Learning About Friendship
WHY BE FRIENDLY, AND WITH WHOM? HOW CAN YOU AVOID DANGEROUS FRIENDSHIPS?
DESPITE the scientific changes that have come over the world in recent years, people still need people. For most persons this need is not satisfied by mere acquaintances, but goes much deeper than that. It reaches out for a friend who can be trusted with one’s most precious thoughts. Its want is for a confidant who is responsible, trustworthy and who will respond when one is in need.
The ideal situation is when most of one’s emotional needs are satisfied within a Christian family relationship. Children who have devoted parents and loving brothers and sisters have good reason to be quite content. Sustained by this warmth and association, a child can grow up happy and well balanced without always having to look elsewhere to satisfy his emotional needs.
However, even when friendship in the home is not lacking, children may feel the urge to embark on new friendships. The stimulation provided by other children near their age can be beneficial. On the other hand, lack of friendship inside and outside the family relationship causes many youngsters to become lonely. This is a common problem among teen-agers.
Parents who are aware of this try to satisfy their children’s growing need for friendship. One way they can do this is by developing a closer and more confidential relationship with them. Teen-agers especially find that life takes on a happier tone when parents give them a chance to express their views, and help them to work out their doubts and uncertainties. In frank discussions the children can be fortified with encouragement and counsel.
There are also times when the friendship of another youth can provide the needed encouragement. Wrote a middle-aged man of his more youthful days: “As a teen-ager I was often moody, for reasons I no longer recall. During one particularly bad week when I was at my lowest ebb, thinking myself ugly, misunderstood and unlikable, the phone rang. A high-school lad . . . was on the line. ‘What’s wrong?’ he asked gently when he heard my voice. ‘You sound as if you didn’t have a friend in the world—I’m not dead yet!’ A glib, graceful phrase, perhaps—but in twenty-five years I have not forgotten it, how I sat up straighter, smiled and felt alive again that night.”
How to Become a Friend
Some people seem to have a talent for making friends. Others need to learn the art of friendship, and they do. Still others are neither gifted in friendship nor quick to learn its ways. They need help. Whatever the case may be, to be a friend one has to care about people, what they think, how they feel and why they suffer. One must be sympathetically interested in things people do. One must accept their faults as well as their virtues. One must be willing to make sacrifices and help others to achieve their goals.
The American poet and essayist Ralph W. Emerson once said: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Help someone, if you want a friend. That should be easy, because there are so many people today who need help. Where there is work to be done, volunteer to do it. Working brings people together.
Invite people to your home for a meal or simply to share conversation with you over a cup of tea or coffee. Simply say, “How about coming to our place Saturday night?” Even if it is not convenient for them to come this time, at least they will know that you would like to know them better.
Perhaps the very beginning of a friendship is the willingness to say “hello” first. You must show that you like people. If you greet them with a smile and with a cheerful salutation, it may surprise you what response you will get.
What Is Needed to Keep Up Friendship
Friendship can be likened to a plant that has to be cultivated. It must be watered and tended if it is to produce sweet and wholesome fruit.
Maintaining a friendship is not automatic. It takes planning. On our weekly list of things to be done, we might well assign deeds of friendship. We could write down the names of those we would like to visit or telephone or drop a note to, or send a gift. How easy it is to neglect friends just because they are friends. Many who know the art of friendship plan to have dinner once a week or once a month with certain friends.
An aid to preserving friendships is doing things together. One friend taught another how to cook. After that, the delights of cooking enriched their conversations and their lives. Others have encouraged their friends to go places with them and to do things together, such as visiting museums, taking walks through parks or having picnics together.
Distance may prevent friends from getting together, but a warm letter can bridge the gap. A telephone call will remind them that you care. It may be possible to spend a vacation with an old friend and renew the friendship. Often reunions are most heartwarming.
The problem of jealousy sometimes arises among friends. Some people may want you all to themselves. But friendship also means the sharing of a friend with other persons. This demands humility. It calls for the ability to check resentment rather than let it persist and poison the spirit. Good friends are neither tyrants nor doormats; they strike a happy balance.
Friendship also implies discipline. There is the danger of becoming what the apostle Peter calls “a busybody in other people’s matters,” and that can soon spoil a friendship. So it is profitable to examine one’s conversation.—1 Pet. 4:15.
Also, these are busy times, and we cannot expect others to be constantly visiting or entertaining. The inspired Proverb (Pr 25:17) says: “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellow man, that he may not have his sufficiency of you and certainly hate you.”
And when you are invited out for an evening, it is wise not to keep your host up too late. There usually is much to be done after guests leave, and if it is late, it may work a hardship on the host. Some persons leave so late that they are not invited as often as they might be. And a number of people, who cannot keep late hours, for age or health reasons or for having to get up at an early hour, are not as hospitable as they would like to be because guests often just do not know when to go home.
What Kind of Friends to Cultivate
Perhaps the most vital factor to an enduring friendship is the choice we make in the first place. Many people make the mistake of picking friends for their usefulness. They choose friends for what they have or can contribute and not really for what they are. Generally such friendships do not flourish.
Other people are purely social climbers and status seekers. Their friendship is tainted with a selfish purpose. “You have to be careful to associate with those who count or else you won’t get anywhere,” they say. This is far from Christian practice. (Jas. 2:1) Friendships based on selfishness are hollow, empty, unrewarding.—Luke 14:12-14.
When choosing friends, be selective in a godly way. Even God himself is selective in his choice of friends. God called Abraham his friend, because of Abraham’s faithfulness. (Jas. 2:23) And the fifteenth Psalm shows that God lays down high standards for those ‘who would be guests in his tent’—not everyone is welcome. Jesus Christ also set standards for those who would be his friends. To his followers, he said: “You are my friends if you do what I am commanding you.”—John 15:14.
How about you? Are you selective in the matter of friends? Do you have reliable guidelines? Since we will be influenced to some extent by the friends we keep, it would be good to be selective.
Quality-wise, we certainly would be making no mistake if we chose those whom God and Christ call friends. We could expect them to excel in love, long-suffering, kindness, goodness and self-control. (Gal. 5:22, 23) Those possessing these fine, godly qualities make excellent friends indeed! And nothing draws friends closer together than their mutual love of God. As Ruth, who is spoken of in the Bible, said to Naomi: “Your people will be my people, and your God my God.”—Ruth 1:16, 17.
A dedicated Christian must view this subject of friendship with a number of safeguarding Biblical principles in mind. For example, there is the one that says: “Bad associations spoil useful habits.” And another that says: “Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” (1 Cor. 15:33; Jas. 4:4) Thus we see that proper choice of friendships will not only influence our daily habits but also have a direct effect on our relationship with God.
With a view to safeguarding one’s relationship with God, it is wise to heed the counsel of his Word by ‘turning away’ from association with certain types of people. Who are they? The apostle Paul mentions “lovers of money”—those whose thoughts are always on material possessions. He also lists those who are “disobedient to parents,” those who are ‘proud’ and ‘lack self-control,’ and persons who are “lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.” (2 Tim. 3:2-5) No friendships are to be established with such persons at all. This Biblical advice, if followed, can be a real protection.
Since a true friend is a trusted confidant, we should also be sure that our friend is not the sort who would gossip about us, to our harm. Concerning such friends the Bible says: “The one covering over transgression is seeking love, and he that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another. A true companion is loving all the time.” “There exist companions disposed to break one another to pieces, but there exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.”—Prov. 17:9, 17; 18:24.
It is important, too, that friends share the same interests and goals. If you choose for a friend someone whose interests lead you in another direction you may forfeit your goal in life. This is especially true of one who wants to prove faithful as a servant of God.
Thus from God’s Word the Bible we learn what true friendship is, that it leads to Christian love, that it promotes open communication, that it brings comfort in times of difficulty and affords opportunities to do things for others. Friendship enriches one’s life and spices it with greater happiness. So be friendly—be a friend.
[Picture on page 6]
Inviting others to share food with you is a good way to build up friendships