'A friend loveth at all times," says a verse from Proverbs in the Bible, "and a brother is born for adversity" (l7:17). This verse suggests that qualities such as brotherly love, consistency, loyalty, compassion, forgiveness - spiritual in nature because they come from God - form the bulwark of a lasting friendship.
To have a friend, we must be a friend. And, of course, although the friend in this verse is compared to a brother, there are plenty of sisters out there who stick with their friends through thick and thin!
I just got off the phone from talking to a friend. I wanted to say, while my joy was still fresh, how satisfied I felt with a project I'd just finished.
Yet my friend wasn't at the other end of the line as I talked. Since we work in the same large complex, we regularly leave each other voice-mail messages. Over the last three years, I've left other messages like this one, sharing a triumph, or perhaps just announcing that the pictures I had taken during my vacation were back from the camera store, and that I'd have them with me the next time we met for lunch.
I've also left a few messages that weren't so happy. Several months ago, when I was grieving so much that I didn't feel I could speak directly to anyone, I left this same friend a message saying that my dad had very suddenly passed on. I got back such a comforting and loving response.
Of course, we've had plenty of regular face-to-face dialogue as well. We've talked with each other about a range of events that cover the whole human spectrum - from good right on down to bad. I cherish this friendship deeply, and I know that the feeling is mutual.
But perhaps one of the reasons I'm so grateful for this particular friendship is that it is a gift that came to me in the middle of my life, when I really didn't think I needed to make more friends. I already had a large family, a spouse, and a very close "best" friend whom I've known since high school. And, like most people, I had professional colleagues, the kind of people you chat with in your spare moments while you're at work.
In fact, when my mother suggested years ago that she thought this individual and I should meet (my mother and this individual's mother were good friends), I pooh-poohed the idea. What could my mother possibly know about the kind of people who might belong in my life? Besides, I was perfectly satisfied with the people who were already there!
How wrong I was to close myself off from the blessing of this friendship for so long. And how very much I would have missed if this dear friend hadn't, after a number of years, been humble enough to take the bull by the horns and contact me! We were kindred spirits as soon as we started talking. Though our jobs are very different, the work we do and the talents we have are related. We both love gardens. We both love travel. We both read The New Yorker from end to end. And somehow, I think that the fact that our friendship was longed into being by our mothers has also helped to make us relatives of the soul.
My "new" friendship (it's actually about five years old now) continues to remind me of one of the greatest lessons in humility that I've ever had. "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly," says another verse in Proverbs. The verse then finishes, "And there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (18:24).
The woman who founded this newspaper knew the value of having a friend - and of being one as well. At times friendless herself, Mary Baker Eddy wrote in one very poignant section of her autobiography, "There are no greater miracles known to earth than perfection and an unbroken friendship" ("Retrospection and Introspection," pg. 80.)
I have learned that there isn't a moment in my life when I can afford not to be open to the "miracle" of friendship - not to actively express the spiritual qualities of friendship to every human being who enters my life.
Ointment and perfume
rejoice the heart: so doth the
sweetness of a man's friend
by hearty counsel.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society