My Father, J.C. Cline, wrote many poems while spending time in the Texas State Penitentiary. In one poem he titled “Friends”, he describes self-proclaimed friends who uses others for their own benefit. Those who have wealth or fame have many so-called friends. But as Dad goes on to describe in his poem, once the wealth or fame is gone, so are the ‘friends’. He finishes by saying:
“So maybe now you understand why I stay to myself,
And seek not company of a crowd, but sit here on the shelf.
For I have had my fill of this, these dear fair weather friends,
And if I live a million years, they could not make amends.
The next crowd that I gather, true friends they all will be
For I am broke and have no steak, they will like me ‘cause I’m me.”
Anytime we go through adversity, be it financial, physical, or emotional our friends will become clearly defined. Some learn the hard way what a true friend really is, as expressed in Dad’s poem. A person may give of their assets, their time, and maybe even their heart, just to discover that they had been used.
So-called friends can be many when all goes well. But when misfortune strikes, they disappear. Some friendships are founded more on selfishness than on mutual love, more on a desire to receive than on a willingness to give. Such so-called friendships may evaporate when selfish expectations are not met. To have many “friends” and then lose all of them is very discouraging, as the poet discovered. To have many acquaintances is easy; to make true friends is not. Yet, having just one or two true, warm friends makes a vast difference in our lives.
I am grateful that I have friends of a far more noble nature than those depicted in Dad's poem. There is another poem, written by Emily Matthews. She describes what a true friend is like:
"Lord, help me never to judge someone
before I know the score
Before I’ve walked in another’s shoes
at least a mile or more.
Let me be quick to understand
and slow to criticize,
The world’s a very different place
viewed through another’s eyes.
So, help me, Lord, to show myself
as one who’ll always be,
Ready to walk another mile
with those who ask of me."
We all meet hundreds if not thousands of people as we pass through life. Some we may only know for a day, others a lifetime. Some may come into our lives for only a brief moment, but touch our souls deeply. Shallow people make shallow friends. Friends with depth reach inside our minds and hearts and nurture our souls. A true friend will help us to look deep inside our core being for the riches we possess within, that we ourselves, often do not see. The true friend sees them, however, because they see past all the muck and mire on the surface, all the imperfections and inappropriate actions and look deep into the heart, where the true person resides. Rather than judge or condemn, they attempt to understand. Elbert Hubbard said, “A friend is one who knows all about you and loves you just the same.”
A true friend can help us heal. True friendship and love help us to heal the pain that life brings, or the pain that we may bring upon ourselves by the unhealthy, or less than noble choices we make in life. They encourage us. Build us up. Comfort us. Lift us up when we have fallen, and are ready to walk that extra mile when asked. They show empathy and compassion when others are in trouble.
When we make mistakes or do something to upset them, they are ready to forgive. We all have imperfections. We live in an imperfect world. Take an unpolished diamond and look at it under a microscope, you will find its flaws. Do this daily and you will become familiar with these flaws and be embarrassed to wear the ring. But polish that diamond and hold it up to the sunlight and watch it sparkle. Look at it whole, and you will see its brilliance. When we appreciate our friends in all their uniqueness, we may find a diamond in the rough, if we polish it and treat it like a gem, hold it up to the light, it will shine, and we will feel honored to share in its glory.
Friendship is wonderful when it happens, but it is often difficult to achieve. Friends differ, disagree, and hurt each other’s feelings at times. When we despair over another's failure, we become blind to our own. Instead, we can choose to see those conflicts as opportunities for our own growth. Love and forgiveness are the special vocation of a friend, and when we exercise love and forgiveness then we are able to find healing for our own wounds and offer salve for the healing of others.
Evaluations, judgments and makeovers are not our job. Judgments belong to a perfect person. Loving acceptance is the gift of a friend. People are buried treasure, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed if we but take the time to dig deep into their hearts. Differences can be a source of delight.
So many times in the past few months I have come home to hear a message of encouragement on my voice mail, e-mail, or in my mailbox by way of a card that I can read over and over. Day after day, when hysteria and raw emotions were my constant companions I found the incredible support and concern of friends every time I needed someone. Encouragement from friends gives us the strength to do what we feel we cannot do, hold on when we feel we cannot hold on, and try what we might not dare to try.
Encourage a friend today, and you’ll be part of someone’s memories for a long, long time. Walk a mile with them, and when you need them, they will be there to walk a mile with you.
It’s been said that a person cannot touch another's heart with anything less than their own. When such a person takes me into their heart, it is certain that they cannot stay out of mine.
(Originally written in 2005)