March 26, 2010

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Thinking about God’s kind of friendship

Cynthia DewesSomeone once gave us a plaque that read, “Friends are the family you choose for yourself.”

Naturally, the giver was a dear friend of ours and we certainly understood the sentiment she expressed. Friends are such an important part of belonging to the family of God.

Christ in his humanity demonstrated this fondness for friends when he visited Martha, Mary and Lazarus and dined with others. He felt such human grief and sympathy when his friend Lazarus died that he miraculously raised him from the dead.

He even performed a miracle in the name of friendship “before his time had come” at the wedding in Cana. His mother, sensing the host’s embarrassment upon running out of wine, asked her son to do something about it, and he did. Now, that’s a real friend for you!

We seem to have an inborn desire to enjoy the company of others.

Babies play separately, but take obvious comfort in being side-by-side while doing it. Later, they begin to interact, first with siblings and later with kids in the wider world. School, sports, extended family gatherings and other occasions provide further experience as they grow, and eventually they find themselves a part of a circle of compatible friends.

Teenagers tend to think friends are more important than family, especially more than mom or dad. They will listen to their pals’ opinions and ignore, or defy, their parents’ advice. Then they are amazed, upon reaching their 20s, to discover how wise their parents are and what good friends they have become to them.

The parent/child relationship is naturally centered on direction by parents, and the acceptance of parental authority by children. It’s not a relationship of equals, which always makes me suspicious of people who say they are “friends” with their kids. It’s only in adulthood that both parties realize that the old dynamic has changed into real friendship—which is when Mom finally stops telling her son to wear a coat because it’s cold out.

Sometimes friends we made early on last for life. I have kindergarten pals whom I see only occasionally, but when I do we never feel less intimate or suffer an awkward moment. True friendship lasts forever. Of course, that’s because friendship is founded upon love, and we all know that true love lasts forever.

Friendship is based on mutual trust and loyalty and, like love, can sometimes be stubbornly unrealistic. That’s when we realize a friend has betrayed us or that they are not the person we thought they were.

Perhaps the guy we loved to party with in our teenage years never seems to grow up so we just don’t have much in common anymore. Or maybe the colleague whose success we admired turns out to be doing something illegal. Whatever it is, it’s always a surprise and a disappointment when a friend lets us down.

Imagine how bad Jesus must have felt when he knew Judas would betray him. Here was a disciple, a friend who had shared good times and bad, not only turning him in, but also damning himself by his own action. But Jesus was a good friend and may have forgiven him, as he forgave Peter for denying him three times.

We can learn friendship from the example of God, who eternally listens to, shares with, helps, inspires, stands by, and forgives us.

And we can try to do the same for our friends here on Earth.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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