The Gift of Friendship

The present global pandemic affects us all in one way or another – not just physically and economically, but psycho-emotionally as well. Mental health issues weigh heavily on many hearts and a good number grapple with issues of fear or anxiety, loneliness and depression.

Even without the pandemic, a relational hunger exists. We live in an age and culture where there is a necessity for efficiency or productivity. The flip side is a deficiency of intimacy, a lack of love and care, a deep sense of loneliness.

Mother Teresa once said: “The greatest disease today is not leprosy or cancer. It is the feeling of being uncared for, unwanted, and alone.” We live in a world that is dying for the lack of true community and of deep friendships. TS Eliot’s question, “What is life if you have not life together?” focuses, in a poignant manner, the agony and longing of man and woman in our time.

Thus, this reflection on the Gift of Friendship. It takes its cue from Ecclesiastes 4 as well as some salient points from a book, Understanding Relationships by Steve Duck.  

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 is my favorite passage for weddings, but the context is actually that of friendship. If you read the whole chapter, you will find a situation that is not very different from ours. It is one marked by the burden of work, oppression (where people are bullied and taken advantage of), and above all, loneliness. In the midst of these is an inspired reflection on friendship! How wonderful!

Verse 9 says, Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.”  Another version has it as: “They have good reward for their companionship.” What are the rewards or joys of friendship?

As the verse puts it, there is first, the ability to accomplish more – a good return for their labor – in other words, synergy. To serve or do things together, harnessing each other’s gifts and strengths, will undoubtedly result in better outcomes. John Wesley used to say: “Sir, you wish to serve God? Remember that you cannot serve him alone. You must find companions or make them; the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.”

A 2nd reward or joy of friendship is mutual support, warmth and protection. Author Kenneth Leech, puts it as “the gifts of sustenance, healing and growth.” Verses 10-12 reads: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.”

The 3rd joy of friendship is alluded in the second half of verse 12: A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” This is the hint of a spiritual presence as the third strand often refers to none other than God himself. He makes a marked difference in friendship and gives it stability and strength.

From a biblical angle, we have these joys and rewards of friendship – synergy, support, strength, sustenance, and spirituality. From a psychological angle, we have others, some overlapping with what is stated above. Social science researcher, Steve Duck, in his book, Understanding Relationships (Guildford Press, 1991), talks about what he calls the “provisions”of friendships. Briefly, friendship …

  1. Provides a sense of belonging and of reliable alliance. It gives us a sense of inclusion and the existence of a bond that can be trusted to be there for you when you need it.
  1. Gives emotional integration and stability. It provides the necessary anchor points for our opinions, beliefs and emotional responses.
  1. Opens up opportunities for communication about ourselves. Humans have a need for self-expression and self-disclosure, which is done most authentically in the presence of a friend.
  1. Offers practical assistance and physical support. Whether you need a ride to the airport, some help when you are sick or when your computer breaks down, a friend can render that offer what is needed.
  1. Gives assurance of our worth and value by allowing us to help another. We all have a need to be needed and our self-esteem is often connected to our ability to contribute to the wellbeing of another.
  1. Provides personality support. By this he means that we tend to become friends with people who understand and share our deepest values and convictions. We need to be assured that our thought-worlds are sound and reliable.

I wonder, as we reflect on the gift of friendship with its many joys and provisions – how does these sound to you? For those who have experienced these, we can indeed be grateful. And I hope you have expressed your appreciation to that friend(s). For others, you can pray for such, and better still, be that kind of friend that blesses others with these joys!