One of the quotes by Henry David Thoreau that is etched in my mind [and there are a lot of them; I did my senior thesis on him] is, "My friend shall forever be my friend and reflect a ray of God toward me." Poor HDT was always looking for the "perfect" in this world, and always being frustrated by the lack of it. Friendship was no different - he wrote many pages on the idea of friendship but had few close friends, and drifted apart from most of those he did have in the course of his life. Unlike the True Friend envisioned in his quote above, there was no one to always be his friend, or to direct a ray of God toward him.
The life lived in Christ, however, should embody that ideal. If we are to be brothers and sisters to each other, we are certainly called to be friends to each other, and in our friendship we will shine the love of God upon each other.
The writer of Ecclesiastes can be dark and pessimistic in tone, but when he turns to friendship, he shares true and heartening insights:
Jesus puts this wisdom into direct action when he sends out the Apostles (Mark 6:7) and then the Seventy-Two (Luke 10:1) to minister, "two by two." These early Christians could support, protect, and advise each other, just as we can today.Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
I have been superbly blessed over the years by a large number of friends. I have drifted apart from some over time, as happens with anyone, though in other cases miles and years have not dampened our ties. And as the years go by new friends emerge, unexpectedly. Over time I am impressed more and more by how crucial we are to each other, and how God has literally designed friendship as a tool for surviving in a world frought with snares and pitfalls. He gives us to each other, for a season or for a lifetime, but in all cases we are gifts of God, one to each other.
John, the friend of Christ, the wise sage who writes in old age to the church, declares, "This is the message you heard from the beginning: we should love one another." (1 John 3:11) In so many cases it is as simple as that: love one another - "reflect a ray of God to me," to you. But to underscore the point, John goes one step further: "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth." (1 John 3:18)
Jesus is our friend; the old camp songs proclaim this. But he also sends us friends, to lift us up, to keep us warm, to fight our battles. Be grateful he does, and always be ready and waiting for the next friend sent to you - and to whom you are sent - and thank God for them.