When I was a child, friendships came easily. All I had to do was “play nice,” and just like that, friendships were formed. I remember swinging with Harold on the playground. We talked about what we wanted to be when we grew up and how we would be friends forever, maybe even live in the same neighborhood. Harold was African-American. Back then I did not know about issues of race or the divisions of class distinctions. I just knew that Harold was my friend.
But as I grew older friendships became more complicated. Cars, clothes and relationships were sources of competition. As such, my circle of friendships grew smaller. No longer was it a matter of swinging on the playground during recess. It was more of an issue of popularity, and as such friendships were like commodities to be used and traded.
Entering college I left behind my childish ways, as well as most of my friends. It was not so much a rejection of my childhood friends as it was geography. I was 180 miles away from my hometown. When I moved to seminary it was nearly 500 miles away. Nevertheless more than thirty years later there are many of my friends from childhood that I have not seen since the day I received my High School diploma. Harold, along with a few others, has since passed away.
College, and later seminary, brought new friends, but, as with my childhood, life’s progressions like graduation, family and career would eventually leave many – most – of my friends behind in a nostalgic wake of memory.
I never learned to cultivate healthy friendships in my adult years. As a pastor it seemed difficult to have friends, because I was always, well, a pastor to others. In seminary I was taught the importance of having friendships outside the church, but that it was not recommended to make friends in the church you serve. Church members need you to be, so the lesson went, a pastor and not a friend. Twenty-eight years as a pastor I can say that is mostly true, whether I wanted it to be or not. It is hard to be both, which just left me with more loneliness.
Here I am at the age of 50 looking back and looking ahead and acknowledging that friendships are essential to life. Whether I regret not having more friends during the first few decades of adulthood is of less importance to me than nourishing the friendships I have today.
Today I have wonderful friends and I count it a generous grace that I share my life with them. Looking ahead my goal is not so much to make more friends, but to deepen the friendships I have. Along the way, however, I will be much less cautious about forming friendships. If others want to sit awhile in my company, then I am grateful. The need to compete, work, protect or use is a season now fading in my life.
I can never have enough friends, and I am grateful for all the ones whom I call “my friends.”
Oh I’m a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love
Some folks just have one, yeah, others, they’ve got none (Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam)
Yes, I will take care of what time is left in my life for the friendships I have. I will also be wondrously open to the new friends who may come my way. Putting away childish ways should never include friends. In this I want to be forever young.