The other day Michele and I were having a conversation about the subject of friendship. We got into a discussion about what exactly it means to be a friend. Our discourse got me thinking about how to maintain a basic relationship. Seems like a pretty obvious subject, right? Well I'm convinced that the obvious subjects are the ones we most take for granted and thereby examine the least.
Relationship is about loving one another. Have you ever heard the passage from first Corinthians chapter thirteen about love? If you have ever been in attendance at a wedding you probably have, even if the reference doesn't immediately bring it to mind. Here is an excerpt from the chapter that most relates to today's post:
"Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…" 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a.
Love rejoices in the truth…
The older I get the more I see that love is about knowing the truth. Michele loves me because she knows me, or maybe more accurately I could say that she loves me in spite of knowing me. She knows me and still chooses to love me. That is true love. If you've ever seen the MTV program The Real World you probably are familiar with the voiceover at the beginning of all the episodes, "…what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real…" (As an aside I am NOT promoting The Real World, though it used to be a pretty good social experiment in the first season or two now it's pretty awful.) What this refers to is the honeymoon stage. You've come across those couples--either newlywed or newly dating that have never had an argument and are intending on living in a magical land of rainbows, unicorns, and rainbow-colored unicorns. Those couples are cute huh? Nauseating, but cute. But they don't stay that way, nor should they. Eventually reality hits… he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed or she gets stuck in one of those moods. But that's okay, because as The Real World accurately points out, that is when politeness gives way to reality. Love is accurately seeing reality and still choosing to press on through despite the inherent challenges. Love is truth--recognizing that the good outweighs the bad and that anything worth having is also worth working at.
But this isn't just about romantic relationships, love is required in all friendships. If we choose to bail whenever we come to a point of actually seeing the truth about the other then we will never have any actual friendships. We may be good at cultivating nice polite acquaintances, but they won't ever become real friendships because we will drop them before they ever get close enough for reality. Friendships require love. Love requires truth. Truth requires authenticity. Authentic friendships reveal reality, warts and all. We begin to see that rainbow-colored unicorns still have digestive tracts that produce extremely scented waste. Love means being vulnerable to hurt, and pain, and forgiveness, and new beginnings, and odor.
The Corinthians passage reveals to us the truth about love. Love is about serving needs other than our own. By bearing all things, enduring all things, remaining faithful and kind we are transferring our focus and attention from ourselves toward another. We don't insist on our own way, but instead seek out the best for the object of our affection. (Before reading on, please see the footnote below.) The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi sums up love exceptionally well: "Oh Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life." The opposite of love is impatience, cruelty, arrogance, selfishness. It is about getting rather than giving… using rather than providing… talking rather than listening.
In the end friendship is about our love of the other. Jesus gives us a good model of friendship in John 15:13, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." A love of sacrifice and giving is the greatest love possible. After reading this, do you have any friends? Are you a friend to anyone else? Are you able to focus on the other? Or are you a martyr who can focus on the other but can't be vulnerable enough for anyone else to focus on you? Tough questions I know. While I love discussion in the comments I understand if some of these questions are a bit too personal. That having been said if you are a brave soul your words may be ones that help someone else in a very similar situation as you.
Footnote: This post needs to be read from the proper context. Blogposts like this one can be used to do more harm than good if channeled in the wrong directions. Abuse is a very real thing. This post is NOT being written to the victims of abuse. There are times when we need to respect ourselves enough to insist on our own way, times when we need to do anything BUT seek out the needs of the other. If you are currently a victim of abuse the best love you can now demonstrate is the love of self. If this is you, please call 1.877.448.8676 for help.