The Definition of Friendship

 

I know a girl who, when she was in grade school, was asked to write down the name of her best friend in the class on a slip of paper. Her teacher instructed everyone in the class to…but she refused. That same teacher later called the

girl’s mother to tell her that out of all of the slips from the rest of the class the little girl’s name appeared the most; the girl who refused to choose one, to say one person as a best friend was a best friend to so many others. They called her their best friend. Maybe they didn’t have anyone else. Things are so simple in childhood, and yet they are echoes of what is to come.  That girl isn’t little anymore, she’s all grown up, and she feels so alone. Life is tragic, and so often I’ve found that though each of us are surrounded by people most of us feel alone, misunderstood, friendless… Through 7 cups, through everyday encounters in the workplace, in my people place (the school), on facebook. This truth keeps recurring–this overwhelming feeling of aloneness that overcomes the minds of individuals, despite our connected culture, despite our interactions, despite all the best friends catchphrases, and the images we paste on social media of us smiling and surrounded by people, I have come to the realization that most of us feel alone.

I wonder if this is different from, say, ten years ago when life was slower and connections, though fewer, were perhaps more meaningful with depth, or maybe this is an occurrence that has been as pervasive as now ever since man’s fall in the Garden of Eden? Do all of ya’ll have any thoughts on that? Loneliness will not exist in Heaven. What a sweet, relieving thought. But for now it must be dealt with in the long nights, yes, but also in the days when we paste on our happy face whilst surrounded by people, when we practice our small talk skills exchanging recipes and meaningless anecdotes in the attempt to make conversation, doing our best to keep deep or controversial things left by the wayside.  That’s a pet peeve of mine. What is the point of interaction void of meaning? It’s stupid. Chitchat is ridiculous. Let’s talk about the meaning of life not the salad dressing you made for last night’s dinner. Mayhap I’m weird, and thus alone. Depth scares people, I think. But I’ve found it can also attract them. Ask people about themselves and as they grow to trust you they’ll talk for hours. Ask about their struggles and their thoughts and fears. That, for me, is an engaging conversation, that is something worth taking time to talk about.

How do you make friends? How do you find friends? What are you guys’ thoughts on that? Do you feel alone? Do you have friends? Do you feel that most of the friendships in your life are one way, or that both parties are really making an effort? I really don’t have the answers on this topic, but I have lots and lots of questions. There are many friendship related experiences and stories jumbled up in my head besides the one I shared, but that doesn’t mean I know how to make them into a cohesive whole. By now you probably know that conclusive blog posts are not a specialty of mine. On one hand I suppose it doesn’t matter if one can pinpoint the moment when someone becomes more than an acquaintance, when they become a true friend, but on the other hand maybe it does… I suspect that each of us have different definitions for that word “friendship”; I’ve been told that my definition is a rather large set of shoes to fill. I guess we just all expect the other person to go to the lengths we would go, which really isn’t reasonable.  We don’t all speak the same love language, and even when we do love someone and try to speak their love language we are not fluent in it. That is a paraphrase of some of what she said in this post , which was specifically meant to address romantic relationships, but I think that thought applies to the topic of friendship as well. At least, I hope that you could say that your significant other is a friend of yours, if not maybe there is something wrong.

For me, I have found that most of my friends walk a very different path in life than I do. If I’m honest, many of those I talk to on a day to day basis (mostly via social media, though I have met most of them) are not Christians. One that is has drastically different theological views on the topic of predestination and such than I do, another that is is a Catholic who was recently confirmed in the church, but I’m not sure how much she applies of what she knows about God. Judge those things as you will…They know I am Christian. I know people who say your best friends should all be Christians, but I ask them: What happens when things don’t quite work out that way? To a point, yes, you can choose your friends, but most Christians I know are too busy to have time to invest in a friendship with me, and I take what I can get. If “what I can get” is nonChristians is that a crime? Are they somehow lesser friends? I think not. They know my faith and they respect it, some come to me with questions and struggles, some are even yet hesitant to open up. Many of my friendships could be considered one sided…I know a lot about my friends and invest in getting to know them and they don’t know a whole lot about what I’m going through, but part of that is my fault. On one hand I am vulnerable and open, but on another I suppose you could say I’m a hard egg to crack. I like that I confuse people sometimes, I like having an air of mystery, so my aloneness may be self imposed. Maybe that is the case for others too? In any case, this post has gone on for long enough. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Categories: Ponderings | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “The Definition of Friendship

  1. Interesting topic.

    The Bible says “God is love” and though it is not put in such simple terms in biblical text I don’t think it is inaccurate to also say “God is friendship.” If you want a simple definition of love which is at the same time profound beyond our ability to full plumb, then there you have your definition of friendship.

    That said, just about anyone with a decent understanding of the NT knows that there are several Greek words that are translated into English as love. In English we use “love” to encompass a lot. The English word has a lot of ambiguity that is clarified only by context. You say that you “love your brother” do you mean that you want to get in the sack with your brother like Amon and Tamar, or do you mean something else? We understand what you mean by the context of your usage–but the Greeks would have different words whereby you could to explicitly state what kind of “love” you meant by word choice. The same vaugeness is true of the English word “Friend.” I don’t know off the top of my head if there are several Greek words that are all translated into the English “Friend” but I am confident there are other languages which have words to define relationships in a more specific way that our English generality of “friend.”

    The context of the use of “friend” in English defines what kind of “friend” we are talking about. Sometimes, people even make this distinction explicit. You can hear people talk about their “school friends” and there “church friends” and their “work friends” and maybe their “sport friends.” By doing so people are trying to clumsily explain what kind of relational reality is existing toward those distinct groups of people under the broad word “friend.”

    At the basic level, the word “friend” has the meaning of “someone you know better than an acquiantence and, in knowing them better than an acquiantenece they have not become your enemy.” But that is an incredibly broad word meaning and internally we don’t typically think about our relationship to people in such a vast category–thus we invent the fumbly unconcious attempts at categories of “close” friends, “special” friends, or whatever.

    Growing up I didn’t think about the semantic intent of the word “friend” I just had this feeling that “friend” must mean some awesome special relationship. I made “friend” a mighty big pair of boots to fill, and since there was never any grand music and a light shining from heaven when I interacted with anybody I figured I didn’t have friends. I created such a particular imagined idea of what a “friend” was that none ever existed.

    My use of “friend” became a problem when I grew up and began to have more interaction with the rest of the world. I realized that socially if I knew someone to a certain degree simply calling them an “acquitance” was the equivalent of insulting them. So I found myself in a social bind. It certainly wasn’t right to introduce someone, “This is my enemy John Doe” and I percieved that it wasn’t even accurate to introduce someone as “This is my acquiantence John Doe” when really I knew them better than that. But I didn’t feel like these people reached that awesome category I had reacted in my mind which defined “friend.” This was the impetus for me to re-examine my use of the term “friend.”

    I still have these inner feelings about how there are special groups of people (what words should be used to define them?) but in conversation I try to make it a habit of calling people whom I know better than an aquiantance, and with whom I am on good terms, “friends.” By default, that is how I have come to terms with the vague use of the English language.

    I am still very annoyed that Facebook has completely destroyed all meaning of the word “friend.” But that is a different rant.

    While what I have just said is my default for how I use the term “friend,” I do recognize that the context of conversation can imply different particular meanings. Sometimes the word “friend” is used to denote someone who is admired, who we desire to emulate, or who is a confidant.

    This variety is the use and intent of the word friend can cause a lot of confusion. If by “friend” I mean, “seeking the good of that person” then I would say “Christians should be friends with all” and by that I would mean, “Christians should seek the good of all.” But I might be speaking to someone who is understanding the word “friend” to mean “someone whom we admire and wish to emulate” and such a person would violently disagree with me because they would think I was saying, “Christians should admire and emulate all people”

    So with people who say, “Your best friends should all be Christians” I have to ask “what is meant by friend?” Depending on what someone is meaning by their use of “friend” I might, or might not, agree with the statement.

    ******

    You ask, “I wonder if this is different from, say, ten years ago when life was slower and connections, though fewer, were perhaps more meaningful with depth, or maybe this is an occurrence that has been as pervasive as now ever since man’s fall in the Garden of Eden?” I think all of the above. The heart of aloneness can be traced back to the fall in Eden, and this is why God with us forever in the new Jerusalem is the final answer provided at the end of Revelation. Then is when aloneness will be utterly banished with the fulfillment of all company and friendship.

    However, we can see particular examples of the ill of Eden’s fall in our particular time and place. While there are many advantages to the ease of communication found in this internet age, I think it is evident that it has also aided the trend toward increasingly shallow communication and relationships. What I see so much on Facebook is like a parody of what friendship ought to be. So yes, culturally there has been a trend in the last twenty years. But even broader than that I don’t think the social fabric of the USA is condusive to a deep understanding of friendship. I remember reading a book where there was an anecdote about how Christians from our country would go for a short term missions trip to Africa and after those few weeks the Americans would think they were the “best friends” with the Africans they had worked with, and this was utterly bizzarre to the Africans because for them you didn’t become “best friends” after working together for a few weeks. The American culture associates “friendship” with the result of some emotional high resulting from a period of soclial engagement while other cultures understand it as a much deeper, slower, and long term process. There are some strengths in the individualist bent of American culture, but I think the weaknesses of the same is found in the typical poverty of understanding the true depth and nature of rich friendships.

    All that being said, I don’t think earthly friendship is ever (at the end of the day) any true cure for loneliness. As Proverbs 14:10 says, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy.” Friendship can be a wonderful and good thing, but friendship will never overcome that truth. I think many friendships break under the weight of trying to overcome the truth contained in Proverbs 14:10, when no friendship can do that. Friendship is a means to be blessed, and blessed others, but it is not a tool for banishing loneliness and when we try to use it to that end we just end up damaging or destroying the friendship. (Cue a multitude of “needy friend” stories.)

    ******

    You said, “That’s a pet peeve of mine. What is the point of interaction void of meaning? It’s stupid. Chitchat is ridiculous. Let’s talk about the meaning of life not the salad dressing you made for last night’s dinner. Mayhap I’m weird, and thus alone. Depth scares people, I think […] That, for me, is an engaging conversation, that is something worth taking time to talk about.” I agree! So maybe we will have some interesting conversations in the near future 😉

    When you tossed out the questions, “How do you make friends? How do you find friends? What are you guys’ thoughts on that? Do you feel alone? Do you have friends? Do you feel that most of the friendships in your life are one way, or that both parties are really making an effort?” I was struck by how some of those questions would get vastly different answers from the introverts and extroverts in your audience. I am an admitted introvert. I don’t make or find friends. All the friends I have found in life–whether close or only passing–have all seemed to be strange and mysterious accidents. For me, trying to “make” or “find” friends feels really weird, like being fake or putting on a pretense or something. This is, no doubt, my introversion showing. My general principle has been to try to honestly be myself, and to whatever degree people around me appreciate the person I am they can be my friend.

    A lot more could be explored on this topic but I better stop for now.

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has struggled not to offend people by calling them acquaintances, yet also not to imply a greater relationship than is present by using “friend.” English needs some kind of a word for the in between state of being…I wonder if other languages have one?

      I could expound on my feelings on Facebook’s use of the term “friend”, but I doubt we’d agree fully, so as you said that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms for a different time. But gah… you also said that you see the facebook friend world as “a parody of what friendship ought to be.” Suffice it to say in defense of facebook that it is what you make of it. My experience with facebook friendship has not always proven your statement to be true, actually I would say that usually I have found it to be the opposite of what you said whereas my real life “friendships” tend to feel more fake to me…again, for the most part. There are exceptions to every rule, and, of course, our opinions are based on personal experience, which for us seems to have differed vastly. Anyhow, enough about that.

      Something you said that I do agree with, and that really resonated with me: “Friendship is a means to be blessed, and blessed others, but it is not a tool for banishing loneliness and when we try to use it to that end we just end up damaging or destroying the friendship.” I have seen the truth of this over and over and over, thought I doubt I could have reduced that truth to such a succinct sentence. Very true, and very well said… Even knowing this though, it is very easy to subconsciously seek that fulfillment which friendship cannot bring through the avenue of friendship. It’s something I have to watch myself on. The best moments in friendship, I think, give us a taste of Heaven and fulfillment and true joy, which may be what keeps us seeking fulfillment (or the removal of loneliness) through friendship. Those magical moments that I treasure are sometimes enough to bait me into seeking friendship as almost a drug, or a cure, and that it is not. God is the cure, and even then we shall never be fully cured while in this broken world.

      Finally, as to the difference between extrovert and introvert friend making (sorry Ti-Ti, if you’re reading this…despite your hate of that term I couldn’t think of another way to put it well), I have seen that quite clearly through the differences in the friend-seeking techniques of my sister and me. Though I wouldn’t consider myself fully extrovert, my methods for making friends are very different. You may have seen our discussion on Pinterest under a shirt pic I posted for the quote on it, which reminded me of her? If not here’s the link to it (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/573505333773681627/), maybe you’ll relate.

      Anyhow, that’s all for now. Going to work soon… Looking forward to meeting you, my “online friend”, in person this week. That’s something I’ve never done before– met someone I know well online in person–so maybe that will add to my thoughts on friendship and facebook friends and blog friends. I suppose we shall see.

      • (not sure if this is replying what I meant to reply to, but–)

        Hah! The “making friends” thing bothers me because the phrase itself implies our fault if friends don’t happen. Maybe you aren’t *good enough* and making friends; maybe you *don’t know how* to make friends. Maybe you aren’t trying hard enough, maybe you’re doing it all wrong! I just don’t believe that. Friendship is as mysterious as seeds sprouting, and sometimes it happens when you thought it wouldn’t and doesn’t when you thought it was a sure thing. Friendship building is a lot more of a mouthful, though, so I don’t blame anyone for avoiding the phrase, and I can’t say I really hold it against anyone using the term “making friends.” I do think it gives a faulty impression of responsibility, though.

        (Also, I scrounge Pinterest, too, and I’m glad you & your mom enjoy my post; although it was inspired by your original post, I figure once they get that lengthy, they’re strong enough to stand alone, too, hence the link-comment.)

      • I agree that Facebook (and all of the internet) is what you make of it, so no argument from me if your experience has been quite good. May it always be so. My own personal experience with FB has not been so bad as my comment–but I have been very aware of, and cautious about, the pitfalls. It seems like every time I turn around there is another study coming out about how FB feeds narcissist behavior. And it seems there is an endless supply of people posting “A true friend will like this post” or something similiar. From my observation for a lot of people FB is a tool to fish for superfical affirmation (which is pretty well a parody of real friendship).

        Also, to be clarify for anyone else reading these comments who might misunderstand, when I said that friendship “is not a tool for banishing loneliness” I was not saying that friendship never has the benefit of allievating loneliness. Sometimes it does. (I know you didn’t misunderstand, but in re-reading what I said I saw how someone might have taken what I said more hashly than I meant it.)

        Even knowing this though, it is very easy to subconsciously seek that fulfillment which friendship cannot bring through the avenue of friendship […] Those magical moments that I treasure are sometimes enough to bait me into seeking friendship as almost a drug, or a cure, and that it is not” Right. True for me as well. True about many other things besides friendship, too. All of those kinds of temptations we face come back to the danger of worshipping and seeking a good thing instead of the Giver.

        About the Pinterest t-shirt…I don’t think I saw that one before. It’s a funny saying–probably true for some people, but I don’t think really for me. Sometimes I feel less lonely being alone. (Perhaps that sound really weird.) It’s when I go out and join the world, and have all those people around me, that I feel most alone. Nothing like a bunch of people to make me feel terribly alone. Maybe that’s because of what I see. Maybe its because I’m an introvert. But whatever the reason I’ve never imagined the world to be the answer to my loneliness. Now, some awesome person (or a few people) out there lost in the sea of the world…in my imaginings that might be the answer to the loneliness. Not that it is, but that would be the story I might tell myself.

  2. Um. . .am I going to get kicked out of the party if I want to know about the salad dressing?

    Don’t worry; culinary interests aside, my familial verbosity lives on: http://www.cloudydaywriting.com/2015/friend/

    Also, I admit it’s an amusement to see how many 3 or more syllable words I can use; they just roll off the tongue so nicely, but I think sometimes it gives my writing a formal or archaic feel.

    • Haha, no, we’ll keep you. It’s just my intolerance for salad showing…unless it’s jello or fruit salad. If it had been a cookie recipe it may have piqued my interest. 😉

      I really really enjoyed your post, and plan on replying, probably tomorrow. My mom read it and enjoyed it as well. A while back I had someone do a response “post” as a Vlog, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually had a typed one. Glad the post was thought provoking enough for you to share your take.

      Have to share your enthusiasm for writing with fun words, and for writing late at night. I love the times when the thoughts just flow out on paper. My vocabulary skills have probably shrunk since high school though. It’s something I miss. Anyhow, I have to head off for work, but before I do I guess I’ll give you a Pinterest link as well. Wouldn’t want you to be left out, and your post reminded me of this: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/573505333775379554/ . In some ways I hate being such a Pinterest addict because it’s so cliche, but it’s too much like thrift shopping not to be addictive–digging through the rubble and rubbish to find gold. Anyhow, that’s all for now. Ta ta.

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