Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “ The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Truer words were never spoken.
What does it mean to be a friend? How does one “be one”?
To answer, I think of friends in my life and the lives of others: friends are present, weep when we weep, laugh when we laugh and seek our best. A friend lets us be ourselves and still loves us. In other words, a friend allows us to be authentic, vulnerable and honest. And visa versa.
I was reminded of this in the last couple of months as I have had the opportunity to help different friends with a variety of situations. My involvement wasn’t too arduous yet for the issue at hand, it was needed. I share this, not because of my altruistic wonderful nature (far from it) but that it occurred to me that if my friends hadn’t let me help or hadn’t even told me that they needed help, I wouldn’t have had the joy in being needed and helpful.
I was told, “Thanks for being a good friend.” yet I can counter, “Thank you for letting me be a good friend by sharing your needs.”
It is the balance of give and take. The apostle Paul reminds us “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality,” (2 Corinthians 8:14). While Paul was talking about physical resources, I think it also applies to our time, energy and commitments in our relationships. Anyone who has been or is in a relationship can attest that there are times when one has more needs or care than another. In healthy relationships it is a back and forth of care and receiving. There are times when the care may appear one-sided but if honest sharing is occurring, the time for reciprocation will occur.
There is the paradox of life that when we give we receive so much more. For some, the act of helping gives a sense of purpose and identity. For others, it is a chance to use gifts and resources. Either way, when we enter into any honest, healthy give-and-take situation, we realize how interconnected we are and how much we need one another. An honest, healthy give-and-take relationship brings perspective to our lives.
I was also reminded of being a good friend in the story of the lame man being lowered through a roof at Jesus’ feet. Jesus was at His home and the crowds kept coming to see, listen and have Him heal their diseases. The house was packed. Four men had carried their lame friend on a pallet/blanket to see Jesus yet because of the packed house there was no way to get inside. So the friends did what all good problem solving groups do- found another way. They dug a hole in the roof and lowered their friend down!
We can only surmise the back story: Was there much discussion among the friends on what to do? Was the lame man so desperate that he orchestrated/pleaded with his friends to do this? Or was he so despondent and depressed with how his life was unfolding, “I will never get better” that his friends decided an intervention was in order? But if the friends hadn’t known exactly what their friend wanted or had the lame man not allowed them to pick him up, his healing and the friends’ joy in being part of it would not have occurred.
In this miracle, the man is healed and restored- physically, spiritually, emotionally. His physical healing would ensure that his fortunes could change. He no longer would need to rely on others for every facet of his life.
While it might seem obvious, there is a vulnerability in being a good friend: one is exposed to others regarding one’s flaws, faults and true nature. For the lame man, that vulnerability is allowing the healing to change his total identity. He is no longer known as the lame “needy” friend. He could, at least through his physical healing be on “equal footing” with his colleagues. His healing changed his reality for his lame lifestyle was what he knew and what others knew about him. There is some comfort in the “known”. His new lifestyle could bring about questions, suspicion and misunderstanding. Many times, whether we want to change or not, we can get in a lifestyle pattern and label: the flighty one, the bossy one, the reliable one, the unreliable one, the needy one, the pessimist, the optimist, etc. It can be awkward and uncomfortable for all parties to learn new roles.
The helper friends were also vulnerable. What if their idea of helping (Let’s bring him to see the healer Jesus) didn’t work? Were any of these friends, well meaning but arrogant? (I know what is best for you) Their method of helping (tearing through a roof) seemed like actions of desperate friends. But were their motives based on their identity as the ones who take care of things? They started out with a plan to take their lame friend to Jesus but when they came up against an obstacle, they subjected themselves to an unconventional, perhaps controversial approach. I am sure that there was an uproar over the destruction of the roof. They were exposed to potential ridicule, anger and disbelief too. Yet, with what they witnessed in bringing their friend to Jesus, they had to have been changed too. No longer could they be labeled friends/caregivers of the “lame” man. They would have to take on a new role.
Being part of a give-and-take relationship is allowing the relationship to change through situations. It is only when we are vulnerable that we are open to growth. Isn’t that the best part of friendship? Growing together through common experiences and growing individually as we learn from those experiences.
What about you? Are you a good friend? What attributes would you add?
How does one, “be one”?