"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Do We Really Choose Our Friends?

By Micky Wolf

There is a moment in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee when the character Jem says: “You can choose your friends but you sho' can't choose your family, an' they're still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge 'em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don't.”

Clearly, we do not choose our biological family, or the one we may have been adopted into as an infant or small child. Conversely, it is interesting how many of us believe we choose our friends. Is this really true, or is something else afoot in this witty play of words?

The meaning of friendship may vary depending upon how people understand friend relationships, although most of us agree that to be a friend is more than being an acquaintance. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary; a friend is a favored companion

Scripture has a lot to say about friends and friendship. There are exhortations to love at all times, listen and accept instruction, understand loving friend relationship as iron sharpening iron. The darker side of human nature is also addressed: bad company ruins good morals, do not be deceived, the companion of fools will suffer harm.

You will often hear married people or friends comment: “wow, opposites really do attract, we are so different from one another, yet we know we are definitely supposed to be together”; or “I knew she/he was the one the day we met.” Or “I felt like I had so much in common with this person from the very first moment.” There seems little doubt when we sense and feel a deep connection to another human being. Interestingly enough, we seem much more accepting of the possibility of a Divine influence in marital relationships than with friendships. 

“I choose my own friends, thank you very much.”

If we really believe this statement is true, we are missing a significant point—those people we consider to be our friends is contingent upon their entering our lives in the first place. If we really believe that it is within our power to make that determination, we are probably dealing with personal control issues rather than recognizing the authority of God. It is certainly true that developing friendships with specific people is one that requires our active participation, but all of that happens after that first encounter. 

Some people believe many of life’s experiences can be credited to serendipity—discovering something of meaning or value that is not sought after. Others credit the fates or chance as playing the largest part in determining who we meet.

Being a friend and friendship, through the example of Jesus, is a far different experience. We may believe we are calling the shots. However, if we are honest we begin to see God’s presence in the guise of life circumstances and events as opening the door through which various people enter our lives. As Christians, how else can we account for the extraordinary range of personalities we find in our midst?

Am I suggesting God sits in the Heavenlies, fully aware as only God can be, of the nuances and details that make up each and every unique person who inhabits planet Earth, intentionally serving as the be-all-end-all matchmaker of the universe? Yes. Why? Because if we are willing to believe God is a big enough God to create our world, all that is in it and everything beyond, then it is not a far stretch to acknowledge He knows each of us so well [Matthew 10:29-31] He is fully aware of the people who will be the greatest blessing to us—and for whom we will be a blessing in return. 

Choose: To select freely and after consideration [Merriam Webster Dictionary]

What we do in relationship with the people God brings into our lives, after that first encounter, is up to us. The choices we make, the ways in which we learn to give and receive, wound or forgive, encourage or ignore, all contribute to the richness and beauty, the absence or presence, even the duration of meaningful friendship.

We learn some interesting insights about Jesus as we reflect on his modeling friendship:

  • He did not call the twelve “friends” until the last days of his life and ministry—after he had spent nearly three years with them
  • While he walked in loving friendship with the twelve, three individuals were especially close to him
  • One of the nearest and dearest of his friends betrayed him in his greatest hour of need
  • One of his circle of twelve turned him over to his persecutors
  • He lay down his life for his friends
God does not demand we be a friend or make friends with each and every person who comes into our life. At the same time, we may risk, at our own peril, missed experiences of personal and mutual growth, healing, peace and joy, by prematurely choosing to include or exclude those we consider potential friends. And that is only the beginning. Friendships, not unlike marriages, will pass through the honeymoon phase of sweetness and bliss, but eventually, as with marriage, be faced with the bumpy, heart-jolting places that are part of any life. Reciprocity, commitment, and forgiveness will always be paramount to sustaining friendship, in or apart from marriage.

Am I in the business of deciding who will be my friends, or
do I surrender my will to God in opening doors for friendship to develop?

Why did Jesus wait so long to call the twelve friends?

Have I experienced betrayal in friendship? What choices did I make?

Do past experiences of hurting another or being hurt affect how I am a friend today?

What does it mean for me to lay down my life for my friends?

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