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Worth Their Weight in Gold

Friendship takes time. But it’s worth every bit of it, for these are usually “good times”. And friends often reveal us to ourselves and help us rise to be our better selves. Every now and then, we hear them say, “That’s what friends are for” - and we know it to be true.

Impact: C S Lewis says friendship happens when we look at another person and say, “You too?” Would you agree that friendship is a rather serendipitous event? Tell us a personal experience.

Dennis: A serendipitous event is one that is not planned but has a good result. It applies to friendship too. But it is not uncommon for people to seek out friendship via various social platforms, including social media. In Singapore, the government provides a Social Development Network (SDN) to foster opportunities for singles to interact in social settings in Singapore. Fellowship groups in churches are also platforms for developing friendships, especially “spiritual friendships” (the terminology used by my Regent College alumni friend (Soo-Inn Tan).

Thelma: I think friendships always start off as a happy surprise and we tend to begin with similarities as a talking point or reason to interact between two initial strangers: this could be a mutual friend, or the event we are at, or perhaps even some obscure interest like a book we may both be reading at the time. But besides similarities, some of the most joyful and pleasant experiences I have had when meeting somebody new, is to slowly discover our differences as well. I think when we discover a person’s unique traits that are so different from our own, we can appreciate further the effort required in friendships and wonder at how God could possibly have introduced two distinct individuals to one another to walk and journey with.

Natalie: Friendship could be serendipitous (but it isn’t always, some friendships take time to nurture), given that you’ll never really know when you’ll meet and connect with an “unlikely” friend who you’d be able to hit it off with naturally due to common interests or values.

In my personal experience, friendships are more easily built and established in our younger years (some which last into the older years) and we’re more open to becoming serendipitous friends. But more often than not, they are serendipitous beginnings, not quite lasting through the entire process or duration. I find that friendships tend to take harder work and commitment thereafter!

Impact: You’ve made a good point about friendships involving hard work and that it is sometimes, maybe even often, sought out rather than based on serendipity. I guess CS Lewis meant that in seeking out, there is a serendipitous happy moment when you find someone who shares something that you are passionate about.

Regardless, can you think of a friendship personally that has lasted through time, how it began and what it meant to you?

Dennis: Friendships like most good relationships need cultivation.

Thelma: I think I’m blessed with some friendships that have lasted since primary school when we shared the same class. Long-lasting friendships have taught me how much people change and while wrestling with that is often quite painful, it’s always rewarding when we come to a place of acceptance or even forgiveness that can mean the friendship has grown or deepened! I personally think that friendships should have such rough seasons too, sometimes it tells us we are being adequately real with one another, because God made us each so differently so how can we always agree?

Natalie: I agree and resonate with what Thelma shared: I believe God gives friendships to us - as iron to iron, to sharpen, shape and mould us. I, too, have been blessed by my longest-standing friendship (20+ years and I’ve lost count, haha) and this friend is still playing a huge role in journeying with me through life-stages and walking alongside through the dark valleys too.

Impact: Sharpening and shaping, sometimes we think of friendships only as comforting, happy things. But sharpening can hurt.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy, says the Bible. How can we differentiate between that kind of wounding and that of someone putting you down? Have you consciously wounded a friend before?

Dennis: It is a very fine line. We define “friend” and “friendships” loosely.

A friend is someone whom one knows and likes, and to whom one shows loyalty and affection; a close or intimate acquaintance.

I think the point made in this scriptural proverbial text is that a friend speaks truthfully to you (and it can sometimes be hurtful). What I call “tough love”.

Thelma: For me, I think it’s telling when a friend versus an enemy rebuke you, based on the way they act right after calling you out on something, be it your personality, attitude or life choices. A friend would continue to walk with you after rebuke, and they even hurt you as they speak. I think somebody who does not really care about your feelings would throw their hurtful comments at you and walk away.

Natalie: Wounding in love often includes having the fundamental and foundational TRUST between two individuals. I can trust this friend, even when he/she wounds me, because I believe he/she is doing so from a place of love for me. Whether correction or rebuke, I can receive it in good spirit, trusting that they do so for my good, growth and best interest.

Outright putting down will sting and hurt on a different level, where it often feels like they are out to “destroy” and “crush” you as a person - not seeking to restore you thereafter.

Impact: So, do all friendships involve some wounding at some point? Have we so loosely defined friendships that it is different from a biblical perspective?

Dennis: I quote from my friend, Soo-Inn: “Every friendship is formed around shared goods that identify the friendship and help the friends understand the life and purpose of the friendship. In spiritual friendship the principal good is mutual love for Christ and a desire to grow together in Christ.”

We should conscientiously develop “spiritual friendship”.

Spiritual friends help each other fulfil the most important call of their lives – the call to grow in Christlikeness.

Thelma: It’s only honest of ourselves to speak up when we don’t agree and it’s also a holy thing to desire to ‘grow’/’build up’ the people you love! The opposite of love is apathy (not hate, or wounding) and so it's more often the people who love you who would extend great care to point out what does not sit right with them about you/your friendship. We have to be gracious to receive these as much as we receive praise and affirmation.

Natalie: Yes, I believe wounding or being wounded in friendships often carry a holy aspect to what God desires to do or accomplish in and through a friendship established. God does use others as a mirror to help us see what we can’t or don’t see sometimes.

Impact: Anyone wants to share an experience where you have consciously wounded someone because you cared, or have been wounded?

Dennis: Yes. And it sometimes has to do with personalities. I tend to speak outrightly - and God is not finished with me yet! Using “speaking the truth in love” as a reason or justification, I have told an ordained minister that his harsh words to his colleague were not what would be expected. In hindsight, I could have been kinder.

Thelma: Some of the times I have been wounded is in the context of Christian circles, especially with my batchmates who have pointed out some dissonance in my speech and my actions. As much as I hate being pointed out as a hypocrite, these were truths I could not bear to face on my own and so, having people who spoke with such love and courage was a huge moment of humility. It taught me of my own imperfection and gave me the appropriate support to deal with sin too. I felt this was such a warm extension of God’s own love, through the words, wounds and healing from friends.

Natalie: I had to consciously let go of and give up (in surrender) a particular friendship to the Lord (by extension, wounding her too) - knowing that He was doing a specific work in her life that I no longer was going to be a part of. That hurt me because that meant having to feel the loss of the friendship and acknowledging that we would never regain the closeness we had.

To this day, this friend and I hardly speak, and when we do, they are often functional conversations. But seeing her blossom and grow as an individual with her community has equally blessed and assured my heart that God has taken good care of her all these years. I cannot outlove God and think I know better for this friend… because in the same way He loved her, He loved me through it too!

Impact: Psychologists agree that friendship is essential for our development as persons. Yet deep friendship is extremely rare. Lee Iacocca said, “My father always used to say that when you die, if you've got five real friends, then you've had a great life.” What works against good friendships?

Dennis: Lack of time; dependence on technology (instead of face-to-face encounters); not valuing friendships/ friends as friends but as a means to an end. Friendship should never be a means to an end. We live in an increasingly lonely (globalised) world. Our relationships have turned from relational to transactional. But we were never meant to live alone. We need significant others in our lives to be healthy, growing human beings. We need our friends.

Thelma: Life often gets in the way… Sometimes it's nobody's fault that friendships do not deepen or cannot carry on. One of the things I have learnt is that an honest friendship doesn't always look like you're close all the time. Sometimes a more honest way to be a friend is to give distance, or perhaps be around for just some seasons, or even as a hi-bye friend. Friendship obstacles have changed as I grow up: dealing with jealousy and gossip as a young girl, navigating healthy boundaries as I grew older and made more guy friends, and now as an adult it's about matching one another's pace. But what has always been important is having peace between any two individuals and with God too! Whether they come or go, we can learn to do friendships with open hands -- allowing God to give and take away as He wills.

Natalie: Insecurity - lack of trust, fear of rejection, betrayal, failure, etc.

Unhealthy comparison/dependence - not giving or committing as much as the other party or over-relying on a friend for one’s self-worth or identity. Passivity - allowing technology to replace face-to-face and undisrupted time together. Lack of sincerity and genuine desire to connect.

Impact: Abraham was called a friend of God. And we are told that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Can you unpack how we can possibly be God’s friends and what it means to be friends with the world? What does it and does it not mean?

Dennis: Allow me to quote: “To flourish, our relationship with God must be rooted in the soil of our daily relationships with others. There is no substitute for flesh-and-blood, kindred companions if we are to understand ourselves, grow in faith and compassion, and keep ourselves from losing our way.” – Timothy K Jones, Mentor & Friend.

Friendship with God requires our commitment to spend time with Him, as Jesus did. (Mk 1:35). And it requires us to develop spiritual friendship with others as one body in Christ. (I Cor 12: 12-26).

Thelma: This is such an interesting question and I think I have struggled to view God as a friend through my life. As a child, God was this wise old man in the sky and gradually someone like a Father figure, a lover, a teacher... but I'm learning that seeing God as a friend can mean seeing beyond the "high and almighty" tropes of our God, instead to see Him as a fun-loving, humorous God too. He can take all our rants, our complaints, our tears and our questions just as and even better than our earthly friends do. God is 100% reliable, ever-present and endlessly patient but I think it may require some breakthroughs of our own mental frames to regard him as such a Friend!

Natalie: We’ve all thought that way before, Thelma, haha!

Being a friend of God is a highest privilege. To know my Creator and King as a friend should leave me floored!

To me, being a friend of God means knowing and understanding His heart and desire for His people, and in turn, having my life deeply impacted and taken by all that’s in His heart, resulting in an inevitable transformation of the way I choose to live my life.

Impact: This friendship seems then to exclude us from being “friends” with the world (James 4:4). What does that mean?

Thelma: Hmm. I’m not too sure there is such a fine distinction between friendship with God versus friendship with the world. I tend to see how God has used my friendships even with non-believing individuals to enrich my own walk with Him! What do the rest think?

Dennis: That depends on what we understand by “friendship with the world is enmity with God” isn't it? The use of the word “world” here can be tricky. I believe scriptures would refer to this as “desires of the flesh” as described in Pauline letters rather than the cosmos (i.e., God’s creative order) or our non-Christian friends. Scripture sums it up with “You cannot serve God and mammon/ money” (Mt 6:24).

Natalie: This reminds me of being in but not of the world. It’s like holding God’s hand, being 100% committed to following all His ways, and yet choosing to also hold the hand and ways and rebellion of the world (lusts of the flesh, greed, covetousness, sin, etc) and refusing to let go.

In my imagination, at some point, I’d be torn in two if I never choose which hand to hold and cling to for dear life.

Thelma: Mm okay! I see where the verse is coming from a bit better. Like there is a present danger where we could fall into treating our worldly friendship as an idol? I think this could look like holding on too tightly to friendships with the world, and neglecting a friendship with God.

Dennis Lee serves as Area Director at the Methodist Missions Society. He enjoys time with his spouse Clarice, and granddaughter Mila, doing sports, and food from the Food Centre...not necessarily in that order.

Thelma Chia is currently finishing up her undergrad degree in NUS while growing the courage to begin 'adulting’.

Natalie Yeo works in Communications and Public Relations — she is an introvert, yet loves investing intentional time on people. She is an open well when it comes to meeting people with histories that can be transformed to become His stories!

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