You Can Enjoy Lasting Friendships
THERE are barriers to friendships. In fact, the Bible foretold that in these “last days” there would be a lack of love, natural affection, and loyalty. (2 Timothy 3:1-5; Matthew 24:12) These conditions have brought with them an unprecedented plague of loneliness. One person said: “It’s like Noah’s ark in my neighborhood. If you’re not a couple, you can’t come aboard.” All the blame for this cannot be laid upon each lonely individual. In some parts of the world, challenges to lasting friendships include such things as people moving more frequently, families breaking up, impersonal and dangerous cities, and a noticeable decrease in free time.
A modern-day city dweller may come in contact with more people in a week than an 18th-century villager saw in a year or even a lifetime! Yet, relationships today are often superficial. Many immerse themselves in constant socializing and attempts to have a good time. We must admit, though, that empty merrymaking with badly chosen associates is like using thorns for fuel. Says Ecclesiastes 7:5, 6: “Better is it to hear the rebuke of someone wise than to be the man hearing the song of the stupid ones. For as the sound of thorns under the pot, so is the laughter of the stupid one; and this too is vanity.” Thorns briefly make a bright and noisy fire, but it does not have enough substance to keep us warm. Likewise, noisy, laughing companions may distract us momentarily, but they will not eliminate all loneliness and satisfy our need for true friends.
Solitude differs from loneliness. Some solitude is necessary for us to refresh ourselves and thus have more to offer as a friend. When faced with loneliness, many immediately turn to some form of electronic entertainment. One study found that one of the most common reactions to loneliness is watching television. Yet, the researchers concluded that prolonged television viewing is one of the worst things we can do when we are lonely. It promotes passivity, boredom, and fantasy, becoming a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction with other people.
Actually, solitude can be very valuable if we use our time alone constructively. We may do this by reading, writing letters, making things, and resting. Constructive solitude includes praying to God, studying the Bible, and meditating on it. (Psalm 63:6) These are ways to draw closer to Jehovah God, the one who would be our greatest Friend.
Biblical Examples of Friendships
Although it is good to be friendly with many people, the Bible reminds us that “there exists a friend sticking closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24) All of us need a few intimate friends who truly care about us, whose friendships give us joy, strength, and peace. While such true friendships may be uncommon today, some ancient examples are especially noted in the Bible. For instance, there was the outstanding friendship between David and Jonathan. What can we learn from it? Why did their friendship last?
For one thing, David and Jonathan held important interests in common. Above all, they shared a deeply felt devotion to Jehovah God. Upon noting David’s faith in God and his actions in defense of Jehovah’s people, “Jonathan’s very soul became bound up with the soul of David, and Jonathan began to love him as his own soul.” (1 Samuel 18:1) Mutual love for God, then, helps to bind friends to each other.
Jonathan and David were strong individuals who lived by godly principles. They could therefore respect each other. (1 Samuel 19:1-7; 20:9-14; 24:6) We are indeed blessed if we have godly friends who are governed by Scriptural principles.
Other factors contributed to the friendship of David and Jonathan. Their relationship was honest and forthright, and each one took the other into his confidence. Jonathan loyally put David’s interests ahead of his own. He was not jealous because David had been promised the kingship; rather, Jonathan supported him emotionally and spiritually. And David accepted his help. (1 Samuel 23:16-18) In Scripturally appropriate ways, David and Jonathan made known their feelings for each other. Their godly friendship was based on true appreciation and affection. (1 Samuel 20:41; 2 Samuel 1:26) It was unbreakable because both men remained faithful to God. Putting such principles into practice can help us to build and keep true friendships.
How to Cultivate Friendships
Are you looking for true friends? You may not have to look far. Some among your own regular contacts could be your friends, and they may need your friendship. Especially with respect to fellow Christians, it is wise to apply the apostle Paul’s advice to “widen out.” (2 Corinthians 6:11-13) However, do not fret if every attempt to make a friend does not result in a deep bond. It usually takes time to develop a friendship, and not every relationship will be equally deep. (Ecclesiastes 11:1, 2, 6) Of course, to enjoy genuine friendships, we must be unselfish, and we need to follow Jesus’ counsel: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matthew 7:12.
Who need your friendship? Besides those of your own age, what about younger ones or older people? The friendships of David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, and Paul and Timothy all involved some spread in age. (Ruth 1:16, 17; 1 Corinthians 4:17) Can you extend your friendship to widows and other unmarried people? Think, too, about those who are new to your area. They may have given up the association of most or all of their friends by moving or changing their way of life. Do not wait for others to seek you out. If you are a Christian, make lasting friendships by applying Paul’s counsel: “In brotherly love have tender affection for one another. In showing honor to one another take the lead.”—Romans 12:10.
We can think of friendships as a form of giving. Jesus said that if we practice giving, people will give to us. He also pointed out that there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving. (Luke 6:38; Acts 20:35) Have you met people of diverse backgrounds? The international conventions of Jehovah’s Witnesses have proved that people of varied cultures can form true and lasting friendships when they have the worship of God in common.
Keeping Friendships Intact
Sadly, apparent friends sometimes cause each other pain. Harmful gossip, a betrayed confidence, lack of appreciation—these are among the things that are very painful when they originate with someone whom you considered to be a true friend. What can be done in such situations?
Set a good example. Do everything you can to avoid causing needless pain. In some places it is popular for friends to make fun of one another’s foibles. But harsh treatment or trickery will not draw friends closer together, even if they are supposedly “having fun.”—Proverbs 26:18, 19.
Work hard to maintain friendships. Misunderstandings sometimes arise when friends expect too much of each other. A friend who is sick or is preoccupied because of a grave problem will probably not be able to show as much warmth as usual. At such times, then, try to be understanding and supportive.
Resolve problems quickly and kindly. Do so privately if possible. (Matthew 5:23, 24; 18:15) Make sure your friend knows that you want to maintain a good relationship. Sincere friends forgive each other. (Colossians 3:13) Will you be that kind of friend—one sticking closer than a brother?
Reading and thinking about friendships is only a start. If we are experiencing loneliness, let us take appropriate action, and we will not be lonely for long. If we reach out, we can make true friends. With some of them, we will form a special bond. But nobody can take the place of God, the greatest Friend. Only Jehovah can know, understand, and support us completely. (Psalm 139:1-4, 23, 24) Moreover, his Word holds out a marvelous hope for the future—a new world where it will be possible to have true friends forever.—2 Peter 3:13.
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David and Jonathan enjoyed true friendship, and so can we