The Necessity of Friendship
There is a word I’ve been thinking about recently, especially as I get older. The word is “friendship.” The word in ancient Greek is φιλαδελφία—philadelphia—not the city, but a characterization of the nature of love between two people. Sometimes the word is used to describe the love between a husband and wife. At other times it’s used for the love between siblings. In still other instances, it’s used to describe the deep relationship between people who are neither spouses, parents, nor siblings—friends. The love that defines friendship is deceptively simple and annoyingly complex, all at the same time. It is defined by an attraction, an affinity, a fondness, a rapport, an appreciation, and a willingness—a willingness to forego or sacrifice personal concerns in order to fulfill the needs of the other person.
In simpler terms, we categorize friendship as the enjoying process of keeping company with another person who makes us feel good about ourselves, or who challenges us to be better, or usually both. In return, we find deep fulfillment in helping that other person achieve his or her goals or meet his or her needs. There is a reciprocity in friendship that makes it special. We are “there” for each other even when other “acquaintances” may not be.
Created for Community
As we age and move out of the stage of our lives where our biological impulses tend to rule our relationships, our actual need for quality friendships increases. This is much more than simply being around people; it’s being with people who care about you and you about them. I have often stated my belief that people are created for community. Solitary existence outside of relationships with others leads to the malady of loneliness which, whether we realize it or not, leads to depression, despair, and death if we do not find a way to connect with others. We cannot grow or even survive in a healthy fashion without healthy friendships.
Jesus says in John 15:12-13, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Or look at John 13:35, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” Far too often have we seen these statements as directives regarding a Christian witness. However, I have come to view these, and other statements like them, not simply as discipleship directives, but rather as what it means to be a healthy human being. Connection to other people in loving friendships is like breathing and eating; we need that love. We need those people and those relationships. Those relationships not only give us a sense of acceptance and purpose, but they also help us understand who we are.
I have a really great young physical therapist friend. Although separated a bit generationally, we have connected and become good friends. Recently, when she found that I was having a bout with tendonitis, she dropped by my office and gave me a strap for tennis elbow to help with the pain. It was a day changer. Lots of smiles and wishes later she popped back out and went on with her day. And I was thankful for such a good friend. We need friends. They help us realize who we are and who we can be. That’s love. That’s friendship.