (Proverbs 19:19), and “ he who guards his lips guards his soul, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3), and “ reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18), and “everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19), and “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

And the list goes on. It seems long. It sounds difficult. But by faith, we know the Holy Spirit is carrying the water in these things. Even Saint Paul affirmed this when he wrote, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

The days are getting darker. Both literally and figuratively. Pray for Godly graciousness in both your listening and speech. As a nation, as a state, as a Church, as married couples, as families, as neighbors, as human beings occupying various stations in our communities, the Lord knows we’re going to need it. And honestly, the Christians are the only ones who have the life-altering Gospel that can bring it.