Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Gift of Friendship

TITLE: The Gift of Friendship
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 21 Sep 2010

MAIN POINT: We are made to need friends. Each act of friendship is an opportunity to exercise 2 benefits: In loving others, we become more love-able ourselves.

The past few weeks have been rough for me. Just over a couple of weeks, I get to experience the extremities of human emotions. From a high of enjoying a rare beautiful holiday cruise to Alaska, to an emotional low of losing my father. If anyone suspects that God has a unique sense of humour, I suppose this is the evidence to prove it. However, anyone who stops the story right there, and blame God, it will bring grave injustice to our Heavenly Father. The promise I have held since becoming a Christian is the assurance that God is always with me. After all, He is my Shepherd. The weeks of mourning and grieving ushered in an amazing grace of friendship, of people who have taken the trouble and time to walk with me. Such grace is absolutely heartwarming and beautiful. In the midst of sorrow and death, there is joy and hope. Friends and family play a huge role in all of these. God is at work. He works through friends.

A) Don't Miss the Arrival Hall Moment

Friends lift me up during those moments. I remember a dear brother in Christ who went to the airport just to give me a warm greeting after a long 20 hour plane ride. That feeling was priceless. I remember saying things like
"Hey! You do not have to come all the way the airport. Transport is already taken care of."
That will be utilitarian-thinking. Friendship is beyond providing transport, silly me. Am I in the right frame of mind at that time? Am I jet-lagged or am I simply trying to act cool in a hot and humid climate? I guess at that time, I as in no position to judge. After a brief chat and a goodbye, I was on the way home to see the body of my father lying in a casket at home. As the car I was in zips through highway on a 'cool' early morning air, I remember that there is a certain happiness and joy anybody has at the airport. I remember a movie (I forgot the title) that made that exact description of what happens at arrival halls of airports. It is nearly always the case at airports, that people feel that sense of happiness and joy to see loved ones. Any exceptions are few and far between. I observe at people coming out of airport gates. This is what I call the "Arrival Hall Moment."
  • Mothers hug their children;
  • Wives smother their husbands with kisses;
  • Children surround their parents gleefully albeit with expectations of goodies;
  • Family members let loose tears of joy;
  • Friends release squeals of delight as they jump and celebrate the happy occasion.
  • Even the most stoic of people has to surrender a smile or two at some point.
Do not miss the 'Arrival Hall' moment. The King James Bible has a phrase in 1 Peter 1:8: Joy unspeakable.

If there is one word to describe the arrival hall environment, it will be the word 'beautiful.' How else can I paint the human emotions going on during that precious few minutes of seeing one another? I must admit. Even under the most depressing climate of losing a loved one, the joy of meeting family and friends at airports is truly 'joy unspeakable.'  Sometimes, denying others an opportunity to help can be plain selfishness.

How silly of me to miss that. Thanks KM.

B)  Of Friends Despite Busyness
Online, friends quickly share their condolences with me. God bless their souls. Almost immediately when I publish my dad's passing on Facebook, a few faithful friends will write their condolences online. Every word means so much. Strangely, in times like this, one is tempted to expect all of their online friends to say something. That is downright silly. The world does not revolve around me. People have their own lives. They have their own problems. I have my own burden of mourning to carry. Not everyone likes funerals, so I should not even expect anyone to come to such sad events.

Yet, friends are absolutely essential. I may bravely deny it but they mean so much. On the last day of the wake, my dear friends from my small group brave terrible jams at the border to come and share that moment of comfort. (You know who you are.) Gathering together as an entourage, they come in droves, one after another. It is a small happy gathering in a sombre atmosphere of grief and loss. However, every presence, every smile, every hug and every word of comfort alleviates and assures me that God cares for me.  At that moment, there is camaraderie. There is unity. There is love. There is God present in the midst.

C) Gift of Friends and Food
Friends continue to hang on to me, even when am tempted to drown in self-pity and utter sadness. Grieving is a long journey, arduous and painful. I remember crying every morning. With understanding and care, friends walk with me. They talk with me. They embrace me like an ordinary person. I needed that. One memorable moment was a feast when I was staying with a dear family in Christ. My poor appetite at that time does a great injustice over the almost 9 superbly designed and lovingly prepared dishes. The spread is most healthy (Steamed fish with chicken essence). There is local delight, (Hainanese chicken). There is fibre (mixed vegetables). Then there is the food for the occasion: Mooncakes galore.

What more can I ask for? That day, I drink and dine with a grateful heart, refusing to let my lack of appetite affect the moments of joy unspeakable. It is a wonderful lesson for me. A simple meal of friendship and love releases me to see God's grace in its fullness: the gift of friendship.

On Sunday, another friend promptly responded to drive me to his church.  God used him and his wife to prepare my heart for worship. That morning, I was able to pour myself out to God to receive comfort from the God of comfort.

D) Friends Who Bless
Two ladies featured prominently during my short time in Singapore. They take on multiple roles. They drive. They cook. They link people up. They ministered to people in their circles of influence, even as they ministered to me. Being able to witness their small little ministry is a blessing in itself. It is a humble demonstration of how God can bless people. through people. In a world where people almost always equate blessings with possessing money and riches, they show me that blessings is not what we receive in terms of possessions, but what we GIVE away in terms of time, care and love. It reminds me of the 'greater' blessing. Far too many people are obsessed with accumulating more things and possessions and label them as God's blessings for them. Haven't they notice that these are but a miserable tip of the iceberg of blessing? The greater blessing is not the greater capacity to receive, but the greater willingness to GIVE and to be CHARITABLE.

For me, I can say that the greater blessing I have received is not the food or the amount of attention. It is the blessing of true friends. It is the blessing of being able to give more than we receive. It is the blessing of being able to bless others much more, to let our personal belongings be utilized by God for the sake of others. Sad are those who keeps their things to themselves and to let them rot at home or in their storerooms. What good is a nice Jaguar or a Lamborghini if they are always locked up in the garage? Exchange them for a few vans that can ferry people around to their fellowships of joy. What good is a fat bank account if they are merely collecting interest for a small family? Convert them into precious resources that others can use. I guess, for me, what good is my knowledge and spiritual wisdom if I were to keep them to myself? Why not share it more regularly and more faithfully each week?

Thanks again my friends. I will continue to blog and write my SabbathWalk commentaries to shine God's glory to all. For this, I have updated my main blog to read as:
"A friend is one of the nicest things you can have,
and one of the best things you can be."
(Douglas Pagels)

E) The Ride Home

On my way back to the airport, my friend at the Arrival Hall Moment pops up again. This time, he provides the transport. He exemplifies true servanthood, giving all but expecting nothing in return.  He takes the trouble to wake up early to send me to the airport, despite having to run several errands that morning. He prioritizes things in such a way that gives me hope. In our society where busyness seems to be the norm, prioritizing is truly an act of love. I think there is much more. There is friendship unspeakable.

When it comes to true friendship, I learn that true friends are hard to come by. More importantly, it is not the accumulation of the lists of friends that we can boast of. It is the appreciation of who we already have. KM reminds me on that last part of the journey by quoting a saying attributed to Mark Twain:

"It is not what I don't know about the Bible that troubles me, it is what I do know!"
In the same light, it is not the friends that didn't bother to connect with me that 'troubles' me. It is the friends that bother to spend time with me that keeps me grateful. In a nutshell, God has placed specific people at particular times of my life to walk with me. I should not be too concerned about the absence of other people, but the PRESENCE of those who are there for me. These people have their challenges, their problems to deal with, but they choose intentionally to put them aside, and to put their own needs lower than mine. It reminds me of Paul's words:

"Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (Philippians 2:3-4, NAS)

Now, do not get me wrong. Just because I elevate some people does not mean I downgrade others. Relationship is not necessarily a zero-sum game. The point is, I have learned that showing love and care has a double benefit. Firstly, it helps others. Secondly, it helps ourselves by freeing us from our tendency to become self-absorbed. The exercise of friendship is an opportunity to do both.

For everyone else whom I did not get to meet up, you will have the benefit of any doubt. Honest. May the Lord truly bless you and keep you and grant you peace wherever you are, in your respective levels of busyness.  I pray that in your hour of need, the Lord will send friends to walk with you during your moments of struggle, as He has faithfully done for me during my journey through the dark nights.

Thought:  "The spaces between your fingers were created so that another's could fill them in." (Anonymous)


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