On being a friend and having a friend

There is no greater gift in life than the gift of a friend. I was six when I first got this. Six years old, and ridiculously shy. Friends were not my thing. I struggled to navigate school without actually having to talk and spent many of my days terrified that someone would look at me. I followed all the rules, all the time in hopes of never being noticed. And most days it worked. Until it didn’t.

We were learning about turtles that day, making our own paper plate constructed creatures and I sat quietly in the corner following all of the directions. Color your turtle’s shell, the teacher instructed. So I colored. Every inch. Pink and brown.  Stylish turtle, right?

You can imagine what happened when the teacher collected mine. Pink and brown turtles don’t exist and clearly I had not listened well. Public humiliation sent me slinking away to the back table with the correct color crayons and a new plate while the rest of the class scurried off to playtime. Hot tears stung behind my eyes and dripped their way onto the blank white plate staring up at me. I wanted to crawl under the table and disappear forever.

But suddenly these two girls were standing next to me. They stuck their paper plate turtles right up next to my blank one and put their pigtailed faces close to my ear, “We made ours like yours too. Pink and brown are great colors for a turtle.” They grinned, hid their turtles under the pile on the teacher’s desk and skipped off to join the class. I’m pretty sure they got in trouble later. But it didn’t matter. Life began to look a little different. I had friends.

It’s a strange brain I have. I can’t remember why I walked up the stairs just now, but I can tell you the color of the curtains in the room that day and how bright the eyes of my new friends shone as they waved their creations under my nose.

It all carved its way into the corners of my heart. Friends. People who saw me and chose to come and stand with me and my oddly colored turtle.

As Winnie the Pooh says, “Sometimes the smallest things can take up the most room in your heart.” (A.A. Milne). Slowly, the shy and the scared parts of me began to melt.

You have a story too, right? A story of a first friend made or a new friend discovered. Maybe you were the one who took the first step or maybe you want to be. Because you know that it matters. You know that feeling of suddenly realizing that you don’t have to do this life all alone. It strengthens your heart and changes your eyes. It’s what friendship does. It reminds us that we were created for communion.  And God knows that we need that reminder with every step we take.

One of the greatest stories of friendship in the Bible is the story of King David and his friend Johnathan. It was a most unlikely friendship. Johnathan’s dad, King Saul, was jealous of David’s rise to power and plotted to kill him. Theirs was not a friendship composed of perfect days and sunshiny songs. It was a friendship forged on battlefields and weighed down with family drama and political implications. It was hard. But there’s this verse about their friendship that brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. “The soul of Johnathan was knit to the soul of David and Johnathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1).

Souls, connected in spite of circumstances that worked to pull them apart. Souls that knew they needed one another; so they held fast, anyway. It is how God created friendship to work. You see, there is an inexplicable bond that forms when we realize that we need each other; when we allow our actual souls to mingle in the light of our ordinary days. It requires some transparency that we often fight against. But that kind of friendship is what changes us from the inside out.

And it isn’t easy. Sometimes it is easier to follow the rules, and fly under the radar. Easier to color your turtle brown and green and ignore the crying girl in the corner. Easier to just go it alone. I know. I’ve tried.

And then I listen to a friend lament a broken relationship and she asks, “Is it worth it, all of this, is this friendship thing worth it?” For every story of a new friend made we all have stories of broken hearts. David loved Johnathan and their friendship helped make him who he was, but when Johnathan died  David was left alone and heart broken. Where did that friendship get him? Was it worth it?

I roll that question around in my head for days. Is it worth it, this friendship thing, is it worth the pain that can come with it? Is it worth the hard things, the good-bye tears, the weight of the burdens that we bear for one another?

The soul of Johnathan was knit to the soul of David and Johnathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1).

Yes, yes. That kind of friendship is worth every moment of the hard things. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And then he showed us what he meant. That’s how Jesus loved us. He called us friends and we were worth it all to him.

And this side of heaven, our friendships may never be perfect.  We may get hurt. We might stumble,  and say the wrong things so many times. But then.

Then, there will be this moment when we will get to stand right next to a friend with our hearts wide open and our hands clasped tight and we will know in our very bones that this is God’s gift to us. Someone to walk with. Someone to be known by. A soul that sees our soul.  A friend. Worth it all.

So I’m learning, slowly. Learning to color my turtle all the wrong colors and cheer on others who do the same. Learning to whisper a word of encouragement to a neighbor, to lift the chin of a weary traveler,  to say the words,  to send the note,  to take the next step.  I am learning what it means to love extravagantly and let God figure out how it’s all going to work out in the end.  But mostly, I am learning that being a friend,  and having a friend is God’s way of getting right down here to us. And it is always, always worth the risk.

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that gives value to survival.” C.S. Lewis




3 Comments on “On being a friend and having a friend

  1. Leigh,
    I love all your messages, but this one especially touches my heart. Margaret and I shared a special friendship for over 50 years. We needed each other. We shared our deepest thoughts and feelings. We loved each other even when we weren’t very lovable. It hurts that she is no longer here physically. I miss her, but she will always be in my heart. I treasure every memory, and it was worth it!

    • Oh, Jo! I thought of you and Margaret as I was writing this. The friendship that you two shared always made me smile. It was always so obvious how you loved each other. What good gifts God gives us when he sends us our people. Praying for you and both of your families as you miss her. She was a gift to so many!

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