What creates a lasting friendship?
These are my parents. I love them dearly. When you see a couple you do not know well smiling in a photo, it is easy to assume they are happy and enjoying their time with each other. Otherwise, why would they be smiling, right? But when it is a couple you know intimately, a couple you have seen experience extreme highs and lows, you do not simply see just their smiles; you see everything. You see their story written on their faces, you see the struggles that have been overcome in how close they hold each other, you see many years of laughter in the fine wrinkles around their eyes. It is a special connection you have with them that gives you a glimpse into a world most may never see.
Today is my parents’ 32nd wedding anniversary. They have known each other since the sixth grade, when they were in the same class in small town Ohio. I realize I am blessed to be able to say my parents have stuck together through everything life could have thrown at them. Every time I get to tell someone how long my parents have been together, pride swells in my heart. It is rare to see people still in love after they see each other at their truly worst and truly best moments.
But there is something to learn here about friendship. Hence the reason why I am writing this. It is not necessarily a congratulatory letter of sorts to my parents on their anniversary. Rather It is about the many lessons I have learned about friendship from the 23 years of their marriage I have witnessed.
So I have a question: What creates a lasting friendship?
You likely already know that opposites tend to attract. There comes a time in your life when you really begin to evaluate yourself, you get to know yourself as a person. Understanding dawns when you realize what you are good at, what areas you need improvement, where you need accountability, where you need encouragement and what special characteristics you bring to the table. And as you see all of these things about yourself and they take deep root in your heart, the evaluation process begins again, this time of the people in your life. The characters in your family and friend group…suddenly their characteristics begin to show. And it becomes outrageously obvious: Everyone has at least one characteristic that is the opposite of what you have.
Differences tend to draw people together. There is something attractive, secure, impressive, amusing, frustrating, intriguing about the other side of a coin when you are used to your own side. Your side is familiar; it is what you know. So when you finally see the other side, it is refreshing.
But think for a second about the people in your life. There is likely a spectrum of people you interact with on a daily basis. Family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances. Usually in that pool of people there are those you get along with 99 percent of the time, and those you can only take in small doses. For those you can only take in small doses, there is a reason for that, perhaps even multiple reasons. And that is okay. But think about why your contrasts with some people are more disruptive with others.
Why does it seem like some people you click with, and some people there is nothing but conflict? If differences are supposed to draw you closer to people, and opposites are supposed to attract, why is it sometimes the hardest thing you can do to form a lasting friendship with those people?
It is at this point I would like to weigh in.
There is something to be said about selfless love. It takes a big amount of selflessness to be able to look at the differences you have with another person, and at the end of the day be able to say your affection for that person has not changed even though you do not agree with what they are doing. For the person who is my best friend, I want to know I can rely on them to love me even when they do not agree with me. I want to know even if I am a complicated person to understand they will still make a solid effort to understand me, and at the end of the day remind me that nothing I do will ever change how they feel about me.
I look at my closest friends and family members, and there are many I would say I am close to. They know me well, and when I do things that worry them or grieve them or make them proud, it never changes how they feel about me.
For example, on the surface and even deep down, my sister and I could not be more opposite. Yet we have a close relationship because we respect our differences and love each other anyway.
The same principles for friendship can be applied to marriage. Marriage is meant to be a friendship that lasts a lifetime. And it takes a huge ability and a certain measurable determination to be selfless—to constantly lay down what you want and need in order to take up what the other person wants and needs—to make a friendship last.
And the most amazing thing that happens when you choose to be selfless in your friendships? The ones who receive your selfless love are better able to return that selfless love back to you. When you truly look out for the other person more than you look out for yourself, it opens you up to the truest form of love that two humans can experience outside of the eternal love they receive from Christ.
So be selfless in your friendships. Listen to what people are saying. Love them for who they are, not what they do. And never let them doubt how much you love them. Christ set the example for friendship when He died on the cross. Follow His example, selflessly sacrificing out of love.
“Friendship without sacrifice is no friendship at all.” —David Jeremiah