My dad had a stroke in 2001 and gradually degenerated physically until he passed away in July of 2008. He had a transportation business and loved to drive his bus and got to know many people through the years. When he lost the ability to drive a part of him died.
I remember sitting in Mom and Dad’s home and watching him sit quietly, absorbed in his thoughts, oblivious to everything around him. Sometimes I believe he was thinking about how quickly his life had changed and how he missed being with his friends. But he did have a lot of friends and they loved him. I saw true friendship exhibited from one of his old high school buddies, John Childress.
Dad went to school with John and they played football together. (John became a coach and is well-known in our area for being highly successful in football; his record over twenty years was 147-43). He was one of the groomsmen in Mom and Dad’s wedding and a close, lifetime friend.
After my father’s stroke John came by the house every week to take him to lunch with some of their old school pals. Unless John was out of town he was there to take Dad to Mullins restaurant. (Other friends did the same for him, too). It wasn’t easy to do. Dad had a very slow gait and required a walker, needed help getting in and out of the car, and sometimes had to have some of his food wiped from his face as he ate.
It was humbling for him, but his friend, John, acted like everything was normal. On several occasions I watched them sit together and was touched by the kindness of my father’s good friend. To me, there was something sacred about it. I treasure those memories of two close friends, one caring for another, when he needed it most of all.
After they returned to the house John would come in and talk to Mom and Dad. My father had lost his ability to speak with the exception of four or five words, but he was alert and aware of everything that was said. He would nod and smile a lot. It didn’t matter to John. He included Dad as if it were a two way conversation.
Fast forward to July 13, 2008. I stood by my father’s casket in a funeral home and John approached with tears in his eyes. I thanked him for loving my father, spending time with him, and for caring for him. I told him how much Dad loved him and enjoyed those special times they shared.
I love John Childress, too. He loved my father very much, even when it was difficult. He was loyal to his friend. Though I don’t have the connection to John my father did, he is my friend, too. A friend of my father is a friend of mine and I want to serve him as my Dad would have if he were still here.
One day after I’m in Heaven I hope that my children will be a friend to my friends. They have made me a better person and I am indebted to them. To whatever degree I have been a blessing in the lives of my kids, my friends had positive influences on me in different ways.
Being a friend is both a privilege and an obligation. One of those responsibilities is to be loyal. The word loyal is defined as being faithful to your obligation. Certainly there are joys of friendship, but there are also duties which we have to our friends.
God speaks of this obligation – “Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.” (Proverbs 27:10) God exhorts us to be loyal, to “forsake not”, our friends. The word “forsake” means “to relinquish, leave or fail”. (Note that the Bible says we are to be loyal to those that were friends to our parents.)
Adam Clarke comments on this verse about the value of such a friend: “A well and long tried friend is invaluable. Him that has been a friend to thy family never forget, and never neglect. And, in the time of adversity, rather apply to such a one, than go to thy nearest relative, who keeps himself at a distance”.
There are going to be times when we need our friends in a desperate way and, likewise, our friends will need us. It is during tough times that we discover the depth of our friendship and we become closer to each other.
The term loyalty implies that there will be occasions when your friendship will be tested. You will have to make a choice concerning your schedule, your priorities, what people might say if you stand with them in their time of need. Loyalty is easy when there is no price, but when it is uncomfortable and difficult, it is a precious gift – and it is more meaningful to the person to whom it is given than you can ever realize at the moment.
Sometimes our friends make bad choices, they sin, or hurt people. While we must not have a blind eye to their wrongdoing, we can still love them and help them. Someone said, “You will never have a friend if you must have one without faults”.
The people I have loved the most have hurt me the most, but I continue to love them. In fact, I love them more, because of the pain they are going through because of their choices. Their failures sometimes cause them to want to hide from their old friends. Maybe it’s a sense of shame or they just don’t know what to say.
This has happened to me many times and I grieve over the loss of the relationship with my friend. (So much that it contributed to a season of depression in my life. I missed the companionship of my friend). It wasn’t my choice to stop communicating, but it happened.
I am still loyal to them. I still pray for them. If they did wrong I don’t talk about it to other people. I still remember the good things we did and the memories we share. Though loyalty may not be reciprocated, I can still be their friend and be loyal to them.
I think this is what it means when the Bible states, “…there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother”. (Proverbs 18:24) The words “sticketh closer” mean “to adhere or cleave to tightly”. It is during these trying times that we have the privilege to show our love by being loyal to them, even if it is not returned.
Someone wrote, “Adversity sifts friendships”. That is true. One of the blessings of trouble is that we discover who our true friends really are. These seasons of life are not always easy for us to be there to express our commitment, but we do what we need to do.
“A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17) It’s easy to be on the side of a person in prosperity, but our friendships are deepened in times of difficulty.
As a young thirteen year old I was sitting in a funeral home shell shocked by the sudden and unexpected death of my grandfather a few days before. I was his namesake and we were very close. In that time (1971) at the end of the service the casket would be opened again and all of the friends would file by to pay their respects one final time.
The sermon was over, the last song had been given and soft organ music played as the crowd passed by not ten feet away from where the family was seated. I looked at the faces of the people and then I saw my childhood friend, my first friend, Steve Payne and his entire family walk by. I broke down and wept. When my heart was broken more than it ever had been, my friend was loyal to me. I still remember.
A friend of mine had lost a loved one. The funeral was on a day when I had some other important meetings. It was not easy to change my schedule, but I did. I came to the funeral and afterward approached my friend to hug him and tell him that I was sorry and I loved him.
After we embraced and I shared my condolences he looked at me and said, “Rick, I knew you would be here”. He didn’t know how much I went through to make it happen, but that was alright. His words have reminded me of how important it is to be loyal to your friends. My wife knows how much I struggle sometimes when I’m unable to be there for the people that I love. I want to be loyal.
Someone said, “In prosperity our friends know us; in adversity we know our friends”. Simply put, loyalty is not always easy. It will be tested. Loyalty cannot be quiet when one’s friend is hurting, has a need or is accused. Your love for your friend makes you committed to meet their needs.
We see this in one of the model friendships in the Bible between Jonathan and David. In a time when King Saul was jealous of David and trying to kill him, Jonathan (Saul’s son) was loyal to David. He supported his friend to his father in spite of his father’s hatred of him.
“And Jonathan spake good of David unto Saul his father, and said unto him, Let not the king sin against his servant, against David; because he hath not sinned against thee, and because his works have been to thee-ward very good”. (I Samuel 19:4) This was not an easy thing to do for Jonathan. Loyalty is often difficult.
As time passes and distance increases we tend to forget our friends, but David never forgot Jonathan. One day he was thinking about Jonathan, though he had been dead for years, and discovered that Jonathan had a son (II Samuel 9). David befriended his friend’s son and was extraordinarily kind to him for the rest of his life. The reason he did it was “for Jonathan’s sake” (9:1). This is exactly what Proverbs 27:10 is teaching about the obligation of friendship.
My best friend in my teenage years died unexpectedly when I was twenty years old. My grief was overwhelming. My heart is still tender over it. The night before his funeral I stayed until everyone left and just stood before his casket, looking at his still body, my mind running with memories, hurting so very deep in my soul.
As I stood there I made a promise to myself and to my friend. This may sound odd to some, but I promised to take care of his family as best as I could. I didn’t have money so my thoughts weren’t centered around buying them things. But I could serve them and meet whatever needs they had and that is what I did.
In the years following I led my friend’s uncle (who had raised him for much of his life) to Christ and had the joy of baptizing him in our church. My friend’s sister, mother and nephew attended our church and I ministered to them spiritually. I faithfully visited his mother every year on the anniversary of his death and cared for her if she needed anything.
In later years my friend’s sister was diagnosed with cancer; I was in the hospital room when the doctor gave her the bad news; we cried and prayed together. Her husband asked me to do her funeral when she passed away from her illness. When my friend’s mother became ill I went to her home and visited her, two days before her death. I had the privilege to conduct her funeral. My friend’s sister-in-law died in her thirties and I had the privilege to care for her funeral.
My friend has a brother and he and I are close friends. I call him regularly and he calls me, too. We go out to eat and tell stories about his brother and sometimes cry together remembering a dear brother/friend that, to us, died prematurely and left a hole in our hearts.
I will do this until I die or my friend’s brother dies. He is the last remaining relative in their family. I made a promise to my friend. Since I cannot serve him, I will serve his family. Best friends are loyal to each other.
I read this recently, “An old friend is better than two new ones”. I have taught my children to be loyal to each other with their words in front of other people. I have been loyal to my wife and she to me. I hope they have seen it being lived out in my life. People that love each other are loyal to one another.
Here’s a wonderful song with my sentiments toward my “old friends”. I love each of you.