Requiem for a Christian Friendship

by Jeremy Parks on January 4, 2013 · 18 comments

Once, I had a friend.  Let’s call him Frank T.

What a great guy.  Smart.  Insightful.  Hard-working.  Godly.  A goofball.  Wonderfully irreverent sense of humor that sometimes treads right up to the line but doesn’t cross it.

We were pals, Frank and I.  Our friendship taught me some of his favorite movies (Mel Brooks figures heavily).  It communicated to me his favorite sports to watch.  I know what sport he plays best recreationally because friendship led us to play together.  Ol’ Frank collects some sports memorabilia; I know very little about the collecting, but our friendship made it interesting.

Frank frequently showed a certain gentleness and generosity of spirit.  He would get his hands on some little treat, some snack for someone in my family.  He managed to convince one of our kids that head-butting was fun.  I watched Frankie park himself on a bench and interact with a squat, leather-skinned, mentally-challenged man whose hands were hardened by years of manual labor, and assure him that they would one day know each other in paradise.  I’ve still got the picture of the two of them, huddled on that bench in the sunshine enjoying a very different kind of friendship for a moment.

C.S. Lewis, in writing about the strange bond of male friendship, asserted that the reason friends can be closer than brothers is that we pick our friends.  We are stuck with our siblings, and usually we love them.  Friends, on the other hand, are people we select out of the masses; we send to one another the silent message, “I could have chosen anyone, so I picked you.”  Pals are examined, selected, chosen, and pursued voluntarily.  Frank and I were thrown together by circumstance, but for a time I think we felt as though we were choosing to be friends.

Yes, Frank was a good guy; I mean, is.

Frank is alive and well, somewhere out there.  This is a dirge for a friendship that’s died, not for a person.  It didn’t last long, our friendship, and once dead it apparently fell into a dark hole without bottom, removing all chance for relational CPR.

Requiescat in pace.

For the all the considerable amount of thinking I’ve done on the subject, I cannot figure out why and how.  How do two Christians fall out this way?  More to the point, how did Frank and I end up here, separated by an emotional distance that seems insurmountable?  Death comes for us all, but I assumed that relationships were more sturdy, especially in the body of Christ.

I made mistakes, of course.  I’ve never claimed to be a perfect friend and I’m sure my flaws were on display for Frank to know and loathe.  And Frank, for all his pursuit of godliness, is just as human as I and as a matter of course (I imagine) made his own mistakes.  Friendships often suffer when people make mistakes, but isn’t grace a balm and forgiveness a salve?  Do they not soothe long enough for the Spirit to heal?

What is it that we did to one another that was so terrible, so beyond the reach of emotional triage and relational medicines?  For all my thinking, I cannot find it.

We cross paths at times, Frank and I.  When we do, we’re civil.  We’re polite, but that’s all.  We’re two uneasy medieval allies, forced together by duty; we’re on the same side and swear allegiance to the same King, but we never remove our helmets, nor set down our shields.  We’re no longer brothers in arms.  The friendship that allowed us to talk about aging parents and seminary benefits and March Madness has shuffled off, leaving us isolated from one another.

We’ve not discussed it.  We are Christians charged with loving one another, but, as Robert Burns wrote, “a man’s a man for a’ that.”  Men, on the average, do not engage in that kind of discussion, that sort of frivolity.  To discuss things would require the removal of armor.  We’d need to be vulnerable to one another.  In performing friendship’s autopsy, I’d have to cut myself open and trust that this other guy, this ex-friend, won’t hurt me because he lies on the table as well, similarly exposed.  We would need to be willing to allow the questions of Why and How to fade.  Or rather, we would need to answer those questions with a simple, “Because we’re human.”

I wonder.  Does Frank think about those heady days of fraternity and their subsequent dissolution?  I didn’t, not for years.  In the last several months, though, I’ve asked myself about that loss.  Were we lessened, each of us?  Did we slice off a piece of ourselves when we allowed our Christian frienship to fade, like Donne’s view of the continent’s loss of a single clod of dirt?

I wonder.  Can I possibly look past my own memorial long enough to consider whether Frank has sung his own dirge for that friendship?

I dare not ask him.  I can’t, I couldn’t, I won’t.  Mourning over the expiration of something valuable is a private matter, and I’ll not pry into whatever grief he may (or may not) have experienced any more than I plan to pour out whatever I feel to him.  I’m just sharing this with you, and between you and I it will stay.

Rest well, Friendship, rest well.

1 "Ruby" January 4, 2013 at 2:54 pm

Apparently, this friendship came to mind recently, after not having thought about it in years. Maybe the friendship needs to be resurrected? Is it possible to restart and continue the friendship without analyzing why it bit the dust in the first place?

2 Bob Cleveland January 4, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Perhaps the absence of that friendship has skewed your view of how valuable it was. I say that because from reading your elegy, it seems apparent that the lack of an attempt to resurrect it is a conscious decision on your part. A weighing of the benefit vs the real or imagined or potential for, pain. I can understand it, but to not even talk about it with him?

I heard a story about a traveling salesman that had a flat tire on a backroad one evening after dark. He discovered his jack was missing.

Recalling a farmhouse a half mile back, well-lit, he started the trek back, and talked to himself all the way. The thought process went something like “I bet he’s going to be upset at being interrupted .. farmers work hard all day and I bet he’s resting now .. maybe even in bed .. I’d sure be upset if I were him .. sure would make me mad….”.
Thoughts like that. As he walked across the lawn, the farmer opened a second floor window and said “Hi stranger .. need some help?” The salesman said “You can keep your (expletive deleted) jack!! I wouldn’t use it even if you GAVE IT to me!”

3 Jeremy Parks January 4, 2013 at 7:34 pm

As many songs about relationships go, there was no frozen frame or final scene to the friendship. It was simply a matter of increasing distance and then one day – it was truly gone. And by the time I looked up and made the realization, it felt too late.

As well, perhaps when the realization set in, I was upset about it. Perhaps I said, deep in my heart, “Well….if that’s how he feels…,” when, in fact, I had no idea how any one felt, least of all Frank.

4 Randall Cofield January 4, 2013 at 7:03 pm

The ties of Christian brotherhood form bonds that run remarkably deep. And when, for whatever reason, they are severed, the pain is inexplicable.

Every line of this post resonates in my soul…

5 Christiane January 4, 2013 at 7:46 pm

it would be hard to compare the use of the term ‘friendship’ in sacred Scripture with the description of the kind of practical ‘casual’ (I hate that word) friendships that goes on in our country today . . .

the two are NOT the same thing at all

6 Jess Alford January 4, 2013 at 10:55 pm

Jeremy Parks

Jesus has laid out the answer, if you have ought against your brother or your brother has ought against you, you should go to him with the intention of gaining your brother.

The devil likes to keep friends apart. Proverbs tells us better is a friend that is near than a brother afar off.

7 Jeremy Parks January 4, 2013 at 11:58 pm

If I could name a single thing that we each have against each other that has not been forgiven or set aside, you’d be absolutely right. Like I said before, we’ve both made mistakes but I can’t name anything bad enough for a breach.

8 Dale Pugh January 5, 2013 at 12:05 am

And thus goes the course of relationships at times. If there is no clear offense, then maybe you’ve just moved apart. It happens, even though we’d rather it by like it was “back then.” Leave the door open to future growth in your friendship with Frank T.

9 Christiane January 5, 2013 at 4:12 am

Our Lord has the power to reconcile. Pray and ask for help to know the way forward. You are troubled for a reason. Take that as a prompting to reach out in some way that Our Lord will provide to you.

Pray about it. You will see . . . it will become clear to you what to say and what to do, if only to let the person know what you shared here with us.

Sometimes those ‘promptings’ come because your action is needed to help someone. Pray. Then do not be afraid.
You have honestly said, this:
“I dare not ask him. I can’t, I couldn’t, I won’t.”

You may not be able to do it now. But Our Lord sees what you cannot know, and He will help you find your way. Trust HIM. Let Him help.

10 rick January 5, 2013 at 10:10 am

Not all who wander are lost.

Not everything that is broken needs fixed.

Some friends you outgrow. Some simply choose another path. Still others separate with a handshake and a by-your-leave. Others with a tear and a sniffle.

How did the friendship form and what was its basis? Maybe that is where a clue can be found?

No answers. But a shared feeling.

11 cb scott January 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm

“Not everything that is broken needs fixed.”

Absolutely true, rick. Obviously, you have seen a few Rodeos in your time.

“Some friends you outgrow.” Praise God!

“Some simply choose another path.”

1). In some cases, it was good for them to do so. 2). In some cases, it was good for me to do so.

“Still others separate with a handshake and a by-your-leave.”

Life happens.

“Others with a tear and a sniffle.”

Again, life happens.

However, there are a few friends, (very few) that no matter where they go or where you go and no matter how long you are apart, no matter what happens in your life or theirs, the friendship you share will be as strong on the last day of your life or theirs as it was when you first became friends. . . . and if they go before you do, you will miss them every day for as long as you live on this planet no matter where they died, why they died, or how they died, or how they lived before they died.

12 Debra Owens-Hughes January 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Sometimes, with some friends, once you’ve shared a certain amount of your life with them however significant it seems at the time, you simply arrive at the exit out of that time together, it runs it’s course. The journey has been done. There aren’t any real deep ties that have been formed that keep your souls linked. You simply passed through one another’s lives, enjoyed the time together, and then your paths divide. There isn’t enough shared depth to bring you back to each other’s side. I think Men may have a harder time developing an intentional depth in their friendships. They caste about their interests, and if they by chance match up they may become friends of sorts. They “bond” over sports teams and political interests or theological debate. Sometimes they can know each other for years and never really know each other. We all need some of these kind of friendships, ones just for fun, ones that don’t really tax our lives. But we must also be intentional to develop those kind of friendships that will weather the storm, or in this case simply make it through times when nothing per chance brought them back to the friendship table, but when you meet again, you immediately re-bond. I believe that missionaries of the male gender on the field especially have a more difficult time connecting at a deep level with other men. There simply isn’t a natural meeting place. Their lives are over full, every hour taken by ministry, basic life requirements ( standing in long lines to pay bills etc), and family. Its not just a given that one will bond with other missionaries. There is always the possibility of secretly critical and judgemental gossips in the missionary family so some don’t want to “risk” seeking their closest friends there. I remember one “friend” that told other missionary friends that we most likely were going to get a divorce as I had shared in confidence some of the marital struggles we were facing at the time. Divorce was never in the picture. I had thought we were very close friends. Such an experience made me very wary of such friendships again and I’ve heard this story from others many times over. Its not always easy when you only have a handful of folks to choose from that come from your own culture. Some of us have a hard time letting our walls down far enough to really develop deep friends amongst the nationals we serve, as they often expect us to be strong and not needy. They will even express their exasperation if we try to be open and vulnerable. If being intentional in starting a relationship is hard for you, such responses from the few my keep you from bonding with any other. One of the most basic reasons we missionaries may have a hard time developing deep friendships is because we all simply move around just too much. Deep friendships on the field require quite a bit of time to mature, as in our daily lives there are so few available hours to spare. We often only see our “friends’ once a month, or once every quarter. Most of us don’t have the privilege of going to the same Bible study or church every week, and seldom do we get to be anything other than a leader in our immediate circles, which can make it difficult for others to view us as close friend material. And within the missionary circles, most of us don’t live within each other’s worlds. We are all a little bit strange,I think and all so very different from each other, and many are just a little too serious for their own good, others of us maybe laugh a little too much at serious things for anyone else’s good. For most of us True friendships have to be made intentionally, we have to go seek them, we have to make time to grow them, and nurture them. And to be honest with you, Men just aren’t that good about that kind of stuff. They often believe if its meant to be then it will simply be! Many of us on the field lean heavily on our spouses as our closest friends, but maybe we really need to share our crazy with more people so we don’t over burden the ones closest to us. I would say if one truly mourns a friendship that’s dissolved, then its worth trying to bring it back to active duty. But you have to look closely at your heart and ask, “do I miss the friendship we shared, or do I miss the friend?” If its the actual person you miss spending time with, then its definitely worth reaching back out to them. If it was how good YOU felt when with them, then its OK to let it go, its probably long past its expiration date any how.

13 Jeremy Parks January 5, 2013 at 8:37 pm

First off, Deb, you should periodically hit the “enter” key a few times between thoughts. I ran out of breath reading this thing.

Second, you’ve hit some really great points about missionaries, friendships, men, trust, etc. Wow. Great job.

Third….I’m not truly sure what I miss. Friendships can be few and far between, so in a way I know that I regret the loss of the relationship. At the same time, Frank is a great guy and I think I just might miss him as well.

Even so, you’ve raised some great thoughts here. Wow.

14 Jess Alford January 5, 2013 at 8:14 pm

Jeremy Parks,

I went back and read your post again, it sounds as if everything including the answers is up to you, the ball is in your court. If this man was truly a friend then you shouldn’t hesitate to go to him and have a heart to heart.

Some of my friendships are 30 plus years old, I haven’t seen some of my friends in 12 years, but it seems just like yesterday. I’m anxious to see them again.

My friends have made me mad and I them, but we settle it and go on about our business. Why can’t you do the same?

15 Jeremy Parks January 5, 2013 at 8:42 pm

There are some dynamics at play in this situation I have not mentioned simply because I don’t think they are fit for public consumption, factors that did not exist back then but are in place now. There’s no way to get into those things without “outing” Frank.

One reason I don’t know how to settle it is that I don’t know what the cause was. It’s hard to fix an unknown problem. The second reason I don’t do anything about it is something I mentioned in the article: it would require mutual vulnerability. To be absolutely blunt, I fear opening myself until I know that he’s willing to do the same.

And perhaps there’s the lesson.

16 tpy2010 January 5, 2013 at 11:10 pm

difficult account to read. Readily able to identify with your experience. I believe David and Jonathon relationships do exist and are therefore more than possible. When a relationship is no longer what it was, both party’s moved. Can’t explain it any other way. I pray that you may have the “Wisdom from above” in order to get to a place of peace about this relationship.

17 Jess Alford January 6, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Jeremy,

You said, “I fear opening myself until I know he’s willing to do the same”,
That my friend is a cop out. You may get mad at me but you’re acting like a little child with a “I will if he will attitude”. You need to grow up and take the wrong if need be. You are going against the scripture. There is no excuse for it.

Go to him, even if you get your feelings hurt. Only then you can say you’ve done your part.

18 Jeremy Parks January 6, 2013 at 6:15 pm

Hey….

Not mad at all. You make excellent points, every last one. Thanks for the honesty.

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