I don’t have a lot of friends. Not too many close friendships. Not too many shallow friendships either. Tons of acquaintances, of course, but of those relationships rising to the level of “friend”… not so many.
Perhaps this is no real surprise. Someone keeping a blog like this that stinks so much on the one hand and challenges deeply held views on the other suggests I will stick closer to principles than to people. And that has me thinking.
I am reflecting on some of the more meaningful friendships I have (or have had). Not all of them, but a few. There are many friendships I could call meaningful that I will not review here, mostly because I don’t know how to characterize all of them. But still, over all, I don’t have all that many to choose from either.
First off, I will say something about my “best friend”. (I am not talking about my wife in this instance, though in reality, she qualifies for that label. But there is another who I am thinking of here who can only fit in that label and no other.)
I met him in high school. We endured a bit of conflict waaaaay back when. In fact we spent most of a year not talking. But we patched things up eventually, and have never returned to that kind of conflict since. And now that I am slipping over the hump into the backside of middle age, as you can imagine, it’s memories we share mostly. Zany memories, mostly from high school – but a few much later too, form the bedrock of our continued relationship even today.
My best friend is not “a believer” as some are apt to put it. I don’t really know the width or depth of his spiritual life actually. I have broached the subject a few times, and so has he, but we never really explored that kind of conversation in depth, and I sense strongly that he wants it that way. I have no innate need to push it. There is a rather obvious welcome mat laid out there if ever he wants to pursue it. He came to my graduation from the Bible program at Abilene Christian University. He is fully aware of my life of faith. I am fully respectful of his boundary.
Of course, this limits our friendship. Here I have such longevity with the guy, and we have been through thick and thin, but of the parts of my life that matter most to me, we share next to none of it. (He does visit this blog sometimes, so he will have a chance to see these remarks. I do not expect him to acknowledge them. He has never left a comment or a “like”.) But despite these limits, the longevity and memories are important to me (and to him, I think). He is my “best friend”.
I think of my young friend in Phoenix that I recently reconnected with. He too comes very near being a “best friend” in almost exactly the other direction. For one thing, he is deeply devout about his faith. He, like me, challenges others to live it true and not just in some feel-good, triumphalist, commercial sense. But he is a lot younger than me. I am almost old enough to be his father.
But I think of two friends I made over the years (recent years) that also impact me (or at least did before). One of them is referenced on this blog in a handful of previous posts. I designated him Special Agent D (SAD for short). This man and I became de facto partners in ministry for about 5 years. In fact he is the one who led me to the streets in the first place. We are close in age. He also was educated for a career in ministry (and actually preached for a couple of churches through the years). And I think about the profound impact the adventures we shared has had on me ever since.
SAD and I went to the streets at midnight with a worship service and confronted the dark forces at work on people – principalities and powers thrusting them into drug addiction, prostitution, poverty and so forth. God used us in amazing ways that blow my mind even still.
Apparently we had some conflict somewhere along the way. I am uncertain, really. It never came to a head exactly, at least not that I know of. I will not exercise ALL of the things I think might be behind it, but I am, and always was, aware we had at least a couple of important differences between us. However, I was always deeply appreciative of his friendship, despite those areas of discomfort in the relationship.
One I note right off, and I am not bashful about pointing this out, SAD always insisted on carrying a Billy-Bat with him to the streets. I never saw him wield it. I never saw him show it off to any perspective converts or bad guys. But I was aware he carried it for “security” purposes. I carried a large flashlight that could be used as a club too, initially, but eventually, I decided even this was not Christ-like. Thus I stopped using it. SAD never stopped carrying his “security” on these missions, that I know of. If he had asked, I would have vehemently disapproved. But we never hashed that out, and so I feel reasonably sure this is not the issue that divides us.
Whatever else, though, I am indebted to SAD for opening me up to those adventures. And not only that, but I would not have been able (I don’t think) to vocalize the accounts of those missions in any meaningful way to our church. He was a better speaker than me, and yet it was obvious we had a partnership. We were a duo. The duo was bigger than the sum of its parts. I always felt that he complimented my weaknesses with his strengths, and I felt reasonably hopeful that I returned the favor – at least part of the time.
Still, my thoughts center mostly on the way that for most of 5 years we managed to have a very tight, close, relationship despite this important difference between us. (There were a few others, but of about this caliber too.) And I leaned on the guy. He influenced me deeply. I felt listened to by him as well. Even if we didn’t hit on all 8 all the time, 7 were always firing in a good timely fashion.
How did we do that?
And then what happened to destroy it?
I don’t really know. I am aware that some unusual circumstances arose that interfered with my life, but I really don’t think those are to blame. I just know that after the smoke cleared with said circumstances, my efforts to reconnect fell flat. It wasn’t stone cold silence – at least not at first. But over time, silence has frozen me out. And at this point, neither one of us attend that church where we met. So I have next to no reason to even bump into the guy anymore.
And then I think of another relationship I developed with a coworker and fellow believer several years ago in the Psych hospital. This was a woman from a minority race who probably was not old enough to be my mother, but I figure she had at least a full decade on me. I knew she was a believer from the day I met her. But I soon found out she was a very stern woman. Very unyielding. And once she took a notion to become critical, there was no stopping her.
It didn’t take long for me to fall under her scrutiny. She never advanced an issue regarding faith or morality against me, but nit picked dozens (if not hundreds) of issues regarding the job. She hounded me mercilessly. I was new to the job and learning it. I was a slow learner. She would butcher me verbally over my performance almost every day. I became the chum in the water for this shark. And honestly, I could see the shock in other coworkers’ faces over it. I recall a couple times when other staff intervened with snide remarks against her on my behalf – but this was rare, actually.
I took a posture of endurance. I was devoted to patiently accepting her relentless criticism and cruel remarks alike with respect. I would answer, “Yes, Ma’am” to her every grueling time. There was one brief and impotent exception. Once I was convinced that she was talking about me behind my back in extremely derogatory manner, and I took it to a supervisor and confronted her with it. Of course she had plausible deniability, and denied it out right. So, I learned my place as this woman’s daily whipping boy.
I can only imagine the picture that presented to staff and patients alike. A black woman daily brow beating a white man. We may have race problems in this society yet today, but I assure you, I have done my part in rectifying that! I was under a LOT of stress daily. I knew this woman was a deeply valued employee while I was a slow-to-learn newbie. So, I conditioned myself to endure her with a smile and respect every day, while many nights I went home in tears. She was always right, and no matter how hard I tried, it seemed I was always wrong.
I recall how my prayer life deepened during that time. I began seeking humility as a matter of purpose. It was painful. Every day, I hurt in this bully’s presence. Even when she was on vacation, I felt the weight of her on me. I knew she was indispensable while I was expendable. I kept my nose on the grind stone. I coulda gave up a couple times. I could have snapped and put her in her place, but I was sure that would earn me getting fired. And so this went on for almost 2 years.
Yeah… 2 years… almost.
Then one winter’s evening there was an incident which for confidentiality’s sake, I cannot divulge. But it involved me going outside the hospital in the freezing cold of night in a rough area of town to watch over a lady stranded in a broke down car while she waited for a wrecker service. Oh, and did I mention she was the possible subject for a gang retaliation? No. I suppose I didn’t.
So I went out on the street corner in the freezing cold and snow and stood watch over this woman in her car. I broke a number of protocols to do that and put myself in misery and jeopardy in the process. But I did it as a matter of faith – a calling to be a shepherd of the flock even when the rules prohibited it.
My coworker, of course, found fault with it. She began belittling me for it in front of the rest of the staff. But this was a matter of faith, and she just had the wrong perspective on it. So I confronted her nit picking barrage of criticisms telling her and all listening that I did it for Jesus despite the pain and dangers, and that if given the chance, I would do it again.
She never badgered me again.
In fact, inside of a week, she and I became very good friends. Inside of a month, I was her right-hand man. We worked together for the better part of the next 3 years, and over that time, she came to trust me, support me, promote me, and… dare I say… love me. I found forgiveness to be just the natural progression in our work together.
I don’t see this woman anymore. We don’t work together now. But last I saw her, she was a good friend of mine. And our admiration is mutual. I see her as a very fine servant of God – flawed to be sure, but very important. And she is a FRIEND.
These are some to the things I have been considering as I think about friendship.
This prophet business seems to alienate me from people. I get kicked out of church, not because I sinned. Not because I drank, smoked, fornicated, cussed, looked at porn… shoot … the pastor himself does that! He is on record, having confessed it publically. No. I got kicked out for standing up to the STUPID idea that the homeless church should kick the homeless out on the streets during the freezing cold of night! And my name is mud in this town now!
But I am quite clear that I can be friends with people. I can deal with differences between us. I can and do love people in their flaws. I know what patience is. I can do humility. I can be your friend.
And I want some.