“In a circle of true Friends each man is simply what he is: stands for nothing but himself. No one cares twopence about any one else’s family, profession, class, income, race, or previous history…That is the kingliness of Friendship. We meet like sovereign princes of independent states, abroad, on neutral ground, freed from our contexts.” – C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
How many friends do you have? How do you know when you have a friend? Sometimes it’s hard to discern. Adam and Eve, just after they’d sinned, did a particularly odd thing. They hid. They sewed together fig leaves and hid themselves. Odd. But, not really surprising. We do the same thing don’t we? In an independent, self-actualizing, wealthy (yes, we are still wealthy!), society like ours, most people live strangely private and pretentious lives.
We buy lots of stuff, and then we hide ourselves inside our stuff. We buy big houses in gated neighborhoods and host exclusive parties. We drive big SUV’s and Crown Victorias with tinted windows. We adorn our lives with baubles and trinkets that we use to intimidate others; products that send a message, that cause the masses to “Oooo and Ahhh”. Fig leaves upon fig leaves. Phones? Got to have an Iphone 3G. Televisions? Give me a Samsung LCD 52″, Computers? Apple MacBook, Golf Clubs? Tony Jacklin, Watches? Rolex. Coffee? Starbucks. Breath Mints? Altoids. Beer? Sam Adams Utopia. Sunglasses? Oakley. Clothes? Don’t get me started.
But, we don’t stop there. We also love titles added to our names. A man wants to be a Mister. A miss wants to be a Mrs. The list goes on. Pastor, Priest, Bishop, Deacon, Elder, The Right Reverend, Chairman, CEO, the third, the fourth, the fifth, The Grand Poobah, Prince, Princess, King, Queen, B.A., M.A., PhD., Mayor, Senator, Congressman, President, Corporal, Colonel, General, Officer, Sheriff, Judge, Professor, Chancellor, Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief. Now, to be sure titles can be helpful. They certainly help to identify roles and clarify certain positions. Titles remind us to recognize those roles and give them proper respect and due honor. But eventually there must come a time when these titles and baubles must be laid to the side. There comes a place where we must refuse to say ‘you are down there’ and ‘I am up here’. This is especially true in the realm of friendship.
In fact, two persons only achieve authentic friendship when they willingly shed themselves of title, of position, of age, of baubles and trinkets; when they can stand before one another without saying my family is better than yours, my house is bigger, my job more important, my hair more shiny, or my Mac Book way cooler. It is when we stand before one another without fig leaves, without hiding, without manipulating, without trying to get ahead; when we agree to meet on the neutral ground of mutual respect, submission, and love – it is then, and only then – that true phileo friendship can be attained.
So, how many friends do you have? Me? I have precious few. As a Pastor, it is often difficult to go “defrock” myself. Like so many others, I have a hard time knowing when it is time to take off the robe, and when I finally do, I find that most people don’t like it. It makes them uncomfortable. They like me in the robe. They like me with a tie, and a coat, and a Bible in my hand. I get it. I know how that is. Several months ago I saw one of our church families at the local mall. When I went up to talk to them their little girl said, “What are you doing here?”
I smiled nervously and said, “Oh, I’m just shopping?”
She furrowed her brow and pointed toward the doors, “You’re supposed to be at the church!”, she said.
Yeah. I get it. We don’t want to see our proctologist at the grocery store. We don’t want to see our lawyer at the party. We don’t want the policeman who gave us a ticket to sit beside us at church. The king doesn’t want to hang with the prophet. The emo chick doesn’t dig the beauty queen. The Bears hate the Packers. I get it. But, because this is true, when we find someone that we connect with; when we build a friendship with someone that transcends position, power, uniforms, and titles; when we are able to shed all pretense and come out of hiding; when we meet as two children on the playground simply saying, “Hey, my name is Timmy. / Mine’s Johnny / You wanna play? / Yeah, that sounds fun”; when we attain this level of friendship – it is a rare thing. It is a rare thing indeed. My wife and I have this type of friendship. But, I have precious few others. I can count them using less than ten fingers.
So, since friendship of this nature is so rare, since it is so strenuous to build, once I have achieved it, I prize it. I value it greatly…and so should you. In fact, if you have a friend like this, count it a blessing. If you have more than one, count yourself wealthy beyond measure. Prize your true friendships. Care for them. Cultivate them. Pay attention to them. Never take them for granted. Because in the end, true friendship is uncommonly found, difficult to develop and, often, so easy to lose.
C.S. Lewis had only a few close friends. Some of his dearest were his brother, Warnie, his wife, Joy, and his literary group, commonly referred to as the Inklings, which included J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. I’m sure that when he wrote on “Friendship (Phileo Love)” in his book “The Four Loves”, Lewis was thinking about these particular relationships. Another Lewis quote along these lines that I find particularly amusing is “…I cannot quite understand why a man should wish to know more people than he can make real friends of (Surprised by Joy).” So true.