At last Monday’s breakfast meeting it was pointed out that to be a friend to someone is not the same as having a friendship with that person. The word “friendship” speaks (among other things) of two people working together in and on the relationship. We can be friendly toward others, we can befriend others, as others can do to us; but this is not the same as having a friendship with someone. Being friendly and befriending may lead to friendships – but they need not do so.
Depending on our temperaments, and on our situations at any given time, it is possible to mistake someone’s friendliness for a desire on that person’s part to cultivate a friendship. This can lead to unmatched expectations which in turn can lead to misunderstanding, which in turn can lead to hurt, confusion, and resentment. Such are the relational waters of life.
Mentoring relationships can be mistaken for friendships. While mentors and those they mentor can already be friends, or while the mentoring relationship may become one of friendship, it need not do so. Some mentoring relationships are for specific purposes and for a set period of time – let us hope that friendships are not.
Of course friendships have many tiers, or levels of intimacy and trust, and they have their ebbs and flows – friendships can be an adventure, discovering new things about each other or with each other; or they can also be like an old shoe – comfortable; no reason not to enjoy both.
1 Corinthians Chapter 13 is a good paradigm for friendship, and as a Christian I think the idea of the priesthood of the believer is also helpful. A brother recently shared with me that someone he befriended accused him of a certain thing to a group of his friends – and that by and large his group of friends believed the accusation. Considering that his group of friends had known him for a while I found this interesting – why are we so quick to believe accusations? Why not talk to our friend? And as a holy priesthood, is not one function of a priest to cover sin rather than to reveal it? So even if the accusation were true there is a holy way to handle it – and certainly that does not mean believing the accusation at its first hearing.