Mom and step-dad, Joe, live in a retirement community outside of Nashville, Tenn. Most everyone is 70 or older. Every time I visit, I am struck by the close-knit fellowship the residents enjoy. They monitor each other’s condos when one is traveling. They fix food and sweet treats for each other – just because. They periodically check on one another as a defense against a lurking enemy: loneliness. They pray for each other when they are sick or troubled. It is an amazing thing to witness.
S. E. Hinton once said, “If you have two friends in your lifetime, you’re lucky. If you have one good friend, you’re more than lucky.” Mom and Joe have friends by the bushel in their community. “My next-door neighbor, Debbie, falls on her knees praying if I just mention a need or that something is troubling me,” mom told me the other day. Now friend, that is a friend.
Do we have next-door neighbors like that? Are we next-door neighbors like that? Are we a friend who will drop to our knees at a moment’s notice to intercede for another?
The idea of friendship comes from God. The Bible speaks of “friends” repeatedly. The first instance occurs in Exodus 33:11: “The Lord spoke unto Moses face to face as a man speaks unto his friend.” Job, in his suffering, tells us “the friendship of God” was over his tent.
What is a friend? Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times.” Through good times and bad, friends are ever present. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”
No one has ever left a greater footprint – on the lives of those whom He has saved from eternal damnation – than Jesus. He viewed everyone He encountered as a friend. Luke 5:20-25 tells the story about Jesus healing the paralyzed man, referring to him as His “friend” before forgiving him of his sins and then healing his body. We ought to strive to model after Jesus. I have adopted a new way of introducing myself, especially to people I do not know. I offer a smile and a greeting, ‘Hello friend, I’m Don Hinkle.” By calling someone friend, we create an environment conducive to establishing a friendly relationship.
John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Are we investing ourselves with others to the point that we sacrificially give of ourselves to others? Lay our needs and desires aside for someone else? Jesus said in John 15:14, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” What command is that? To love God, our friend, with all our heart, soul and might and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The friendship that exists in mom and Joe’s neighborly community bares stark contrast to the selfish, nihilistic, sadistic, vitriolic, jerk society that offends us every day in the media and, unfortunately, in our interactions with others – especially on social media. Whether it is road rage, one neighbor sucker-punching another for blowing a few grass clippings onto his yard or a “mob attack” on Facebook or Twitter, our culture seems to be moving further away from the blessing of having true friends.
What do I mean by “true” friends? Friends are honest, caring and exhibit unconditional love. Culture attempts to redefine “friend” as someone who will tell us what we want to hear, often to justify our abhorrent behavior or ungodly thinking. To paraphrase the philosopher Plutarch, we don’t need friends who change when we change and who nod when we nod; our shadows do that much better.
Recently a new couple moved into mom and Joe’s community. Mom and Joe would be outside, and the new couple would walk by, completely ignoring them. A few days later mom heard they had a need. She prepared a meal for them and delivered it. The new couple were shocked. No one had ever done such a thing for them. A few days later, mom and Joe were outside, and the couple came walking by. This time they stopped and chatted. With uncommon honesty, the woman told mom, “I don’t know why, but when I first saw you, I just did not like you.” But, she said, “You have changed my mind.”
Now Mom says the couple always stops to visit. Four people have two new friends. New friends are a blessing. Just ask mom, Joe and their two new friends.