Maybe I am just more conscious of it than before, but I sense that there is an increasing amount of pain and distress in people’s lives – both for younger people as well as for those of us who are older. This is causing me to think a lot more deeply about some of the issues around building and maintaining good friendships. Their importance has been highlighted again for me in the last few weeks as I have been re-reading the handwritten notes (and printed letters) that came with both the Christmas cards and emails I received back in December.
They are more fascinating second time around. For in making and taking time to read them again, I’ve picked up comments and nuances that I didn’t see when giving them a quick read after they first popped through the letterbox or appeared on my computer screen.
In re-reading these letters, I have been forced to think about just how important the writers and their families really are to me. In some cases, this is the only contact of the year. In others, there is occasional contact, and of course, with some, there is quite regular contact.
Proverbs 17 makes this important observation: A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.
This Biblical understanding of what it means to be a really good friend has been completely torn asunder by today’s social media. You can become a ‘friend’ or delete someone as a ‘friend’ at the click of a button on your phone or computer. Friends can be treated like an old pair of jeans or an old phone – disposable without much thought or consequence. I find this appalling, and it is the main reason why I never seek to make ‘friends’ on this basis on social media. I am not concerned about being deleted – I am simply not prepared to play ball with systems that allow this to happen so easily.
Real friends are real people, made in the image of God, and precious to him. Therefore, their well-being – physical, mental, spiritual, really ought to be a matter of ongoing interest – perhaps even concern – to us if we claim to love the Lord.
So, is it good enough for me as a Christian, to limit my contact with some friends to an annual Christmas card or an occasional text? Broadly speaking, I think not. Receiving those cards, letters and notes show, at the very least, that they do not forget me. Does that bring any responsibility or privilege to me? I think it does.
I often recall the excellent advice of a colleague who said to me ‘Norman, always keep your friendships in good repair’. Not always easy to do, for friendships can become strained, as has been my experience again in the past year. Yet to seek God’s grace and help to nurture troubled relationships is always so worthwhile – again as I have found in the past year. After all, ‘A friend loves at all times’… not just occasionally or when things are straightforward or easy.
In trying to think through how to nurture better friendship with those ‘Christmas only’ friends, I have renewed my contact with some of them in the last few weeks, and am trying to make a determined effort to meet up with them over coffee or a meal. Doing that is going to be a bit ‘inconvenient’ in some cases, but seems eminently worthwhile.
With others, I’m getting round to responding to their Christmas emails with a proper reply – and in so doing opening up conversations that can be followed through on the phone or again by meeting up with them.
Underlying my thinking (as it develops) is the Biblical precept to try to love others as a response to Christ’s love for me…
- to try to give some pastoral care where I can and where it is needed;
- to help reassure some that in their loneliness or fears, there are some Christian friends who care about them;
- to encourage those for whom their daily work is particularly challenging or demoralising;
- to try to follow the example of the Apostle Paul when he said in 1 Thessalonians 2v8: Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.
Might I encourage you too to reflect on those with whom you were in contact over Christmas? Ask yourself if there are any who might be blessed by you being in contact with them again, right now? Then do it! Watch to see what the Lord brings your way as a result. I have high expectations of God in this small ministry. Why not try it?
Very Rev Norman Hamilton is a retired Presbyterian minister, former Moderator of the General Assembly, and Chair of Contemporary Christianity.
Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article of those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.