Sydney Smith reminds us that “life is to be fortified by many friendships. To love, and be loved, is the greatest happiness of existence.” Meaningful relationships certainly contribute to a person’s well being and heighten personal fulfillment. In his research, Alan Loy McGinnis found that “friendship is the springboard to every other love. People with no friends usually have a diminished capacity for sustaining any kind of love.”(1) In contrast, those who nurture genuine friendships tend to have long and satisfying marriages, get along well with colleagues at work and enjoy their children.
People without friends are usually emotionally disturbed, withdrawn and seclusive.
The humanistic psychiatrist Theodore Rubin asserts, “Long term friendships indicate that a person has a strong sense of self worth, and the feelings and ability to give of himself/herself without fear of being depleted. People without friends are usually emotionally disturbed, withdrawn and seclusive.” At the risk of stereotyping, it appears that many women describe friends as those who they trust with their vulnerabilities. Men in general consider friends as people they “do stuff” with, rarely sharing what is in their hearts.
Perhaps the most beautiful illustration of friendship is that between David and Jonathan. Neither of them would have made ideal friends. Jonathan came from a troubled background of bitterness. Our self worth is largely shaped by our early experiences with our father.
King Saul, Jonathan’s father was physically impressive but emotionally stunted. Although he was head and shoulders above the crowd (1 Sam 9:2, The Message), a choice and handsome man (1 Sam 9:2), Saul was incapable of genuinely giving love. Filled with insecurity, Saul would love only those who met his needs. He practiced a vehement form of conditional love. Jonathan lived with such a toxic parent who would inevitably shape his sense of self worth. There is a hint that Saul was locked in conflict with his wife when once, in berating Jonathan, he yelled: You son of a perverse and rebellious woman (1 Sam 20:30)! As a result of his disobedience, God gave Saul’s kingdom to David, depriving Jonathan of the throne (1 Sam 13:14).
David was the youngest child in Jesse’s brood. He was the runt of the litter, and was ignored and neglected by his father. When the judge Samuel asked Jesse to gather his sons, David was not even called. His siblings hated him and misjudged his intentions (1 Sam 17:29). David was a prime candidate for self pity. Those who are afflicted in this way find it difficult to give themselves to others. They are more likely to take advantage of others and can only give grief in return. They are inclined to adopt a victim mentality that justifies self serving behavior so they would not be deprived yet again. No wonder David reacted so strongly to Nathan’s story of a poor man exploited by a wealthy man.
What it Takes for Committed Friendship
1. Self Confidence
Self confident individuals make the best friends. They reach out to others not because of their emotional or psychological deficits, but rather as an overflow of their blessings. Ironically, the strength of a friendship is contingent on how independently fulfilled and confident the individuals are. The ability to resource oneself emotionally and psychologically will rule out co-dependency liabilities in a relationship. Both are freed to give of him/herself without any fear of depletion. That is how trust is fostered and nurtured. That is how partnerships are most effective.
David and Jonathan were the two most unlikely candidates for a committed friendship. They were forced by their personal circumstances to stand alone and rely on God. David stood alone against wild animals while protecting the sheep. He was dependent solely on God in the battlefield against Goliath while all the others cowered in fear. Jonathan stood up for David in the face of King Saul’s wrath and jealousy. He was willing to forgo his place in the palace for a place in David’s heart.
2. Covenant in the Heart
This is where committed friendships begin – in the heart. The realization that the human heart cannot find contentment in merely worldly accumulation or position is the genesis of stirrings towards meaningful friendships. David and Jonathan followed their hearts and pledged loyalty to each other. We are t¬old that: Jonathan became one in spirit with David and he loved him as himself (1 Sam 18:1, NIV). An older reading renders it: they were knitted together in spirit – indicating a fastening together of things of the same nature. Implied here is a joyfulness that results from a deep friendship that opens up opportunities for exponential impact of combined effort and the consequent satisfaction that is multiplied. Friends who knit their hearts must mutually acknowledge their commitment.
A covenant of loyalty is to accept each other as he/she is, but it is also a commitment not to leave him/her where he/she is. Covenantal friends assume responsibility for each other’s welfare, create space for and resource the other to grow and excel, and are deeply impacted by the joys and pain experienced by the other. I cannot imagine where I will be today if not for friends who have been committed to me the last 46 years. We started our friendship in high school, but have chosen to stay committed to each other over the years and the miles. Some of them are actively involved with the work I do today, while others are overseas. But all are tied by the cords of committed loyalty to each other.
3. Deep Trust
No relationship can flourish without trust. It is the glue that will hold disparate individuals together.
No relationship can flourish without trust. It is the glue that will hold disparate individuals together. All friendships go through testing and stresses. Trust is the only element that will mend the hearts that are sometimes broken. Stephen Covey asserts, “There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation…one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love…That one thing is trust.”(2)(2)
When Jonathan gave his armor and sword as he pledged loyalty to David, he was giving symbols of honor to him. With those symbols there was a leveling of shepherd boy and prince. Now they stood on equal ground, the basis of trust. Only when there is reciprocity can there be personal trust. Committed friendships can only thrive and flourish on the fertile soil of trust. Mahatma Gandhi reminds us that “the moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”
David’s committed friendship with Jonathan paved his path to the throne of Israel. It shaped his personal life and defined his destiny. Of its impact, David concluded upon Jonathan’s death,…you were very dear to me. Your love to me was more wonderful than the love of women (2 Sam 1:26). Those are strong words from a straight man with strong libidinal impulses!
It may appear to be a very unique experience. And, that would be correct. It is unique to anyone who dares to make such a commitment to a friend.
The New American Standard Version Bible has been referenced, unless otherwise stated. (1) Loy McGinnis, Alan. The Friendship Factor. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, ,1979. (2) MR Covey, Stephen. The Speed of Trust.New York: Free Press, 2006.
This article ”Committed Friendship” by Peter Chao was first published in the November 2012 issue of Eagles VantagePoint magazine (www.vantagepoint.com.sg). Used with permission.