A few times in my childhood, my mum uttered the words, "Show me your friends and I'll show you who you are." This was usually in response to her experiencing a less-than-stellar quality in one of my peers or because I displayed an unsavoury learned behaviour, I had acquired from one of them. She also made a point of iterating that she could count the number of friends she had on one hand whereas she had a numerous amount of acquaintances.
I quickly realised that her intuition was worth taking note of, and by the time I left primary school I had learned to become very selective about those that I assigned to the exclusive category of 'friend' versus my ever-expanding group of 'acquaintances'. Though I didn't always get it right, one test I particularly appreciated was introducing my mum to each new potential friend to get her take on them (something I also did for potential suitors!).
It's a beautiful thing to have someone or a group of people to laugh, cry, grow, celebrate, learn and even get in trouble with. The reality is, friendships can bring so much joy, but they also can bring pain. Like any worthwhile endeavour, they require effort and maintenance which can sometimes tire rather than inspire. In spite of this, we learn from the Bible that it's unwise to try to 'go it alone': "You are better having a friend than being all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn. If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble." Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 CEV-UK
Loneliness is real. Each of us longs to be understood and to have meaningful connections with other humans in non-romantic ways.
If you or someone you know is in the market for some new or old-but-improved friendships, then perhaps these simple tips may be useful:
Pray: It's always a good idea to ask for God's wisdom before, during and after any ventures. God desires for us to have healthy relationships with our companions.
Consider your own personality: Would you want to be friends with you? Do you listen well? Are you kind? Are you self-centred? Do you hurt others or build them up with your words and actions?
Branch out: Visit places other than your usual haunts and/or try different activities and social groups.
Do you have similar values and interests? It's easiest to connect when you have things in common which can lead to positive shared experiences. There's nothing quite like a friend who will lift you up in prayer or, like Job's friends, know when to sit in silence.
Look for desirable character traits: It's not fun, beneficial or safe to be in the presence of someone who will use you, be dishonest or laugh at you. Ultimately, those we spend time with rub off on us so we should aim to surround ourselves with people whose traits we'd be happy to acquire.
This summer 2-7 August, we are fortunate to have the Trans-European Division Pathfinder Camporee in our backyard, which will no doubt be a fantastic opportunity for our Pathfinders, staff and volunteers to make new friends (and acquaintances) from among our 22 Division countries and further afield. I met most of my closest friends through the Pathfinder club – a sentiment that countless others can attest to.
Whether you have made, or will make, lifelong friends at school, church, in your neighbourhood, at the gym, on a plane, at a special interest group, or at the next Pathfinder Camporee: my hope is that we all find the Jonathan to our David; the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to our Daniel; or the Mary, Martha and Lazarus to our Jesus.