Friday, December 2, 2011

Friendship from the Christian Perspective

This is a wonderful article that I found HERE

Friendship from the Christian Perspective

by Dér Stépanos Dingilian, Ph. D. © 2001

One of the most important areas where the maturity in spirituality becomes apparent for these faithful is in the area of friendship. Here is what Addison states about the value of friendship: “Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joy, and dividing our grief.”

The Exalted Vision of Friendship - Perhaps one of the most needed persons in life, while also one of the most difficult to find is a good friend! Sometimes we forget that when Christ wanted to raise the standard of spiritual living for his Disciples, he told them something very interesting: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is doing. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (St. John 15:12-15) So from the perspective of Christ, being a ‘friend’ is no simple matter; it is a true commitment and responsibility! Henry Home adds this insight: “The difficulty is not so great to die for a friend, as to find a friend worth dying for.”

Helping at Time of Need – Human beings have a natural tendency to help others at time of need. So it is of no surprise that most friendships begin when one or both persons need help. Perhaps the best illustration of the way friends are expected to help at time of need is the story of the Good Samaritan, which you can find in the Gospel according to St. Luke verses 10:30-37. In this story, a traveling Jewish person is attacked by bandits, robed, and beaten, and left to die along the road. Christ points out that other travelers such as another Jewish person and even a Jewish spiritual leader, passed by but did not help this wounded person. Yet, a traveler who was a Samaritan, from a people who were generally considered to be enemies of the Jews, helped this Jewish person and even paid for his lodging so he can get rest and recover. The point that Christ makes is that ‘neighbors’ are truly those who help, rather than those who are simply tied through kinship or call themselves ‘servants of God.’ So the desire to help others at a time of need must surpass the kinship, title, and position. “Life has no blessing like a prudent friend,” observed Euripidies. In fact, the more unexpected is the source of help, the stronger is generally the friendship bond between two persons. Although, most meaningful friendships begin in this manner, yet unless two people demonstrate a sense of reciprocity towards each other, where they help one another at time of need, even what may have been considered a ‘friendship’ at the beginning fades away into being an ‘acquaintance.’ Emerson said “The only way to make a friend is to be one.” Still though, in order for a friendship to grow, the relationship must progress from two people needing each other’s help at time of need, to wanting to share their accomplishments together. This takes us to the next stage of friendship.

Sharing the Successes – Helping each other at times of need is certainly important for two people. However, if it remains so, it simply becomes a utilitarian relationship, meaning that people stay together in order to use each other’s abilities, and not because they care or have respect for each other. Though the friendship remains, but there is hardly any spiritual growth. Spiritual growth comes when two friends share their successes, and actually rejoice for the other’s success. “He is our friend who loves us more than admires us, and would aid us in our great work,” wrote William Ellery Channing.

One may think that two people ought to be happy for each other’s success, and that this is a very commonplace experience in friendships. Surprisingly though, this is not very common. As one parishioner told me once: “When you are in need, everyone pitches in to help you survive. But the minute you begin recovering and moving forward, then everyone pulls back, begins gossiping about you, and saying ‘look at his dumb luck!’” Although this was the observation of an Armenian farmer, yet it is an age-old reality that is described in the Bible, St. Luke 14:16-24. In this parable, a rich man gives a banquet and invites his neighbors. Do his neighbors come and rejoice with him? No! They all make excuses and do not come to the banquet. One of the points of this parable is that people generally do not want to see someone become better or more successful than they are. It is interesting in that many of these people neither want to work hard and excel themselves, nor do they want to give credit to someone else who works hard and excels! Not only do they have that sick attitude of striving for mediocrity, but worse, they stand in the way of those who want to reveal God’s goodness to humanity, and make life a more meaningful and fulfilling experience. For this reason Christ ends this parable by saying: “I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.” In other words, none of those people who oppress or stand in the way of others who want to serve God will ever get a taste of fulfillment or joy in life. Instead, they will remain miserable and pitiful, and die bored from suffocating in the stench of cowardice, mediocrity, and hypocrisy!

Therefore, in order for the relationship between two friends to grow, it must move beyond helping each other, and to creating an environment where both persons freely and with respect share their views, aspirations, and joys. Unless this joyous sharing takes place, the friendship remains a utilitarian one. Of course, one would think that there should be friendship and trust among the clergy. After all, they are called to be followers of Christ, and in so doing they must love each other and be friends. Recently I met one of my students and as we were talking, he said something that really struck me. He said, “Dér Hayr, do you remember all those things you taught us about loving each other, being friends, and cooperating together?” I said “Yes, I am glad you remembered all those principles that I taught, and I am pleased that you remembered that I emphasized those beliefs.” Then he continued, “While we were classmates we were friends and served together until we were ordained. The minute we were ordained, suddenly, our group of friends stopped trusting each other! We were the same people, yet we stopped trusting each other. Can you tell me why that happened?” The reason is jealousy! Although not all clergy have this experience, but “Jealousy is the sister of love, as the devil is the brother of angels,” wrote Boufflers, and clergy as much as laity are vulnerable to this temptation. Most friendships stop growing at the stage of Helping, and do not attain the stage of Sharing because of jealousy. Oh yes, some people do share – but what they share is the gossip about others! That is not true joyous sharing, but rather sharing in each other’s misery. As the saying goes: “Misery loves company!” The Spiritually Mature persons respect such friendships, but they neither trust them, nor invest a great deal of spiritual energy in them. They know that the person who will be gossiping to you about another person today, will be gossiping about you to that person tomorrow! The Spiritually Mature know that very few friendships ever get to the level of trustful sharing of joyous successes and visions! When they find such a relationship, they nurture it and cherish it!

Lasting nature of friendship Developing a friendship where joyous visions are shared as described above is difficult enough. However, maintaining such a relationship over the years is even more difficult. Socrates wrote “Be slow to fall into friendship; but when you are in it, continue firm and constant.” Usually complacency takes over a friendship, or excuses become the norm of conversation. Eventually, the “out of sight, out of mind” principle darkens the beaming light that guided the friendship. For this reason, the Spiritually Mature know that a friendship is not just for a short time, but rather over a lifetime. They also know that such friendships are very few in a lifetime. True friendships take decades to build, but few unwise and jealous words destroy a friendship in minutes. The Spiritually Mature know that true friendships are so rare, that they must be God sent, because they require all the attributes required of a Christian - true love, commitment, trust, and praying for one another’s well being and success! Robert South, a British minister wrote, “A true friend is the gift of God, and He only who made hearts can unite them!”

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