Friendship is not optional.

I have a rare gift.  4 of them actually.

I have 4 best friends from college.  We have been a part of each other’s lives for well over a decade.  Nearly every major event of my adult life includes them.  It doesn’t matter how much time passes between our conversations or trips.  We usually have 1-2 weekends together each year, which is no small feat considering our schedules, careers, families and geography!  And if you were to ask what we do when together, the locale may change from time to time, but the content is the same:  thorough updates from each of us with Q&A to follow, an obscene amount of junk food, retelling the same stories we’ve been telling for the last 12-15 years, laughing until we cry, and sometimes a little crying until we can laugh again.

I don’t get excited about much, generally speaking, but the 4-5 days that precede a girls’ weekend, I am positively giddy. The moment I set eyes on those girls, I am home.

We’ve grown a lot over the years.  We are different women now than the college girls we were at the turn of the century.  Our interests, opinions, theology, and politics are not the common ground.  (Which is really fortunate for me, otherwise I’d be quite the black sheep, I think!)  I’m honestly not sure that there is a lot of “common ground” these days outside of a deep love for Jesus and for each other.  Somehow, that makes the friendship that much sweeter to me.  It is not out of convenience or proximity or hobbies that our friendship endures.  It is the faithfulness, investment and simple joy of each other’s company that bounds us together.

A few years ago I stumbled upon this Henri J.M. Nouwen quote: ““When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

I immediately sent it to those 4 women.  We have walked together through death and through new life; through moments of absolute celebration and seasons of complete devastation and everything in between.  They embody all that I know to be true and beautiful about friendship and faithfulness.

I say all of this to simply say:  Friendship is really important.  It can be tempting to consider friendship as optional, as luxury.  Many of us have healthy familial relationships and would say our spouse or our parents are our dearest friends.  That is a rich blessing, indeed.  However, the very definition of friend is:  “a person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection, typically exclusive of sexual or family relations.”  We need a handful of people who aren’t bound by blood or covenant to love us, but who do so really well anyway.

Who knows you?  Whose advice do you value more than others? Who do you want by your side when you receive the best and the worst of news? Who is going to sit in the silence of a difficult moment with you?  Who is going to say the hard thing you don’t want to hear, but desperately need to hear?  Who’s company leaves you encouraged and hopeful?  Who are the people that make you feel most like yourself, but inspire you to be all the more so?  Who keeps you sane?

Those are your friends, or at least your potential friends.  You may not have a childhood best friend or someone who has known you for a dozen years and could anticipate your every thought or inclination before you could.  That’s ok!  New friendships bring a joy of their own.  You might be in a new season of life and some old friendships aren’t enduring and it feels like starting from scratch.  You may not know who you’d call or who would come running with no questions asked.   In those times, instead of busying yourself with another distraction, think and pray about who you would want to answer your call.  Who would you like to be sitting next to you on the couch? Pursue her. Pursue him. (Yes, friendship is essential for men, too!)  If you are in a relationship and friendship can be found in another couple, pursue them! Pursuit is the point here!

My 4 aren’t my only 4.  Moving to Charlotte six years ago created a need for community and friendship that could be found within at least a 30-45 minute radius!  And while it’s rarely “easy” to me to reach out, I have to remind myself that it’s good for me. It’s worth it.  It’s worth the risk; it’s worth the investment.  It’s worth pushing past the awkwardness, digging deeper than the casual conversation.  The discovery of a treasured friend far outweighs the effort it took to get there.

I consider my dearest friends among my richest blessings as I feel completely undeserving of each of them.  I do not call as often as I should.  I rarely remember birthdays or anniversaries.  (And if I do, the card sits on my desk for months and never gets mailed!) I am full of good intentions and execute only a fraction of them.  I feel like I fail them more than I life them up most of the time.  Yet, by God’s grace, they remain.

True friendship is not optional, if for no other reason than we need the constant reminder of our most gracious and loving Friend that is found in the face of another.

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