In his book Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship, author Jon Meacham recounts the deep friendship that developed between U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill during World War II. Interesting, Roosevelt had quite a negative impression of Churchill when they first met twenty-one years earlier. Roosevelt was running for a state senate position and made a visit to London. He found Churchill brusque. What brought them together years later as president and prime minister was Adolf Hitler. However what kept them together was friendship.
Throughout WWII, they exchanged nearly 2000 letters, spent over 100 days together, and celebrated holidays with one another. They encouraged each other in the midst of dark times. In the last 24 hours of Roosevelt’s life, he penned these words for a speech that he would never deliver: “Today we are faced with the pre-eminent fact that, if civilization is to survive, we must cultivate the science of human relationships.” [I’ll resist the temptation to discuss the lack of friendship and collegiality, which characterizes the political atmosphere in Congress at present. However, I do wonder if friendship is one of the missing ingredients in solving our nation’s problems.]
In his book, Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship and Direction, David Benner ponders if the reason friendship is so undervalued today is because “too few people have ever experienced a significant, enduring friendship.” He maintains that spiritual friendship reflects love, loyalty, honesty, intimacy as shared experience, as well as the critical balance of support and confrontation. Who can show us ourselves unless someone is close enough to really know us?
Prior to his death and resurrection Jesus set friendship up to a new level of relationship when he told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command…Instead, I have called you friends, for everything I have learned from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:13-15). Jesus called those closest to himself friends and left them a legacy of friendship.
Genuine friendship is becoming an endangered species. Yet as Liz Carmichael asserts in her book examining friendship in the classical tradition, Friendship: Interpreting Christian Love, “it [friendship] is the enduring element in all loves” (p. 179). Carmichael looks at the original writings on friendship of the likes of Ambrose, Augustine, Basil, John Cassian, Aelred of Rievaulx, Thomas Aquinas, and Moltmann, among dozens of others.
Despite social networking sites (i.e., 800 million active uses on Facebook and 106 million users on Twitter), investing in friendship is thwarted by busyness, work overload, economic distress, and media consumption. Jürgen Moltmann said of friendship: “In friendship we experience ourselves for what we are, respected and accepted in our freedom. Through friendship we respect and accept other people as people and as individual personalities” (The Church in the Power of the Spirit, p. 115). How true this is!
I’m thankful for my closest friends who know all about me and still love me. Since friendships die from neglect, I’m challenged afresh to invest in them, especially over this busy holiday season perhaps, by giving the gift of time. A note…a phone call…a prayer.
What about you?