Smarmy quotes about friendship posted on Facebook walls do nothing to clarify the meaning of this serious human yearning. Friendship is experienced on at least five levels.
Passing friendship is the first level. The interesting person you sit next to on a long flight or the stranger who assists you in a moment of need would be passing friendships. After my freshman year in college I took a train from Julesburg, Colorado to Columbus, Nebraska. Sitting close to me was a lovely young lady my age and we chatted like old friends every mile of the way. Before I departed the train we exchanged addresses and promised to stay in touch forever, but we did not. It was a passing friendship. This category would also include nearly all school-days friends.
Needy friendship is the second level. These are the friends who appear only when they need something. They are found on the job when they need a favor, next door when they want to borrow a lawn tool, at church when they need another volunteer, etc. They are people you know and whose company you can abide though you will not vacation with them nor invite them to your birthday party.
Highly regarded friendship is the third level. This would be someone of importance with whom you are on a first-name basis and whom you hold in very high regard. It could be your pastor, employer, a notable neighbor, a classmate of significant achievement, etc. You don’t dine at each other’s table nor do you call on the phone to chat, but you do know and respect each other.
Reciprocal friendship is the fourth level. These would be friends with whom you share a common interest such as fishing buddies or scrapbooking pals. For several years I have been playing basketball twice a week with a bunch of senior men. Most of us know each other only by our first names. When someone drops out of basketball the friendship is no longer be reciprocal so it ceases to be a friendship at all. Once one of the players suggested we have a barbeque and bring our wives for some fellowship. No one was interested. The only thing that brings us together is our common desire to play basketball.
You probably have friends on each of those first four levels, but few have friends on the fifth level. The fifth level is true friendship. Here are four marks of a true friend: 1. A true friend is interested in both your happiness and your well-being; an encourager but also a truth-telling counselor. 2. A true friend respects your principles. He/she will never ask you to compromise your principles in the name of your friendship. 3. A true friend inspires you to be and do your best. 4. A true friend is with you in good times and bad.
Why do most people have so few true friends? Is it because closeness takes risk? Is it because friendship requires giving? It could be either of those or any one of a dozen other reasons. Let me give you the reason I think so many people have only a few true friends: because true friendship takes time and emotional energy and we are all in hurry and we are too often emotionally spent. And thus prolongs the constant heartache: loneliness.
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