When I was growing up, there was a tradition in my parents’ church. Anytime a member of the church was moving away or leaving to take a ministry role somewhere else, there would be a special music presentation. Another member of the congregation would sing a song from Michael W. Smith. If you were raised in a conservative church during the 80s like I was, you can probably guess where this is going. It was the perfect union of schmaltz and forced optimism that was typical of CCM in the Reagan era. From Smith’s 1983 debut, the song was ‘Friends.’
No matter how old I get or how long it’s been since I last heard the song (some time in 1999), I will never forget the lyrics of the chorus: “Friends are friends forever if the Lord's the Lord of them. And a friend will not say never because the welcome will not end. Though it's hard to let you go, in the Father's hands we know that a lifetime's not too long to live as friends.” If I ever live long enough to make it to live in an elder care facility, this is one of those songs that will periodically get stuck in my head.
Back in Marysville, this song was my church’s way of saying goodbye. It was how we let people know that they would be missed and if the worst were to transpire, they could always come back. It was the Nazarene equivalent of scribbling “I’ll never forget you, don’t ever change” in someone’s high school yearbook. But the sentiment was appreciated.
Life doesn’t promise ease and comfort. Despite our grandest tactics to the contrary, crisis will arise. From medical emergencies, to car repairs, to the heartbreak of complicated human relations. Sometimes, catastrophe is inevitable. As they say in the corporate world, life happens.
We should make every effort to plan for the more unpleasant realities of existence. Save money and set it aside for emergencies. Routinely change the oil in your car and rotate your tires. Get health insurance. Write a will. Yet there are things that can’t be mitigated. And when those events happen, no amount of financial or strategic preparation can protect us.
However, there is another buffer essential to our well-being to help in times of trouble, speaking words of wisdom: a good friend.
Through adolescence, we’ve heard similar messages from parents and teachers and youth pastors and counselors: choose your friends wisely. I once heard in a seminar that we are the sum total of the five people with whom we most frequently spend our time. Both lessons preach the same lesson: our best friends will either drag us down or lift us up. I didn’t heed those lessons when I was younger, but now as an adult I am much more diligent in choosing those I pick to be on my team, my squad, my crew. In recent years, I’ve become increasingly intentional in my choice of friends.
After the past couple weeks where I experienced three consecutive but unrelated disasters, the value of a good friend became more apparent. During that time, the four people who I have considered the best friends I’ve ever had stepped up to lend unimaginable support and encouragement. It has been a relief to know that I have their back and they have mine. It makes me wonder why I waited so long to find friends like these.
My heart is filled with gratitude for these individuals who have entered my life. The sentimentality is unavoidable. I can’t help but hear the keyboard riffs, key changes, and Michael W. Smith’s silky tenor “A lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.”