“If they stumble, the first will lift up his friend—but woe to anyone who is alone when he falls and there is no one to help him get up.” Ecclesiastes 4:10
The worth of a friend cannot always be measured in tangible ways. At times, we just know they are there, hanging out on the side of the stage, in the wings. But if we need them, they are there. Sometimes we do not live close to our friends. Back in the day, I could go weeks without talking to a friend. We did not need this constant texting thingy going 24/7 like so many teens do today. We invested ourselves in our friends. We spent time face-to-face. We talked. We listened. We grew together. Sometimes we meet someone and they immediately fill a space in our souls. We know God meant for them to be a permanent fixture in our lives. We don’t need to text or talk every day. We know we are bonded.
I have found, as I have aged, that the texture of relationships is undergoing a profound change. When I was younger, we took time to get to know people. We would give up our evenings to spend time chatting, shopping, walking…just doing something together. When I was in college, my bestie (who I still count as a dear friend) and I would walk across campus in our dance outfits (I was so brave then) and sit in the hallways before class, just passing the time and getting to know one another more deeply. The funny part was that we had not known one another before college. We met, realized we had almost all our classes together, and we bonded. Deeply. That was, wow, 41 years ago. Our lives have gone in so many opposite directions since then. We shared dating, marriages, births, deaths, divorces, relocations…and even though she is thousands of miles away, I could call her and she would be there for me. In a heartbeat. These days, it seems like everything we do is instantaneous. We want it and we want it now. There is no overt or obvious time spent in quiet conversation. People text. They send voice messages. They send selfies. But where is the time spent on sharing ourselves?
My dad commented some time ago about his grand daughter. He was asking her a question and she told him to hang on a second and she would “Google” it. He, being almost 90, was confused. She explained that everything you need to know is on your phone. You can look up anything. She doesn’t need to read a book, she can “Google” the answer. He is still blown away by that. She looks things up for him all the time. He cannot get over the processing ability of an iPhone. He said back when he was working to put a man in space (he worked on many space projects with NASA) that most engineers carried slide rules. He said when people first started using calculators, their whole process began to change. And I would have to agree. We have let technology rule our lives. We have become impersonal and techno-centric. We are loosing the ability to just sit and chat with another person, fully engaged with the conversation, without whipping out our phones.
And sometimes we just don’t want to put forth the effort to get to know people in this transient culture we are becoming. We listen, haphazardly, to gossip and we form instananeous opinions based on data we have acquired, without having to do the work to acquire it. Ever hear the expression, “standing on the shoulders of giants”? (“We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.” John of Salisbury 1159). I think that we, as a culture, are becoming sort of voyeuristic in that we presume and assume much, without actually learning or doing it ourselves. When my husband would struggle with an engineering principle or formula in college, his sister would say to him, “Don’t try to solve it. Just use it. It is a tool. Others have spent decades figuring it out. Trust that it works and just use it.” Used to drive him nuts, because he wanted to get to the beginning, to fully understand it. But most of us are content to just use something as a tool, not concerning ourselves where or why it works. When the IT guys would come to fix my computer, they would try to explain it, while I worked on something else, waiting for my computer. I finally told one of them that I did not care what was wrong. I did not want to know how he was making it work. His degree was in computer science, mine was not. I was an end-user. Just make it work when I turn it on! LOL!
Relationships are fragile. It is what we have that is supposed to be lasting. We develop friendship in order to find stability in an ever-changing world. We find friends who become our place of refuge, our rock, when the tides come and go. Those who blithely throw friendships to the winds, in the face of malicious gossip and communication misunderstandings, are becoming ‘end-users’ – they don’t care how you built it, they just want to use it while it’s working. And then, when it no longer works or becomes obsolete, they replace it with a newer model. The poetry about friends is ancient, amazing, and heart-wrenching. The stories of amazing friendships buoy us up and keep us afloat in turbulent waters. All of us can think of a special moment shared with a close friend. It may have happened 30 years ago, or happened yesterday. It warms our heart and makes our lives more joyful.
I have discovered that some friendships are based on false commitment. Some friendships are relationships based on commonality of purpose. We make friends because our kids are on the same little league team. When the season is over, we don’t see them. Until sign-ups the following season. We are friends because we are engaged in a common activity. But when we look deeper, we have nothing else in common and drift apart. Those sorts of friendships are bonds that are meant to be of a short duration. They fulfill a need for a time, but are not meant to be people we share our entire lives with. Those people are special, and they are very, very few.
And I am grateful. I have found true friends along the journey. Friends I have shared puberty and discovering make-up and high heels, and boys, with. Friends I have shared college and all those experiences with. And friends I have met in my career path, and through my marriage. Some of them will be with me always. But most will not be. I think that if I “can count on one hand, my true friends,” then I will be blessed beyond measure! God is good. And I know I am blessed when I can talk to a friend after a long stretch of time, and know that my friend has “got my back,” and totally gets me, without having to explain a thing.