Jesus makes that stirring speech to his disciples, probably more than just the 12 guys who get lots of press in the Gospels, but also to the women and men who've been his companions for the years of his ministry, about no longer calling them servants, but calling them friends. With Facebook and social politeness and just our general conversation, we often forget that being a friend can range from a general acquaintance one met at a conference and you email on occasion to a person who has been a fixture of your life for years and you are thankful to God that s/he was guided into your life by the hand of the Almighty.
We might not bother to reflect in detail, but there are differences in the friends in our lives. And the best ones, the most treasured ones, are truly gifts, because they can do the following:
1. Tell you that you do indeed look fat in those pants. Or that skirt makes you look five pounds heavier. Or that haircut isn't really you, but it will grow out. They are the people who love you enough to prevent obvious attempts at public embarrassment.
2. Tell you that the guy/girl you are dating is less-than-stellar BEFORE you break up. Haven't we all had those friends who tell us after the aforementioned diversion into crazy-date-land that he wasn't really good enough or they never really liked him or they wondered what exactly you saw in him? After? A great friend, the dearest ones, will pose that before you get too far down the road of insanity, risking that you may not agree. Or that they may be wrong (and if they are, they'll say...eventually).
3. Think a three-minute call in Wal-Mart about the lady in very tight spandex in the check-out line in front of you is a perfectly reasonable use of mobile minutes.
4. And think an hour phone call about something you've talked about another three, sixty-seven, or one hundred and twelve times is okay, too. Need to process the horrible sermon you just preached for the twenty-third time because you are really working out your perfectionist issues? Okay, they'll listen. Another round of what the hell was I thinking the other night, even though you just talked about it? I'll listen. And they will also love you enough to eventually ask why you're really upset.
5. The truly great friends know sometimes it's what you aren't saying that's often most important, and they'll listen until you're ready to say it. And they know you well enough to know what the silence means.
6. Never leave you out on the edge of creation alone. The great friendships are equal. You talk about the time you got stood up at your high school prom? S/he's right there with you, telling you how leather pants were a bad choice for the summer family picnic.
7. Never miss an opportunity to see you face-to-face, especially for those of us whose jobs move us across the diaspora. Three hours is nothing to laugh together over lunch at Cracker Barrel, because it's the only restaurant half-way and you can sit together at a corner table for hours, catching up and just being with each other. And between the face-to-face, intentional contact is a given, not just a haphazard, "Oh, I should call." The great friendships don't just happen; they take commitment from both parties.
8. Have a dialogue with each other for life. Conversations don't really, truly end with the great ones. We talk, then continue, because the conversation keeps going. I remember a year ago realizing the other blogger on this site was a great friend when I realized we had all these wonderful, funny, common stories with each other. And she makes me laugh until soda comes out my nose.
9. Will try to talk you out of foolishness, but if they aren't persuasive, they'll either walk down the path with you or wait for you until you wander back on your own, and they'll have a supply of band-aids, a bottle of wine, and a hand to hold while you heal. They'll also do the same when you just go through a really tough time, without trying to fix anything, but just sitting with you in the Land of Suck.
10. Remind you, without saying a word, that you are loved, wholly and completely, just as you are. And that you matter in her/his life, too.