One of my best friends ever was a man named Ike Boyette. He was a parishioner who died a number of years ago in a freak accident at the age of 40.
Ike was a very successful businessman and a dynamo in the church. He and I became the best of friends. We did so many things together — worked in all phases of church life together, took afternoon “Coke float breaks” at the local drug store together, played golf together, played bridge together with our wives, and went to the banks trying to get money for a church building together.
Then my wife and I moved away from that church to serve in another church. When we arrived at our new parsonage and opened the door, there was a beautiful arrangement of flowers on the kitchen table. You guessed it! They had been sent by my friend Ike.
As I have tried to assess that special but too short friendship, I have realized that it was a friendship rooted in God. Different, but not unlike the friendship between the biblical characters, Jonathan and David, and I am so grateful.
Reflecting on my friendship with Ike and upon reading an article in a recent issue of “The Christian Century” magazine, I started thinking again about the importance of friendship. The article was titled, “Faithful Friends” by Kendra Weddle, chair of religion, humanities and interdisciplinary studies at Texas Wesleyan University.
Ms. Weddle began her article by stating that she had 633 friends, according to Facebook. Then she described a time of terrible loneliness in her life. But what she found at the time was that her 633 Facebook friends were having the most remarkable time. Stunning birthday celebrations, creative birth announcements, wild adventures to unknown corners of the world: her 633 were making the most of life while she sat looking at her screen feeling diminished.
I’m sure that Ms. Weddle does not speak only for herself but for numerous others as well. How many people could benefit from a real friend, say, like Ike Boyette? All of us! Ms. Weddle goes on to say that faithful friends are the face of God.
The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge once described friendship as “a sheltering tree.” What a beautiful picture of a friend. A friend is like a leafy tree that provides shade from the sun and protection against the cold blasts of winter’s loneliness. A friend is indeed “a sheltering tree.”
Friendship is not any less important than prayer and fasting. Like the sacrament, it takes what is common in human experience and turns it into something holy.
Friendship is indeed a sheltering tree! Ms. Weddle explained in the article that her journey out of her personal despair came through someone who knew how to share her burdens. Undoubtedly, that person cared deeply, was not in a hurry and knew how to listen. For sure, that was one of the things that made my friendship with Ike so meaningful.
Friendship offers encouragement! In First Samuel, chapter 23, we are told that Jonathan encouraged David in the Lord. Whenever I have led workshops for ministers and associate ministers, I have always said that the role of the senior minister is to be a Barnabas “a son or daughter of encouragement.”
Whether I’ve always lived up to that I’m not sure, but that is the role. And that’s also the role of a friend.
Friendship is a treasure that requires cultivation! To maintain genuine friendship requires openness and effort and not just contact. And more often than not, such openness and effort has to do with vulnerability, honesty, prayer, accommodation and commitment.
Charles Kingsley’s was once asked the secret of his success. He answered, “I had a friend.” May that be true of all of us!
The Rev. Hal Brady is an ordained United Methodist minister and executive director of Hal Brady Ministries, based in Atlanta. You can watch him preach every week on the Atlanta Interfaith Broadcasters TV channel Thursdays at 8 p.m.