“The quality of our lives,” stated my pastor during a recent sermon, “is determined by the quality of our relationships.” Nothing could be truer. Good friends and loving family are like islands in the fast-moving streams of life. They provide a place where we can temporarily dock from our duties, shuck off our shoes, and wiggle our toes in the warm sand of companionship. I call them “featherbed friends,” because they provide us with a soft place to land. How restoring it can be when we make room in our lives for those who support, encourage, and lift our spirits!
Unfortunately, not every relationship will be as restful. We all know those as well who, whether consciously or unconsciously, drain us dry if we let them. Somehow in our search for more respites during the daily rigors, we must learn to differentiate between the two, inviting more time in the first even as we learn to limit or, in some cases eliminate the latter.
The reality is that there will be only a few choice comrades throughout a lifetime who truly care and understand unconditionally enough to stay the course. I can tell you from experience that you can be the most popular person on the block—one with a Facebook full of friends—but very few real and restful ones. Likewise, you can spend your life constantly surrounded with people and still end up lonely if you don’t take time to cultivate the keepers and cull out the seepers.
To me these represent the three most common friendship categories: the faithful few who sometimes span a lifetime, those who support us through short but significant seasons, and the ones who become our mutual mentors as we carry out a common legacy.
By now some may be wondering if finding these featherbed buddies might prove more challenging than it seems. Yet I believe there are ways we can determine which relationships warrant nurturing and which do not, thus saving ourselves a lot of stress in the process. Let’s start with the beginning stages.
Most of us have the tendency to base any potential pal-ship on an initial “clicking” of personalities. If there is something we immediately like about or identify with a person, we may entertain the idea of becoming better acquainted. There will also be times when we’re tossed together with those whom we seem to share little in common, in which case we might quickly consider them as crummy candidates.
My experience is this: don’t be too hasty in embracing or dismissing people simply on the basis of face value. In both cases, what we see is not always what we get. We should make commitments carefully, being willing to invest enough time to make sure they are not only successful but also restful.
Consider Jesus’ disciples. They came from a variety of backgrounds—a few fishermen, a tax collector, a political zealot, a doubter, and unbeknownst to all but Jesus, an untrustworthy traitor. The fishermen were the only ones with anything in common and frankly didn’t always get along that well. On more than one occasion, all the disciples competed with and irritated each other. Eventually, though—thanks to a few well-placed beatitudes from the Master—they learned to appreciate each other’s strengths and bolster their weaknesses. Starting with a common call they all but one ended up supporting and encouraging each other to the Cross and beyond. It was their fire-forged unity that laid the foundation for the Early Church.
In truth some of the deepest, most restful and resilient friendships are the ones we grow into, learning over a period of time not only to appreciate each other’s qualities but also to overlook a few faults and failures.