Friending (The Art of Friendship)

This 3rd part of my reflection on friendship may be one you are anticipating: How do we make this happen? How do we cultivate meaningful and deep friendships? How do we make friends and make them count? In simpler terms, “friending.”

My reflection draws its source from the book, Friending, by Lynn Baab (IVP, 2011). In her book, Baab embraces all the challenges and opportunities that accompany its practice in our day and age. This includes the changing nature of friendship in a networked society, where relationships are increasingly cultivated and sustained through social media. She offers guidelines and multiple examples of the way close relationships can be maintained and deepened through Facebook and other Internet connections.

This reflection, however, does not draw from such content but more from her emphasis of friending as a process. I too prefer the use of this word, as it depicts action (a verb), rather than just a passive description (a noun).

Most, if not all of us are familiar with the Parable of the Good Samaritan; it’s well-known and well-loved. The main focus is on the man who was beaten and robbed, and the Samaritan’s help. Note that the expert of the law was asking “who” is my neighbour? (category of people) but Jesus’ answer emphasized the category of actions that are neighbourly. The challenge then is not to figure out who fits in the category of a neighbour, or who is needy – but when and how to act in a neighbourly fashion – how to be a neighbour, how to be a friend.

The challenge in friendship then, is to grow in ability to act like a friend, the intentional practices that help us grow in our ability to be a friend. Thus too, I have chosen to draw from Baab a couple of action steps she suggested to help us cultivate friendships.

Initiating: The 1st step in building friendship she reckons, is the willingness to take initiative. It may mean making some response when you know someone has an injury or surgery or is in the hospital; or to listen when someone is going through a crisis like a divorce, a job loss or a miscarriage. Or it may simply be remembering to pray for a friend’s needs.

The story of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke 1-2 is a good example. Mary took the initiative to visit Elizabeth when she heard that Elizabeth was expecting and stayed three months with her. Can you imagine the comfort and assurance they received from each other? They probably shared many things, including their fears and hopes, God’s goodness and sovereignty. It benefitted both – gave strength and resilience.

Listening: The 2nd step or process is obviously that of listening. A well-known theologian, Paul Tillich, once said that “the first duty of love is to listen.” The primary language of love is undivided attention, and an essential friendship skill is listening. Someone said that “attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”; it’s a form of intentionality that will surely bear fruit – the fruit of good understanding, or, in our counselling terms, empathy. Listening skills here include using body language – eye contact, nodding, leaning a bit forward, all these showing attentiveness. And using verbal sounds like, Uh-huh, Hmm.

I should also add that asking Qs and giving words of affirmation should also be included in listening. Here are some examples: I see what you mean … I can understand how you feel … Wow, that sounds amazing! … Tell me more … How did you feel when that happened? … It sounds like you are saying you were more scared than you’d ever been before.

Remembering: A 3rd step forward is remembering. Remembering enables us to follow up appropriately. Here are a couple of simple examples: Last time we talked, you said you were beginning a big project at work. Are you still in the middle of it or is it finished? How did it go? In your Facebook post about a month ago, you mentioned your son was sick. How is he now? Remembering makes a difference; it shows that we care.

Last year (2020) I sustained a couple of fractures on my ribs during the Circuit Breaker. I fell from my bike, thanks to a pile of leaves that weren’t swept away because of the lack of migrant workers doing jobs that spoilt Singaporeans won’t want to do! In any case, I was on medical leave for two weeks. When I came back, a good number of my colleagues ask that Q: How are your ribs? Maybe they were thinking of the ribs they missed from a steakhouse(!), but I was heartened that they remembered.

Praying: Finally, without much need for elaboration, is that of praying. Praying cements that person and the concern in our hearts and minds because praying for something gives a level of investment in the outcome. We also learn to listen and remember better by praying!

You have heard it said that to have a friend, you need to be a friend. The question is not, “have I any friends?” (a noun) but “am I friendly?” (a verb). Friending is intentional [just as we have intentional discipleship, we should also have, intentional friending!]. In intentional friending, you take the initiative, you listen and pay attention, you ask questions, you affirm understanding or show empathy, you remember or follow-up, you pray, and you take action.