Nurturing our friendships

Saturday, December 8, 2007

How much time and effort do we exert in keeping our friendships? The Christmas season, for sure, causes one to think of friends. During all the holiday hoopla, relationships should enter the forefront of our minds.

It is true holiday celebrations entail additional work and expense. For those who can't afford extras, stress is a consequence. Cards must be sent, food prepared, and most decorate their homes, yards and offices. Festivities are important in celebrating Jesus' birth, we think. We use the justification that those who visited baby Jesus brought gifts paying homage to him. Giving gifts, coming together and sharing food demonstrate love -- if those gestures are offered with the right motive. Relating to others is also important.

But genuine friendships do not simply happen. They must be built and nurtured. Genuine relationships are worth the effort it takes to keep them alive. Friends sustain us in times of joy and especially sadness. St. John Chrysostom said "A friend is dearer than the light of heaven; for it would be better for us that the sun were extinguished than that we should be without friends."

Scripture gives that statement credibility when 2 Corinthians 7:5-6 tells of Paul's pain and God's way of consoling him. Paul tells this story: "When we came to Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled in every way, with conflicts without, fears within. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, calmed Paul by the arrival of Titus." God knew the effect and reassurance a good friend could bring.

Have you ever felt dejected and discouraged, only to wonder why after running into a friend? Having someone recognize you and speak your name was enough to lift your spirits.

"A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter, he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price," says Sirach 6:14-15.

Do we take our friends for granted until we're alone and need help? Life is better with friends but to keep friends one must be a friend, also.

People can have many acquaintances, but being a real friend takes time and effort. A friend is someone with whom we feel safe and who has our best interests at heart. He is another whom we love and rejoice with when he reaps happiness and joy in his life. Each cries with the other when a tragedy strikes as well.

Research shows that those who have friends are happier, more fulfilled and live longer. Two is better than one. But how do we keep friends?

I have one friend in particular whom I have known since college. Although we do not see each other often, we have made it a point through the years to keep in touch -- to nurture our friendship. We meet at least three times a year, more if time allows, for lunch and to exchange a gift. Those times occur during each Christmas season and on each of our birthdays. If we're unable to get together on the exact dates, we're flexible. What's most important is that we eventually meet up and share what's happening in our lives. I have other friends with whom I meet regularly for lunch or to visit.

Friends are vulnerable. Many, however, refuse to give their heart to anyone, even an animal, fearing they will be hurt. They fill their lives with hobbies, other activities and frivolous acquaintances to stay occupied; to keep their heart locked up so it will be safe. C.S. Lewis says in his classic "The Four Loves" that "if you lock your heart up in the casket of your selfishness, inside that casket that is safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. Your heart will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable and irredeemable."

Everyone is busy. But let's not take our friends, our "Tituses," for granted. Instead let us gratefully say and show that "Life is better with you in it."

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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