People influence you in different ways and in different stages of life. In my case, my gratitude for them has grown as I have gotten older and matured. I’ve realized how unusual and special they were.
One of those was my fourth grade Sunday School teacher, Milford Christian. (Yes, his last name really was Christian!) I loved being in his class. He was in the Royal Air Force and his Bible lessons were peppered with illustrations from flying in war time. No one ever was bored in Mr. Christian’s class.
He had a dry sense of humor, a positive spirit, and was a cheerful man. Though I know we were boisterous at times (a bunch of 10 year old boys!), he never saw us as annoying. He made me want to come to Sunday School each week. And I’m so thankful to him for that.
Not too many years later, when I became a teenager, we became good friends. He and his wife opened their home and a group of us found our way there to spend time on after church on Sunday nights. We talked, laughed, and sang while our friends Jimmy and Mike played the guitar. Both Mr. and Mrs. Christian were hospitable and fun. Looking back, I know we stayed too late. They loved us.
They influenced me more than they ever knew. Especially Mr. Christian.
I didn’t always look forward to attending Sunday School. Some teachers aren’t like Mr. Christian. They tolerate children and teenagers. His weekly Bible lessons that came alive with personal applications and illustrations helped to shape my life. His shepherd’s heart extended beyond the teaching hour where he took an interest in a young boy’s life and later as a teenager.
I appreciate him more now than I did then. When Mr. and Mrs. Christian graduated to Heaven, I went to both of their funerals. I owed it to them because of the impact they had on my life. Sometimes I visit their burial place when I’m in that cemetery helping with a funeral. I pause for a few minutes and remember them and thank God for their lives. I recount ways I was helped by them, their kindnesses, and investment in my life.
Their home is not far from where we live now. Sometimes I spontaneously drive by and just remember. It helps to keep their memory alive in my heart and my gratitude fresh.
Every now and then I walk through the church where I grew up and I visit that little classroom where Mr. Christian taught all of us boys in the fourth grade. It’s a lot smaller than when I recalled as a boy. It’s easy to remember the people and places when your life was impacted. I smile as my heart is warmed when I walk in that room. God used a faithful man to teach me about His Word, Himself, and His Son, Jesus Christ in those days and in that place.
After I went to college, I didn’t see Mr. Christian often, but when we did, I would remind him of those days and how he influenced my life. It meant a lot to me to have a great teacher that cared enough to be effective.
One of my favorite quotes is that, “Meditation is love’s nourishment.” The opposite is true, too. We starve love when we fail to remember people and the ways they have helped us. The more specific we are in our memory, the deeper our gratitude we feel for them.
Many years ago, on a Sunday after church our family had walked into a restaurant with my parents for a meal. My father said, “Rick, there is Tom Brown!” (Not his real name). I hadn’t seen him in decades. He was aged now, sitting with his wife. We had attended church together and he, too, had been one of my Sunday School teachers when I was a boy. I had been trying to find him for a long time.
I approached the booth where he and his wife were eating and introduced myself, wondering if he would still remember me. After sitting down beside him, I gave him the short version of what I had been doing and what I was doing at the present, pastoring a church. I told him of how I remembered him teaching me as a boy and I thanked him for helping me. I shared in specific ways how he had blessed me and helped me.
He had stopped eating and was totally focused on me and what I was saying. He never said a word and just let me talk. Tears welled up in his eyes and then spilled down his weathered face in that crowded restaurant. After I finished, he thanked me for stopping by and then replied, “No one has ever told me that before.”, referring to the fact that someone had been blessed by his ministry.
After I left his table to go to be with my family, my heart was warmed, but also broken. It was warmed because I was able to finally track him down and thank him for how he had helped me. But I wondered how many other teachers and leaders that had helped youngsters (me) to learn God’s Word had never heard a word of appreciation.
We don’t love people because of what we get out of it; we love because it is the right thing to do and what God has commanded us to do. But we do get a lot out of loving.
Who influenced you as a teacher or a coach – or taught you a skill that has helped you in your professional or personal life? Have you ever expressed your gratitude to them? Even if they have passed on, keep their name and memory alive. When you do, you not only honor them, but teach your children and grandchildren the importance and power of being thankful.
Don’t let those that have helped you along the way feel like, “No one has ever told me that before.” Tell them in time. It will encourage them and it will bless you.
I was recently reading James Dobson’s biography, “Turn Your Heart Toward Home”, and came across an interesting chapter that made me pause and go deeper in my past. The title of the chapter was “Four Men”.
In it he talked about the four primary mentors that shaped his life. Details were given of how they were a key part of helping him to advance in his career and make wise decisions. He wanted to honor them and let others know how they had influenced him.
When I finished the chapter, it stirred my heart and motivated me to remember again people that had impacted my life. I wrote down some of their names and the qualities they had that inspired and instructed me and I thanked God for them. (As I grow older, many of them has passed on).
Then, I asked God to help me to be a good steward of those attributes and to model them for His glory.
As a little boy growing up in church, I had a great regard for spiritual leaders – not only pastors, but others that had spiritual influence in my life. In my elementary years one of them was Mack Smith.
Our family was close to the Smith family. For many years we went camping over the fourth of July week. I have wonderful memories of nightly fireworks, large campfires surrounded by chairs filled with loved ones and friends talking and laughing by a beautiful lake. Every day we went swimming, I learned to water ski behind Mack Smith’s boat as did my brother and sister. They were simple times. These are some of my most treasured memories.
One of them stands out. There were tents for all of the families (another family came with us and guests dropped in, too), but on this night I slept outside with a couple of the big folks on my cot and sleeping bag under the stars by the dying fire. It was late at night and I was listening to my Dad and Mack talk. The lanterns were out, the light from the fire was almost gone, and the darkness highlighted the stars on that clear night.
Dad and Mack began to talk about the beauty of the stars and for the first time I noticed how many there were – and how many I could see. Growing up in the city, I had never noticed that many stars and their brightness because of the city lights. Under that cool summer sky, I was impacted by the sheer might and awesomeness of God that had made them. It opened the eyes of my soul and I began to ask some questions about the universe and my mentors (Mack and Dad) explained how the stars arranged into certain shapes and figures. I learned some about astronomy. It was a special and memorable night for a young boy.
A few years later, when I was thirteen, my grandfather passed away suddenly. We were very close and spent a lot of time together; I am named after him. Just minutes after it had happened, I was sitting alone in a chair in my grandparents’ living room in shock and grief. Melanie and Hoss were doing the same. Mom was helping her mother, my grandmother, as the ambulance and emergency crew was on site. Dad was on a bus trip in Atlanta. I felt alone and desperately needed someone that I knew to grieve with me, to help me somehow. I had never hurt that bad before. My heart was crushed and broken.
Soon, the front door opened and a childhood mentor walked in and came and stood by me as I sat in a big, overstuffed chair weeping. He simply placed his strong hand on my shoulder and stood there and didn’t move. He never said a word. He didn’t have to because I saw the compassion and sorrow in his face. It was Mack Smith. He was there at one of the worst times in my life.
Almost four decades later, Mack passed away after struggling with a debilitating disease. I had seen him several times through the years and would recall the events I wrote above and others, where he had impacted my life, as a leader in our church when I was a boy.
His family asked me to speak at his funeral. It was a sacred privilege. I love Mack and am grateful for how God used him in my life, especially as a youngster.
The other day I had a thought that when Mack and I were gazing at the stars that night in the late 1960’s that it never entered Mack’s mind that “one day this quiet, shy fellow will speak at my funeral“. I’m fascinated by how life works like that. The people that are heroes to you, that one day you can in a small way return the favor. To me, it was an honor.
He was like a second father in a lot of ways, someone I looked up to. he impacted my life by the way he lived.
We never know where the seeds we sow will end up and how they will develop. Take some time and invest in those young boys and girls at church. Even the ones you don’t know well. Get to know the children of your friends; be genuinely interested in them. Don’t see children as a nuisance. One of them might speak at your funeral. What might they say about you?
Here’s what I said about Mack at his funeral.
“I love Mack Smith for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reason is that he made a difference in my life. Some of the greatest memories I have are related to Mack, Lucille and their sons, Joe, Sparky, Ricky and John.
As a boy I remember going over to their home on Richardson Drive a lot, probably more than any other family. My parents would sit for a long time talking to Mack and Lucille and Melanie, Hoss and myself would be playing in the back yard. I remember their big back yard….the black and white boat parked on the side…the little garden with the tomato plants that would grow and the big house that was directly behind the Smith home. In fact, I clearly remember that it was there while I was visiting with my Mom when John burst into the living room and shared that John F. Kennedy had been shot. On November 22, 1963 I was only five; John was four. But I remember that.
John and I were best of friends and spent hours at the lake shooting fireworks and almost always sat in church together with my Mom while Lucille and my Dad sang in the choir. Our favorite song in the hymnal was page 96, “At Calvary”. To this day, whenever we sing it at church I always think of John and the simplicity of my life then.
Ricky was especially close to my parents and a teenager when they worked closely with the youth group, so he was often a visitor in our home. I always admired Sparky and Joe. Sparky was a great wrestler in high school and Joe could build anything with his hands – in fact, he and Sparky renovated my grandmother’s home in the 1970’s.
Though our paths rarely cross anymore I still consider Joe and Sparky as some of my childhood heroes; Ricky as one that was so much fun and always made me laugh, and John as one of my closest childhood friends.
Lucille has always been one of my mother’s best friends and they have both helped and encouraged one another through the most difficult of days.
It seems that it was just a few months ago that we were camping on the shores of Guntersville Lake. John would get the lawnmower out and prepare a place to put the tent by cutting the grass. We always had the Smith boat tethered to a tree by the shore line and Lonzo Parker had his boat tied just a few feet away. Dad brought some old tires from work and we made a big fire at night with some wood that would last for hours. For a week we swam, went skiing, ate some of the best food ever cooked on a grill, shot Roman candles in the sky and used M-80’s to blow up Styrofoam cups and the bark off of trees.
Those days marked my life and much of the reason was because of Mack.
1. Mack influenced me spiritually.
When I was in the 4th-5th grades, before we went to our Sunday School classes, we had a large assembly program for about 10 minutes. Announcements were made, visitors were recognized and a brief devotional thought was given from the Bible. The leader of that assembly was Mack Smith. It was evident that he was a leader. One of the reasons I listened to him was because I respected him and I knew that he cared about me. It made it easy to open my heart to God’s Word because here was a man that I knew that loved me and my family.
2. Mack influenced me intellectually.
When we were at Guntersville Lake during those weeks of camping, on several occasions sleeping outside on a cot with some of the guys, Mack would point out things in the Heavens on a clear night. He made me want to learn more about God’s creation and the universe He had made.
3. Mack influenced me emotionally.
On the morning of Saturday, September 4, 1971, one of the most important people in my life died, my grandfather. He was only 56 years old and had a massive heart attack and died without warning. Dad was in Atlanta for the weekend on a bus trip and we were at my grandparent’s home – Mom was helping her mother, Melanie and Hoss were grieving in their own way, and I was sitting in a big chair dealing with the sudden and devastating reality that my grandmother, who I idolized, was gone.
I needed someone to help me, but Mom was unable to and Dad was gone. In less than 30 minutes the door opened and Mack Smith walked in. It was just like my own father walking in at a time when I needed him the most. He simply came and stood by me and put his strong, big hand on my shoulder. He taught me that day that importance of just being there when someone has had a tragedy in their life. There was no counseling or advice, just the kind presence of a man that I respected greatly and that I knew loved me.
After I graduated from High School, I began my own life as a young adult and I didn’t see Mack and Lucille very often, but I never forgot the powerful influence that Mack had on my life. He was one of the most formative adults in my life and I am grateful to God for him.
And I want to leave this simple thought with the family and you dear friends, he influenced me not with his wit, intelligence, or charismatic personality. He influenced me with his heart, because he cared about me.
“And of some have compassion, making a difference”. (Jude 22)
It was compassion for young boys and girls that caused him to get involved in their lives in leadership in Sunday School. It was compassion that gave him the patience and kindness to answer a young boy’s questions about the stars and constellations at night while sleeping outside on a cot. It was compassion that made him leave his home on a Saturday morning and take time to comfort a grieving family.
I am a better person for having known Mack Smith. He touched my life and it was his compassion that made a difference in my life.
“The people who make a difference are not the ones with the credentials, but the ones with the concern”.
When you lose someone that has made a profound difference in your life it is a difficult loss. Certainly, Mack is enjoying the glories of Heaven because He knew the Lord Jesus as His Savior and He is far better off than we are here, but we are left with memories.
I would encourage you to count the mundane moments of living as being precious with those that have influenced your life, especially with their heart.
‘We Have This Moment’
(Bill and Gloria Gaither)
Hold tight to the sounds of the music of living, Happy songs from the laughter of the children at play; Hold my hand as we run Through the sweet fragrant meadows, Making memories of what was today.
Tender words, gentle touch and a good cup of coffee, And someone who loves me and wants me to stay; Hold them near while they’re here, And don’t wait for tomorrow To look back and wish for this day.
We have this moment to hold in our hands, And to touch as it slips Through our fingers like sand; Yesterday’s gone, And tomorrow may never come, But we have this moment today.”
A healthy marriage is one where the two are friends. When a husband and wife lose the elements of friendship, the relationship struggles and becomes dutiful. This is a dangerous place to be.
The benefit of having a Christian home is access to the life and power of God to be what we ought to be as marriage partners. He lives in us and through us. This means we can love each other extraordinarily and supernaturally.
The Bible talks about a kind of love that is called “phileo“, from which we get the word, “Philadelphia“. It means to have a brotherly love, a relationship that is based on commonalities, as friends.
Sometimes we use words so often that they lose their impact because they have lost their meaning. We need to take the time to reexamine them and gain a fresh understanding of what they mean. One of those is the word “friend“.
Many don’t know what it means to be a friend. Yet, this relationship is foundational to having a strong and close family life; being friends.
Gift giving is a mark of friendship. This is illustrated in a story about King David after a great military conquest.
“And when David came to Ziklag, he sent of the spoil unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends, saying, Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the LORD”. (I Samuel 30:26)
After David conquered the enemy he shared the spoil with his friends. He sent it representatives to the recipients and said, “Behold a present.“! The word for “present” is the Hebrew word for blessing. His desire was to bless his friends through benevolent gifts. (Perhaps clothing, weapons, money, food – whatever, it was a bounty of grace).
These friends were “elders of Judah“; the leaders of various villages and towns that had helped David during a difficult time in his life, while he was running from Saul, who was trying to kill him.
Here was an opportunity for David to return the favor because of their kindness to him. (The Bible mentions thirteen different towns (I Samuel 30:27-31) where David sent the “spoil“, a long trip. This was intentional and took a lot of effort on his part. (A thankful heart will do that!)
David’s thoughtfulness and generosity was motivated by his gratitude to those that had befriended him. Friends enjoy giving to one another.
Gifts are not a dutiful requirement when one is a friend, but are gladly given out of affection and gratitude. This was what spurred David’s gift to the elders of Judah. He was full of gratitude for how they had helped him. When we consider how others have made a difference in our lives, it stirs us to want to do something for them.
Here’s one of my favorite definitions of a gift – “a gift is an altar where the receiver meets the giver and thanks God for them”. Seeing a gift this way makes the gift one that keeps on giving! It reminds you of that person and the goodness of God to bring them into your life.
A gift is more than just something that serves a function or that meets a need; it represents the heart of a caring friend. It says, I am your friendand I care for you.
As I wrote this post my mind was filled with gifts I received and how they deepened my love for those that gave them to me.
One of the most sacred gifts I have is an old upright Baldwin piano that sits in our living room. A few keys stick and it needs to be tuned, but I still play it some. My parents bought it for me over fifty years ago when I started taking piano lessons when they realized I had some ability. They got a discount because it had a little blemish on it.
It’s special because it cost them money they didn’t have and they sacrificed for me. When you are ten years old you don’t realize the value of things. As I got older I learned how much they loved me and what they gave up so I could learn to play the piano.
Music has been a balm to my soul, especially in times of trials and burdens. I have played in every church I have served in since 1977 and in my home church as a teenager. What a gift from my parents to their little boy. I see it several times a day and it is an altar that s speaks to me and reminds me of the givers and spurs gratitude in my heart for them.
On my fortieth birthday my wife had packed our bags and was taking me out of town, but wouldn’t tell me where we were going. Before we left town she informed me that my Mom wanted to see me and we dropped by the high school where she worked. She came outside to talk with me and soon she had tears in her eyes. She shared that she and Dad wanted to do something special for me on this birthday and that they were sending me on a trip to Israel with one of my friends. I was speechless for a little bit. After that, Paula and I headed southbound and I found myself at Orange Beach with my dearest friend. Both were memorable trips. My wife and parents, my friends, gave special gifts to me. When I recall those memories my heart is drawn to Paula, my Dad and Mom.
I love this picture of Paula! It was taken somewhere near Romney, New Hampshire in the mid-90’s. The White Mountain region is spectacularly beautiful in the fall. Paula is beautiful all the time! I love Paula Mae.
Several years ago I had been going through a very difficult time battling a chronic illness I have. My two oldest sons banded together and took me to an Atlanta Braves game. After that we went to Dave and Busters and played a bunch of video games with each other until about 2 a.m. It was so much fun. They paid for everything. I’ll always remember it. They ministered to their father that weekend. My sons, my friends.
Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give“.
The closer and deeper the relationship, the more we want to sacrifice and give.
Minutes after my Dad died, in the room alone with him was Mom, my brother and Paula. Soon some of the grandchildren came. My Dad was my hero. I put my arm around my brother and we quietly recounted some of the things our father had done for us, gifts he had given to us, places he had taken us, and sacrifices he had made.
When I was young I rarely thought about the gifts and sacrifices of my parents. They bought my clothes, food, cleats, uniforms, paid for my braces, provided for me to go to church camp and hundreds (thousands!) of other things. I never said thank you sufficiently. It wasn’t until I was in my later teenage years when I began to see my indebtedness, to some degree. Now, as a father I know what they gave up to make my life better.
As Hoss and I stood on the third floor of that hospital room beside Dad’s body, we realized more than ever – our Dad wasn’t just a wonderful gift-giver, He was a gift to us.
I want to give gifts to my wife, my children, and my friends because they are God’s gift to me. One day the opportunity for me to do so may be gone. What seems like a chore and an expense will be a regret.
Sometimes we can’t give the gifts we want to give. We don’t have the resources required. But my wife and family can receive the gift of my time, my focused attention, the gift of an unhurried conversation, taking them to lunch just to talk and tell them how much I care about them. Friends give gifts.
As my Mom got older I would drive her home from church and watch her amble up to her door in a characteristic gait she had because of a bad knee. I captured those pictures in my mind and heart – and I took some on my phone, too. I took a lot of pictures while she was unaware as she went through her day, aware that one day these privileges would not be had again. Hoss and Melanie began to do the same; sometimes now we send each other those different pictures of Mom we took.
Mom and Dad at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee in the late 90’s. Dad often drove groups there and it was one of Mom’s favorite places to go.
In the wee hours of Wednesday, December 11 my mother, my friend, passed away unexpectedly. The opportunity for me to give her gifts is over. No more meals. No more times when I just dropped in and talked. No more times when I helped her fix her TV so she could watch a special program.
No more giving.
I’m not trying to be morbid, but to make a point. Mom is in Heaven and though I miss her, she is happier and more filled with joy than she has ever been. I still have my wife to share life with; I still have my children, their spouses and my grandchildren to invest in and give to; and I still have a ton of friends to pour into as God helps me. This is what friends do. They give to each other.
“It is possible to give without loving, but it is impossible to love without giving.” (Source unknown)
Nothing proves friendship like adversity. Friendship is costly. Sometimes it is not easy to stand with people during difficult hours. It will take time, energy, and may involve money.
“Words are easy, like the wind; faithful friends are hard to find.”, wrote William Shakespeare.
There is a rugged, sacrificial type of love that just won’t let go. The Bible says that love will bear everything, will believe for everything, hope for everything, and endure everything (I Corinthians 13:7). This type of behavior is seen when someone we care about is going through hard times. Love is proven in the hard times.
It is during the hard times we discover not only the value of a friend, but also who they are.
John Churton Collins wrote, “In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends.”
They will be there when you need them most. They shine best when you feel alone and are tired physically and emotionally. They don’t need explanations. They care about you the same in times of failure as in times of success. They don’t even need a call. They just show up. What a treasure they are; committed friends.
“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” (Elbert Hubbard)
What does commitment in friendship look like? Here are a few. I see these qualities of commitment in my wife, Paula, in over four decades of marriage. She reminds me of Jesus, Who best embodies them.
Friendship is not always convenient. When we have trouble it isn’t written in our planner. It just happens. Emergency room visits. Helping to clean up after food poisoning and throwing up at 3 a.m. Discouragement from a negative comment. A kidney stone attack at 5 a.m.
These and many other things have happened to me and Paula has helped without complaint. She sometimes lost sleep, but this is what close friends do for each other. They show up even when it isn’t convenient.
I saw this expressed recently in my friends when my Mom passed away unexpectedly. If you have ever experienced this, you understand the shock and fog that accompanies it. I was numb, my mind racing with memories, and my heart broken.
Two days after her death we received a call from dear friends who were on vacation and asked about having lunch with Paula and myself. I hesitated. because for them it was a four hour drive one way. After the meal they would get back in their car and go back. An eight hour drive and a full day of their vacation interrupted. They came and we were blessed and encouraged. I had many stories like this in this difficult season of my life.
During the visitation the evening before Mom’s funeral service it was cold and stormy outside with a driving rain that never stopped, on December 22, a time of year when people are with their families. I was comforted to see many of my friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, some in decades. Some stood in line for over an hour after braving the weather only to speak to us for less than a minute because of the crowd. I was overwhelmed at their kindness.
Friendship doesn’t count the cost of convenience.
Friendship is an obligation. Friendship is a reciprocal relationship, but the focus isn’t on receiving. Both contribute and, in time, the other will be a receiver. Often the time when they receive is in a season of hardship. And their friend is there to minister to them.
In the closest of friendships, each assumes a responsibility for the other. A growing friendship grows in a sense of responsibility for the other. Being committed is not optional.
Friendship is not a light matter. It is more than discovering someone who has similar interests or a personality that gels with yours. (Of course, these are important in beginning a lasting relationship). A friendship becomes close because someone has been intentional about serving and helping the other. And this ministry of friendship grows into an obligation, a responsibility based on caring.
My best friend in high school, David, died when he was 22 in a car accident. The night before his funeral it was empty and quiet in the room where his body rested. I stood before his casket remembering and thinking how much I would miss him. My heart was broken.
I don’t know why, I had never thought of friendship as an obligation, but in my heart I said, “David, I’m going to take care of your family the best I can for the rest of my life.” I really didn’t even know what that meant. I didn’t have money, I wasn’t influential; but it was a promise I was compelled to make. In the years to come, I saw how my promise would take shape.
About ten years later I was driving near where his uncle lived and felt the need to drop by and spend some time with him. During that visit after recounting special times and memories, I asked this elderly man in his 80’s about his soul and eternity and shared the gospel with him; how that Jesus Christ came to die in our place to pay the penalty for our sins and rose again from the dead. I explained that those that would receive Christ personally and believe this message with all of their heart would be forgiven. That precious man, David’s uncle, bowed his head and trusted Christ as his Savior on that afternoon.
A few weeks later I had the privilege to baptize him in our church. Soon, David’s mother, sister and her children attended our church. Sometimes David’s brother came, too.
When David’s brother’s wife passed away unexpectedly I spoke at her funeral.
Years later, I was at the hospital when David’s sister, my friend, heard the news that she had terminal cancer. I talked with her and prayed with her. I spoke with her children and her husband. She was young. A few years after that, I served them by speaking at her funeral service. I love them and still think of them and see them occasionally.
Every year I would visit David’s mother on his birthday and she would tell me stories about him. She was my friend. When she passed I conducted her funeral service. David’s brother and I became close friends. We shared meals together and every year on the anniversary of David’s death either him or myself would call each other, depending on whoever called first. Early one morning he passed away and I was asked to speak at his funeral.
On the anniversary of David’s death each year I visit his grave and honor him for a few moments. Sometimes a friend or one of my family will go with me. I know he is not there; he is with the Lord. It’s something I want to do. Surrounding his grave are all these people I have mentioned. I look at their names on headstones and I remember the promise I made to my friend in that funeral home over 40 years ago.
Friendship is an obligation. It’s a joyful privilege to fulfill those obligations when it is for your friend.
The most sacred obligation is the marriage relationship. It is a love and friendship bound by a covenant oath before God and witnesses. My wife is my best friend and has been so good to me. For the past almost fifteen years she has been faithful in caring for me in a disease I battle. It’s not always easy for her.
When we were married (as I write this, over 41 years ago), we said our vows – “…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.”
Though we meant them we didn’t know that one day they would be tested so severely. Seven miscarriages weren’t on our minds then, experiencing financial difficulties weren’t something we thought about; we sure didn’t think one of us would have an incurable disease. Yet, suffering did come. Love has helped us endure, but it has also been the fact that we are committed friends. We are obligated – we promised.
Our wedding on June 2, 1979.
Now, as I officiate weddings and get to this part of the vows it is difficult for me to hold myself together; I know the importance of what the couple is saying. I sometimes remind them, “These are not just promises for the present, but for the future – most of these challenges you cannot see now, but you will be tested in them; remember your vows when you hit turbulent waters.”
Friendship is rare. We have a lot of acquaintances, but there are only a handful of people that will go through the grinder with us. We remember them. That group becomes special.
That which is rare is special and ought to be treasured and appreciated. Such is a friend, a husband, a wife. Realize the gift you have while you have it. Friends are precious. You will miss them when they are gone. Love them now.
“You never miss the water until the well runs dry.” (Source unknown)
Friendship is a gift you give.
Have you ever heard someone say of another person, “He used to be my friend.” Perhaps a better way to express it would be, “I thought he was my friend.”
“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.’ (Proverbs 17:17)
Friendship is a gift I bestow. It may not be reciprocated in equal measure or at all, but friendship is not dependent upon how a person treats me. I can be a friend to someone, even if they are not my friend – at least in the sense that I will treat them as one.
The only way anyone can live this way is by allowing the Lord Jesus Christ to live His life through them. He is loyal to His children, not because they deserve it, but because He is a covenant keeper. His love is pure and unselfish. His love expressed on Calvary was not convenient, but sacrificial. Yet, He wants to be our friend, and for us to be a friend to Him, even as Abraham was called a “friend of God”.
When we practice biblical friendship, it will transform all our relationships. We will have more friends by being a friend than we ever could imagine rather than trying to collect friends.
“A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly…” (Proverbs 18:24)
“It’s now what we have, but who we have.” (Winnie the Pooh)
At the kernel of every close relationship are the marks of friendship. As we cultivate friendship we strengthen the relationship. This is seen in marriage and parenting, too. It is good for us then to identify these qualities, and understand and practice them.
Another evidence of friendship is expressed by simply showing up and expressing heartfelt compassion when the other is hurting.
“To him that is afflicted pity should be shewed from his friend…” (Job 6:14)
Job was going through incredible pain and suffering, physically and emotionally, from the losses he had experienced. Because his three friends didn’t understand the depth of his sorrow and hurt they questioned his feelings and the expression of his despair. They lacked pity and compassion.
When our heart is broken at such a deep place and we feel no one can fully understand (and usually they can’t in every way) we yearn to know that someone just cares and feels our sorrow.
Again we see Job’s heart cry to his friends for mercy as he struggles with his loss and questions – “Have pity upon me, have pity upon me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.” (Job 19:21)
When C.S. Lewis’ wife died of bone cancer he wrote a memoir about his personal journey, “A Grief Observed“. It is a raw, but helpful book for those experiencing the loss of someone very close. He wrote, “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear“. When we grieve we discover emotions and feelings we have never known; we are utterly unprepared for it.
God comforts us (II Corinthians 1:3). He also gives us friends to minister comfort to us in these hours. Whenever a true friend is in trouble and hurting, though you may be many miles apart, his heart aches, too.
I read that the Indians in North America didn’t have a written alphabet, but their language and vocabulary was broad and eloquent. The French and English reported that their translation of the word “friend” was “one who carries my sorrows on his back“.
Here are a few suggestions to minister to your friends in times of suffering:
Be there. Just show up. The best thing Job’s friends did was to get together and be there for him when he was hurting.
“Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came every one from his own place; Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite: for they had made an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.” (Job 2:11)
Notice the word “appointment“. They set a specific time; they intentionally came to “mournwith him and to comfort him“.
Sometimes when a friend is in trouble people stay away; perhaps they fear they won’t say the right thing. However, just being there speaks as loud as anything you can say; even better. Our presence is consolation and shows we love them and care.
The night before my Mom’s funeral service we received friends. It was a cold and rainy night; it wasn’t easy to get out. The date was December 22, a few days before Christmas; a most inconvenient time of year to get out – and in bad weather. I stood with my brother and sister as we greeted old friends, people very precious to us. Many had driven a long way just to speak to us for thirty seconds. Who would do that? Why do that? They were our friends.
Friends love you and want to comfort you in your suffering. They know a hug and a compassionate look in the eye speaks volumes.
Friendship shines brightest in times of suffering and loss.
Weep with them. When Job’s friends first saw his physical condition, it touched them so deeply they wept for him.
“And when they lifted up their eyes afar off, and knew him not, they lifted up their voice, and wept….” (Job 2:12)
The word “compassion” means “to suffer with“. It is initiated by a comprehension of a need or state of suffering. The Bible often states that “Jesus (or other people) saw” a problem and then “were moved with compassion“. (See Matthew 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 20:34; I John 3:17).
Weeping follows seeing and then considering the suffering, pain and feelings of the other person. We are bereft of compassion because we are shallow in our thinking and selfish in our willingness to identify with the hurts of others. Friends don’t do this. They are thoughtful and compassionate.
Be quiet. Friends don’t need to say “just the right thing” when the other is broken. No words are necessary. A hug or a pat on the shoulder will do for the moment. A true friend doesn’t feel the need to explain why something happened – he can listen. (We don’t know all of the reasons tragedy happens anyway). Talking about the “why” of a painful situation without genuinely feeling their loss is cruel to the one that hears such talk. The word “listen” has the same letters as the word “silent“.
This is where Job’s friends made their mistake. Their words to him were after they had sat with him for a while were laced with criticism and judgment. Initially, they simply ministered by their presence and their lack of advice.
“So they sat down with him upon the ground seven days and seven nights, and none spake a word unto him: for they saw that his grief was very great.” (Job 2:13) It says, “they sat down with him“. Present, but not advisors. Quiet, but not indifferent.
It’s easy to come up with a solution when you are not the one experiencing the difficulty. John Galsworthy said, “Idealism increases in direct proportion to your distance from the problem.”
I’ll never forget as we drove up to the open grave of my Mom, two days before Christmas, a wonderful gift awaited. My wife was driving, I was in the front seat beside her, my daughter in the back, as we had followed the hearse into the cemetery. The funeral had been long – almost two hours. All of her children had spoken and most of the grandchildren.
Though I knew I would see her again, my heart was shattered for the moment. She had taken great care of me and influenced my life on so many levels. As we pulled to a stop beside the grave, at the top of a small hill 100 feet away, I was surprised to see something. It proved to be a sacred gift.
I recognized two friends from my school days. We rarely see each other, but there they were waiting, side by side. I don’t know how long they had been there, but there they were.
After the committal service the family stayed for a while and then began to gather in the cars to return to church for lunch. But I couldn’t leave yet. For whatever reason I am very sentimental and feel deeply – moments and events are sacred to me. I wasn’t going to leave until they finished everything at the burial site. I felt it was a duty of sorts. Perhaps it was because I was her oldest and had been with her the longest.
Soon it was just Paula, myself, and the cemetery workers filling the hole in the ground with the dirt, a cold wind blowing on all of us. My two friends from school days were there, too. They stayed. I stood and watched the final tasks and didn’t say a word to anyone.
At one time these two buddies and myself sat in classrooms together, rode in the same cars, sat down in Hogan’s Groceries, drank cokes and ate candy bars and a lot of other things that kids do. Now, we were in our 60’s, in a time of shared sorrowing. They were helping me to carry my pain, just by being there.
As the final part of the grave was being filled, one of my friends walked over and stood by me and put his hand on my shoulder. He never said a word. He just stood there beside me, a strong hand on my shoulder. We were both quiet in school, not many knew who we were. But he sought me out in my need on that day and he was a giant to me.
A broken-hearted man with two old friends offering the consolation of their presence. And I will never forget them or that moment. That is what friends do for each other. And that is what families are to do for one another.
In the family circle there will be pain and loss. Sometimes we won’t have any words; there are no explanations on this side of Heaven. That will come later.
But we can be there for our children, weep with our wife or husband, and be quiet and listen when they are hurting. This is the way we show we care. We need friends in our home.
Good relationships have the earmarks of friendship. The better the friendship, the stronger the relationship. That includes the family. Husbands and wives. Parents and children (as the children grow the relationship transitions to a friendship). Brothers and sisters. God intends for us to be friends.
Taken at one of our favorite places – Orange Beach, Alabama. We have so many precious memories that we will carry for the rest of our lives. I love my family. They grow up so fast. These were special days for Paula and me.
A foundational quality of any relationship is trust. When trust is broken the relationship is broken and cannot be whole until trust is reestablished. Solid and enduring friendships are based on character, not just personality. Applying the principles of friendship to our marriages would make them healthier.
What are some of the marks of trust in a friendship that can be measured in a marriage? In parent and child relationships? Here are three actions that communicate that you are trustworthy to others.
We communicate trust by being loyal with our words.
Trust is broken when we are not trustworthy with our words. That not only means being a truth-teller and keeping promises, but also involves what we say when the other is not present.
Friends take their words to each other seriously. They don’t speak negatively about each other or allow others to do so. Friends are loyal; this includes our words about each other when we speak to others.
A pastor friend asked a well-known preacher what his greatest disappointment had been in his ministry of over fifty years. He quickly responded, “The betrayal of a close friend”. Why did he not have to think about the answer? The pain of betrayal was still remembered. We remember the times when trust was violated. It makes us hesitant to trust again. This is why we need God’s grace to help us forgive and to love again in the future. I wonder how many new friendships we have forfeited because we have refused to ever “get burned again“.
Always defend the name of your friend. It is common for those that have served in political administrations, after leaving their time of service, to write a memoir. Frequently it will include something sensational that was negative; because people want to read such things, it is included to help sell the book. These “kiss and tell” books involve matters that were spoken in confidence, never intended for public ears. I have little respect for those that do those things.
I prove my love to my family by how I speak about them to other people. They need to know that I am loyal to them – and that they can trust me, when they are not present.
Blaise Pascal wrote, “I maintain that, if everyone knew what others said about him, there would not be four friends in the world.” The fact that he wrote this almost 400 years ago shows that human nature doesn’t change. Our hearts are wicked and we have a tendency to be disloyal when we are under pressure or it serves our interests. Or we just want to run others down to attempt to build ourselves up.
Only God can help us with this.
“Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)
We communicate trust by keeping confidences.
This is similar to the above thought, but a little different. Confidences involve those things that our friends share and specifically ask us to keep private and confidential.
When someone shares a confidence they trust one to keep it. Often it involves a disappointment, failure, or personal matter. They are trusting us with sensitive information.
“A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” (Proverbs 11:13)
“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” (George Washington)
Confidences in the family are often broken later or to that “one special person” the individual knows. It’s like the friend that had shared a private matter with a friend and later discovered others knew of it. He went to his friend and asked him if he had shared that information. His buddy said, “Yes, but only to one person and I told them not to tell it to anyone else“. And so it goes – and the circle widens.
In the family circle we spend so much time with each other we observe our loved ones in the best and worst of times; we see each other when our guards are down. Our proximity and time spent with family increases the number of these “confidential” moments that shouldn’t be shared. This includes times we are hurt by words or failed promises by parents or by the bad treatment of a sibling.
After this happens (and it will, your family is composed of sinners), we have a choice. We can forgive them – or we can tell others about the failures of our family. Friends don’t do that with each other because they love each other. Neither should family. This is a betrayal and erodes trust – which is fundamental to a good relationship.
The Bible says that love “…thinketh no evil…” (I Corinthians 13:8).
“And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.” (I Peter 4:8)
I have purposed that I will not share negative things about my family and be loyal to them in the way I talk about them. I want to be loyal to them in my words. I want my children, my wife, my brother and sister – and my parents who are now in Heaven, to know that I will always speak well of them. I would be grateful for them to give me the same gift as often as I have stumbled and offended them.
“Every man should have a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends.” (Henry Ward Beecher)
We communicate trust in not judging the motives of others.
This is when a relationship is mature and love is strong. Rather than immediately questioning motives (what a cynic does) we give margin and the benefit of the doubt. I had rather be proven wrong about a person when I trusted them than to assume wrong about them when they did no wrong. The way we see people influences the way we treat them.
God’s Word says that love “…beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things…” (I Corinthians 13:7).
In the spring of 1977 I was sitting in my New Testament Survey college class and my teacher and mentor, Dr. Wymal Porter, said, “Never judge a person’s motives; you don’t know what they are. That is God’s job and He will do that on judgment day.”
“Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts…” (I Corinthians 4:5)
That was a life-changing moment for me. I told the Lord that I didn’t want to do that and began to seek to purge that out of my heart with the help of God. I haven’t succeeded fully, but I have seen growth.
Our corrupt nature tends to judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions. With God’s help we can reverse that and begin to judge ourselves by our actions and others by their intentions. Yes, it is important to hold people accountable for their actions, but I also think it would be a better place to live if we extended mercy and didn’t think that we knew exactly what was going on in the mind and heart of the other person. We can do great harm when we always act on that premise.
Close friends give people some space and believe in them when others do not. That is what Barnabas did for Saul and he became the great Apostle Paul.
I have not always done this well with my wife and children. There have been too many times when I have assumed what I thought what was happening or what they were thinking and came to a faulty conclusion. And I hurt them. I began to ask God to help me to slow down, to be quiet, and to listen. It made an amazing difference.
One of the great words in the Bible is “mercy“. God loves and delights in mercy. I’m so glad for that.
“Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.” (Micah 7:18)
“There is more mercy in Christ than sin in us.” (Richard Sibbes)
It’s true. Friends trust one another. We need God’s help to do this because He is the only faithful and true One. May our friendships, marriages and homes reflect the heart of Christ. It will transform our relationships.
Perhaps your trust has been shattered by someone in your family. Bring your brokenness to Jesus and He can mend your broken heart and help you to start anew. That is the purpose of the cross and the empty tomb. It is where new life begins.
“And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Our Savior is the only One we can fully trust. If He lives in your heart then He will give you the desire and ability to cultivate trustworthiness in your life – because He is trustworthy. This is one of the qualities that makes Him such a dear Friend. It will strengthen your friendships – and your family relationships.
A close friend had been sick and in the hospital and was rapidly declining. My wife and I went to visit him. We didn’t know it would be the last time we would ever see him when we walked into his room, but he seemed to know it.
He was especially tender and his words were measured as he recounted many things we had done in the past. There was a lot of laughter and some tears. Just before we left I prayed for him and we clasped hands. When I finished he continued to hold his hands around mine, and expressed a heartfelt thanks for our friendship. When I walked out of the room I knew it was the last time I would see him until we were in Heaven together. He passed away the next day.
Something about the ending of life brings clarity and an urgency to express the deepest feelings of our heart.
I’ve seen it happen often as a pastor, where unsaid words are finally shared. An affirmation, an apology, a sacred remembrance is mentioned, a blessing that has been neglected is finally offered. Tears are usually shed. I’ve heard regrets spoken, too, in funeral homes standing beside coffins because of words that were never shared.
These experiences have motivated me to tell my loved ones and friends how I feel about them – today, before it’s too late. I want them to know that I love them and so I had rather be free with my words rather than wish later I had told them.
Friends share their hearts, at least they desire to, and it is the shrinking of time that often forces those unsaid words that have been neglected. Husbands and wives, the best of friends, ought to do so on a regular basis.
One of the positive qualities of the businessman, Boaz, in the Bible, is how he freely communicated his heart with his coworkers. He cared about them and blessed them verbally.
He greeted those whom he employed with a blessing – “And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee.” (Ruth 2:4) As I imagine this scene I hear him say it cheerfully. They responded with a blessing in return to him. Perhaps they learned it from his frequent example of kind words.
He was attractive to Ruth (his future wife) because of his words – “Then she said, Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens.” (Ruth 2:13) She specifically mentions the nature of his words as what stood out to her. (That is not only important to a woman, but also to a man).
Two of the most unselfish servants of God I have ever known, Hank and Leota Geigle. They have truly lived their lives for others.
One of the ways a husband or wife can tell when their partner begins to become indifferent toward them is by the tone of their voice.
Whenever we see someone’s countenance light up when we approach them, their tone is kind and gracious when they speak to us, and they are genuinely interested in what we have to say it is attractive to us and we are drawn to them. These qualities are absent when one is bored with a person.
Because our words are powerful we ought to ask God to help us to guard how we speak to others. Especially to those we love the most. It is easy to assume upon them and treat other people better than those that are closer to us.
“The Lord GOD hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary…” (Isaiah 50:4)
“A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” (Proverbs 15:23)
How can we improve in communicating our feelings to the one we love the most?
Communicate your feelings in a note. Some people write their feelings better than expressing them verbally. Also, another advantage to writing them is the recipient can keep your gift of words and review them later.
Say the usual in a different way. Take time to think about how you feel and say it in a fresh way. What happens when one says, “I love you” or “You’re a great friend” in different words? It gives it a little more impact and helps them to remember it. How about, “You are so special to me…you are a gift from God to me…you make my life better…I can’t believe how blessed I am to have you in my life”. Of course, you have to mean what you say, but when ideas aren’t clothed in tired phrases it jolts our brain and helps to receive the message better.
Get over your reticence to express yourself. Some temperaments are not as expressive as others. Some people have negative family experiences that have brought hurt into their life. They struggle to share their hearts. Whatever the case may be, the time will come when you will wish that you had.
Say it in time. Don’t procrastinate. The window of opportunity may be closing and you don’t know it. I don’t think one can say “thank you” too much to someone that has blessed them. So, don’t just express yourself on one occasion, learn to tell them often.
My wife is my best friend and I want her not only to know that, but also to know how much I love her. My mother is still living and I want her to know how important she is to me. I want my children and grandchildren to know that they are incredibly special to my heart.
I am a debtor.
“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone”. (Harriet Beecher Stowe)
Recently I shared with my wife that I was emotionally fatigued and discouraged. A part of me wanted to keep that to myself and “be strong”, but I needed someone to talk with about it. And she is my best friend.
A close relationship requires transparency.
We see this principle in Moses’ relationship with God. Theirs was a special relationship. The Bible says that when God communed with him it was “as a man speaketh to his friend”.
What does that mean?
The text gives us a clue – “…the LORD talked with Moses…and the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” (Exodus 33:9, 11)
They spoke “face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend”. Face to face. This carries the idea of a conversation that involves time and the unveiling of personal information.
The same idea is again mentioned after Moses’ death – “And there arose not a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face”. (Deuterononomy 34:10) He knew the Lord and they spoke as close friends, transparently and intimately.
I love this picture of Paula! It was taken somewhere near Romney, New Hampshire in the mid-90’s. The White Mountain region is spectacularly beautiful in the fall. Paula is beautiful all the time! I love Paula Mae.
Close friends are transparent with one another. There is a freedom to speak, an openness, and a liberty that is not shared within other relationships.
This is a willingness to let the guard down and to risk fear, rejection, and misunderstanding. Yet, this is where the gold is, where the depth of a relationship begins.
Someone said that intimacy is “into me you see”. Nothing hidden and based on trust. When violated, betrayal and disloyalty hurts like nothing else. It’s a sacred thing to allow someone into your heart.
It speaks of sincerity and genuineness.
It’s a joy to be able to spend time with someone that is just real. But it’s disarming because it is so rare. When we find such a person we connect with them and want to know them better.
One of my favorite words for someone like this is that they are “simple”. My father had a simplicity about the way he lived. So did my childhood friend, David Pogue. That’s why I miss them so much. No agenda; just real.
It involves a trust of personal weaknesses, personal aspirations and hopes.
It’s an unusual conversation to share personal fears, regrets, and dreams. One that must be earned over time.
Dreams are fragile and can be destroyed by the wrong comment by the right person. When our fears are mocked or not taken seriously we don’t open up to that person again. When our regrets and past pains are shared without our permission we will never trust that person with our heart again.
Secrets bind a person and we should be careful who we share them with. That’s one reason adultery happens. Before there is a physical connection, there is an emotional connection. A forbidden emotional intimacy leads to sexual sin.
It’s true, a close relationship requires transparency.
Jesus said so – “Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” (John 15:15)
Adam Clarke commented on this verse, “I have admitted you into a state of the most intimate fellowship with myself; and have made known unto you whatsoever I have heard from the Father…”
A healthy marriage is made of friends; two people able to reveal their innermost hearts. Friends don’t require that we “be OK” all of the time. They can listen and still love us, even when we are not at our best.
“A friend is one to whom one may pour out the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that gentle hands will take and sift it, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away”. (George Eliot)
If you want to enjoy a close relationship in marriage then you must learn to bare your heart and trust it with your best friend, your husband or wife.
One of my fondest memories of friendship came out of a time when Paula and I were hurting the most. We were at home, both of us recovering from physical setbacks.
I had been in the hospital with pneumonia two nights before and the day before Paula had miscarried our first child in that same hospital. So we were not only hurting physically, but our hearts were broken.
It was a Sunday and I ordinarily would have been at church to fulfill my responsibilities, but both of us were in no shape to go anywhere. Shortly after noon someone knocked on our little apartment door and it was a family from our church, mom and dad with four of their children in our youth ministry. With compassionate smiles and hands full of food and a fruit basket they came in and served us. We have never forgotten that act of kindness.
Why did they do this? They were our friends. And that is what friends do: they serve each other.
Likewise, a healthy marriage has two people that are serving each other consistently.
Several years ago Paula had surgery and was debilitated for a while. I took a week off from work to stay at home and just waited on her. She rested on the couch and we watched videos together. I took care of her meals (I didn’t cook, but bought food!). It was a sweet time for me to serve her.
But more important than a focused time of serving when she is down is just being aware on a daily basis of my calling to be her servant. Jesus called me to “nourish and cherish” my wife (Ephesians 5:29). At the heart of that is serving and caring.
It’s easy to take advantage of people that are good to you. It’s also easy to overlook how good they are, until the benefit is gone and you realize, too late, what a treasure you had in that person.
Jesus was a friend to His disciples and called them friends (John 15:14). On the night before He was crucified He washed their feet, a dirty, humbling task which only the lowest servant was assigned to do. Now He tasks us to do the same – to serve each other in humble and quiet ways, because we love each other. Because we are friends.
“If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15)
The work of the gospel in our hearts brings a genuine humility and willingness to want to serve, to put others before our own selves, and to love as Christ has loved us. Christianity is best seen in relationships and the most basic relationship is that of the husband and wife.
Friends serve one another. And a good marriage has two people that are conscious of the needs of the other – and do their best to meet that need.
Don’t wait until the one you love is gone before you realize how much you cared for them – and you have regrets for not serving them well.
“You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving”. (Amy Carmichael)
A strong marriage has at the core a relationship that is defined by a healthy friendship. If one can learn and apply the characteristics of a friendship then that relationship will be stronger, happier and deeper.
One of the qualities of friends is that they comfort each other in times of sorrow and grief.
“…Judah’s wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.” (Genesis 38:12) We see here that Judah was comforted in the death of his wife by his friend, Hirah.
This is seen in marriage when after Isaac’s mother, Sarah, had died that his wife, Rebekah, brought comfort to him in his grief.
“And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)
The same expression is also used of Joseph comforting his brothers after the death of their father, Jacob (Genesis 50:21). It is one way that love expresses itself.
The word “comfort” in these verses has the idea of “consoling, expressing pity, and having mercy”.
When genuine heartfelt empathy is communicated it strengthens a relationship.
Aristotle said that a friend was “a single soul dwelling in two bodies”. I like this picture of friendship. Part of the soul dynamic is the urgency and yearning to communicate comfort because someone you love is hurting.
There are three types of burdens people carry. First, are personal responsibilities (Galatians 6:5). While they can get uncomfortable sometimes and seem cumbersome, they are our own burden. Second, burdens we cannot carry alone and need the help of other people (Galatians 6:2). The third category are burdens so heavy that no human can help us, only God can carry them (Psalm 55:22).
It is in the second level where God uses people to bring comfort to us in our most difficult seasons – and we never forget these people.
This is the kind of friend Titus was to Paul – “Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus”. (II Corinthians 7:6)
Since a good marriage has the elements of friendship in it, part of that involves burden-bearing and comforting during times of sorrow.
When I was in college someone impatiently knocked at my dorm door and told me there was an emergency call. (We only had one phone on the hall). I hurried to the phone and it was my best friend back home. He shared that his grandmother had died. Though I was 100 miles away, he didn’t call his pastor or a relative to share his broken heart; he called his friend for comfort in that moment. We reach out to friends when we are hurting; or at least, we want to.
I experienced the most difficult thing in my life when I was thirteen years old – my grandfather died. We were very close; I am named after him. It was devastating for me. The day of the funeral I sat on the front pew in the funeral home as friends walked by the coffin for the final viewing after the service (as we did in the early 1970’s). My emotions numb until I saw my childhood friend and his family walk in front of me. As I saw the look of sadness in the eyes of my friend my tears began to flow.
Today, I still remember that compassionate look from my friend. Almost twenty years later his grandfather passed and I made sure to be there for him.
That is what friends do. They show up and comfort, sometimes without saying a word, but just their presence and a hug communicates compassion and helps to lift our burden a bit.
“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” (Helen Keller)
I have a friend who is a pastor and was going through some very difficult times with a staff member. After the staff member left because of some personal problems he began to say things about this pastor and twisted them, leaving out parts that would explain why some decisions had been made. Because the staff member was well-loved my pastor friend took some criticism. He wanted to defend himself, but felt like it would hurt the family of the disgruntled employee, so he kept quiet and took the brunt of some hurtful comments.
After a couple of weeks, one evening, very discouraged, he sat down on the couch feeling alone and misunderstood. He told me that his wife came in a few minutes later and sat down by him and without saying a word just held his hand for a long time. It was one of the most meaningful times of encouragement he had ever had. His friend had comforted him.
That is what a healthy marriage looks like. Each will comfort the other. Because they are friends.
Invest in your marriage. Find out where your husband or wife is hurting, grieving or sorrowing and comfort them. After all, they are your friend.