As a parent I'm always monitoring my children's choices in friends. Most kids start out being willing to play and converse with anyone, as long as they are in a similar age range. Even that has very few rules, as our 4 year old little guy often interacts with teenage boys three times his age, height, and weight, and assumes that they are his peers. I think this is a beautiful thing.

Who our kids choose as companions says a lot about them. Perhaps they choose to befriend someone that other children their own age overlook and marginalize. This would mean a great deal! Sometimes they have a close friend that we parents approve of, but when that close friend begins to make poor choices again and again, we realize that it may be best for our family member to distance themselves for a time until behaviors change.

As a local church pastor, I get the rare opportunity to meet a large number of new people. Not every profession opens a person up to this much interaction with other humans, but mine does. I believe it is an honor to do so. Although I still have a long way to go, I made it an unspoken goal early on to remember as many first names as possible. Nothing has earned me more props than being able to surprise people by addressing them on a personal level.

Unfortunately, being able to remember people's names isn't enough to counter the painful reality that being a pastor is a profession often marked by isolation and loneliness. Finding and forming intimate friendships can be a frightening and elusive challenge. If this is a recurring challenge for pastors, it occurs to me that it may be an issue of great concern for many of our people. Are true friendships a concern for you?

Many of my first time meetings become long term relationships, but only a few grow into and become dear friendships. I read a great article this week by David Butler, a Send City Missionary in Boston for the Southern Baptist Convention that calls these friendships "rare," and "rugged." I've included an excerpt here:

A good place to start is realizing true friendships aren't something you can make happen. In fact, true friendships are relatively rare, compared to other relationships. That's largely because they are first discovered and then forged. You discover a common interest, a shared passion, a mutual affinity. You resonate with each other at a deep level, stronger even than family ties. You "stick" together."

"A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Prov. 18:24)

While you can't make a true friendship happen, they don't just happen. Forging true, life-long, life-giving friendships is hard work. Taking a cue from Proverbs, I've found at least 4 "rugged commitments" that mark the kind of friend we need and can be to others, both inside and outside of our ministry context. I use "rugged" because what we long for doesn't come easy.

1. Available without exception. True friends are there regardless of the moment, demand, or situation. They are there when the chips are down. They've got your back. They bring relief. "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity." (Prov. 17:17)

2. Aware and respectful. True friends are emotionally sensitive and connected at the soul level. They listen closely, see beneath the surface, pay attention. "Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or vinegar poured on soda, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart." (Prov. 25:20)

3. Keep healthy boundaries. True friends aren't possessive, demanding, or smothering. They avoid the trap of expecting others to "meet my needs." "Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house — too much of you, and they will hate you." (Prov. 25:17)

4. Provide trusted counsel. True friends care enough to point out not just your strengths, but your weaknesses as well. They confront you not to tear you down, but to prove their love for you. They encourage and challenge. "Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice." (Prov. 27:9) "Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." (Prov. 27:5-6)

I love these four commitments. These are not going to happen in every relationship you forge into, but every once in a while a true friend comes along worth investing the effort in. Your spouse, a close family member, then maybe just a handful of others in a lifetime. 

Do you have a few rugged friendships? Are you a rugged friend?

Pastor Milo


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