There they were, staring at me from the pages of a nationally published television guide-a few promotional lines encouraging me to watch a prime-time TV sitcom about a bunch of twenty-plus friends who hang out in a local coffee bar: "Drunken debauchery. Promiscuity. Fisticuffs." All this among friends, I wondered? The blurb went on to explain that this was all part of an "uproarious" episode in which one of the main characters blanks out after having an "encounter" with the sister of another friend.
Many of my friends, especially those in high school and college, regularly delight in the show's true-to-life predicaments, where these television friends tumble in and out of "encounters," some of them quite promiscuous. But whether the "uproarious" situations depict real friendship is open to debate.
Suspecting that the publicity department may have stretched the word debauchery to win viewers, I watched the episode in question. It was a lot tamer than I'd anticipated. But it didn't give me much insight into the qualities that inspire enduring friendships. There was scant evidence that would support the word friend, which comes from an Anglo-Saxon root meaning "to love."
A certain loyalty was depicted, but not such qualities as unselfishness, respect, commitment-ones that approach the criteria established by Christ Jesus (see John, chap. 15). Jesus set high standards for friendship. He included mutual comfort, even sacrifice, as essential components. He desired the best for his disciples, whom he called his friends. He opened up to them fearlessly, sharing all that he knew of God. He encouraged them to put a love for others ahead of their own personal interests.
Jesus' call for love in action is echoed in words written by Mary Baker Eddy, whose discovery of Christian Science in 1866 grew out of Jesus' teachings and healings. Speaking of God as Love itself, her book Miscellaneous Writings observes: "No word is more misconstrued; no sentiment less understood. The divine significance of Love is distorted into human qualities, which in their human abandon become jealousy and hate."
Does that remind you of some of the situations you see in relationships on and off television? Distortion easily occurs when friendships are not rooted in real love, the love of God. Mrs. Eddy discussed her own means of loving in the next passage, saying, "I make strong demands on love, call for active witnesses to prove it, and noble sacrifices and grand achievements as its results" (p. 250).
What, then, does it take to be a friend, choose a friend, and stay a friend? Friendships flourish when people share a love of God, a love of good. In every sphere of life, including dating and marriage, friendship involves mutual obligation and effort. Real friendship is uplifting, doesn't bring envy or fear of ridicule, and is strengthened by a refusal to highlight another's shortcomings.
Friendship doesn't depend on similar racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds, nor on identical interests. This is depicted in many Bible stories, including the love shown between Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth. They belonged to different tribes and generations, but found unity in selfless caring for one another (see the book of Ruth). In vastly different circumstances, extraordinary love was clearly shown in the friendship between David, a humble shepherd, and Jonathan, the son of a king (see I Samuel, chaps. 18-20).
If a friendship does not live up to what you understand to be good, and you have to let it go, you can start fresh. A correct understanding of God alone can give a secure foundation for friendship. There's no need for anguish when you're confident your actions are taken with respect for what is right and genuine and satisfying in a relationship. You can never lack lasting companionship, because companionship is good, and God provides everything that is good.
It's exciting to think of friendships as projects to work on. They are essential to marriage, family life, peaceful neighborhoods, and thriving workplaces. Can you think of a better project for yourself? (And perhaps also for the scriptwriters in Hollywood!)