The difference between a good friend and a miserable acquaintance is found in what a person brings to a friendship. Some things a person does add significant value while other things are a real drain. If someone offers us friendship it is not enough to smile and nod and do nothing else.
The entry in Wikipedia puts it this way:
“Value that is found in friendships is often the
result of a friend demonstrating the following on a consistent basis:
- The tendency to desire what is best for the other
- Sympathy and empathy
- Honesty, perhaps in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth, especially in terms of pointing out the perceived faults of one’s counterpart
- Mutual understanding and compassion
- Trust in one another (able to express feelings – including in relation to the other’s actions – without the fear of being judged); able to go to each other for emotional support
- Positive reciprocity – a relationship is based on equal give and take between the two parties.
- Whereby you can be oneself & make mistakes without fear of judgment”
With the exception of sympathy which only serves to weaken both parties and should be avoided, this is a good list. Why is sympathy negative? It involves one party sharing hurts and frustrations while the other party is expected to agree and reinforce those feelings. Too often those feelings are misguided and not well based and a good friend needs to find ways to challenge and redirect them. Empathy allows that but sympathy fails leaving both parties feeling frustrated or used. Empathy says, “I know how you feel and I understand why you feel that way but that is not how I feel.”
When we hear about Jesus offering friendship we automatically connect that here is a “power person” who can provide what we want and our mind goes to “what’s in it for me?” Not good and not a suitable response to any offer of friendship.
Our value list looks more like:
- What is best for me?
- Only sympathy please
- Tell me only what I want to hear and ignore my faults
- I need you to understand me and be compassionate to me
- I want to be able to rely on you but don’t expect to rely on me. Don’t judge me, just support me
- A relationship that is based on equal give and take between the two parties – you give and I take.
We have real trouble grasping the concept that any “power person” would want to be our friend – our sense of the inequality of such a relationship and our underlying neediness leave us grasping and offering nothing in return. How is that friendship? How is that satisfying to any party? What could a person who has everything possibly want from us?
An offer of friendship challenges our self-esteem and our self-acceptance. It forces us to consider what we can contribute to the relationship. We find ourselves clutching for ways to earn acceptance from the other party – but what happens if that person already accepts us for who we are? (Our default is to reject that idea and look for ways to earn the approval we already have! Slightly / big time stupid!)
Most likely Simon struggled with this response. He heard the words Jesus said but what did it mean? A starting point would be to accept the offer in the spirit in which it was given and understand that there’s no need to prove anything. “Simon, try being yourself and responding by doing what is obviously important – think hard about what Jesus has told you and make the effort to work out what it means. It’s important to him so make it important to you.”
“I have called you friends because I have told you everything that I learned from my Father.” John 15:15
If Jesus wants to be your friend, how will you respond?