24 March 2014
Thanks to Facebook, it’s probably one of the most overused words in the English language: FRIEND. “How many “friends” do you have?” “I’ll send you a friend request” “Let’s be Facebook friends”. For some people, their friend count on Facebook is important – as if their lives, or the value thereof, is validated by the number of people with whom they are “friends”. BUT, is everyone you call “friend” really and truly your “friend”? I would submit that they are not.
Yesterday, I wrote a blog and in trying to tell my story without revealing the names of the other people involved, I kept referring to the other participants in the story as “friend”. After about the fifth or sixth use of the word in reference to the five or six different people in the story, I made a joke about having a lot of friends. But, in the back of my mind, I was thinking, is there another word I should be using to describe these people and my relationship with them? What do I really mean when I call a person my “friend”?
I’m sure Webster’s Dictionary has a well-defined definition of what a “friend” should be – a clinical, logical description of the characteristics a friend should have, but honestly, I don’t have the energy to move from where I am to go and look it up. However, I think my personal definition of what constitutes a “friend” is constantly evolving and changing. I believe that a friend is someone who knows you, knows you well, warts and all, and still wants to spend time with you and be in your presence. I think a friend is someone who not only has your phone number on speed dial, but knows it even when their cell phone is nowhere around. Someone who knows the way to your house without relying on GPS to guide them there. Someone who knows how crazy your immediate family can drive you on any given day, but listens to you tell them the stories of why they are currently driving you crazy as if they have never heard the stories before. Someone who will answer the phone anytime you call, even if it’s at 3:00 in the morning. Someone you can argue with, disagree with and yet, still love with all your heart. Someone who is consistent, steadfast and loyal in their commitment to you. Someone who knows your birthday without looking at the calendar. Someone who knows if the best way to reach you is via call, text, email or Facebook - and if there is a specific time when one way is better than the other. Someone who will pray with you, and for you, even when they don’t even know why you are asking them to pray. And let me throw something else out there: Just because someone was a "friend" years ago, doesn't automatically mean that they will be your friend years from now - or even today. Those are some pretty high standards and not everyone can, or is able, to fit that bill. In fact, if I plug all those qualifications into my relationships with people, then, even though my current “friend count” on Facebook far exceeds the 600+ mark – in reality, I can count on one hand (maybe two), the number of “true friends” I have. And if we are being honest and we turn the mirror back on me, I don’t know of many people who would say I was a “true” friend to them either.
So, what do I call the vast majority of people in my life, who add value, who make me laugh, who enrich my spirit, who I take time to hang out with and who I love and adore? I think the more proper (correct) word for them would be “acquaintances”. It’s a more casual definition of a friendship. It doesn’t have all the pressure of longevity and knowledge and personal investment. That word covers a wide range of experiences you can share with another person and can describe a variety of levels of emotional attachments to a person. I have LOTS of acquaintances. People I work with on a daily basis, but never spend time with outside of the office. People who I share a history with – childhood, academic, church fellowship – but which doesn’t extend too much past that commonality once something changes. And there are various levels of “acquaintance-ship” and there’s nothing wrong (in my opinion) with just being someone’s “acquaintance”. [There’s actually a lot less pressure in just being someone’s acquaintance than in being their friend, if you ask me] But it’s an awkward word. When you are introducing someone to someone else “Hi, this is my acquaintance, [insert name here]” doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Hi, this is my friend”. And so the word “friend” has lost some of its punch, some of its meaning, because we have dumbed it down by our overuse of the word.
Recently I was introduced to the concept of “connections”. This might be the best definition of most of our interactions with others: We are just “connected” to each other because of some mutual interest or hobby or church affiliation or geographical proximity. And it’s ok to have those relationships as well. In honesty, this word probably defines best more than half of our relationships with people. Think about the people who, as long as they are around and in your face, you consider them “friend” – but once that connection is severed (you change jobs, you move to another city, you move your church membership), you don’t think about them or call them or otherwise maintain contact. For all my Oakwood friends, that’s why at Alumni Weekend, you see someone, recognize the face, greet them loudly and with enthusiasm, and then walk away thinking to yourself, “now what was that person’s name?” That has changed (slightly) with the advent of social media, but you know you have done this in the past – and if you are honest with yourself, probably will again if/when you head to the Oaks in about a month. Nothing wrong with just being “connected” to someone, but again, you are not going to introduce them to someone else as just a “connection”.
There is a popular praise and worship song that we sing at my church, and the lyrics are: I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, He calls me friend. Every time I hear or sing that song, I am humbled because, in reality, I know I am not worthy of the title when it comes to my relationship with God. I am not as consistent as I need to be in my interactions with Him, in my obedience to His word and commands. I know that my life does not always reflect His love and character. And yet, He still calls me His “friend”. Knowing what He knows about me – He still considers me “worthy” That is a mind-blowing concept – and a big responsibility to live up to, but with His help, I know I can do it. And so can you.
©2014 Kristina E. Smith
23 March 2014
I recently discovered a new doughnut spot in my beloved city. A few months ago, a co-worker told me that I needed to check out this “new” doughnut shop called Sublime Donuts. (It's been around since 2009) For whatever reasons, I ignored her suggestion and did not go to check the place out, even though it was right around the corner from my job, and my Google search about the business indicated that I would enjoy the donut selection without breaking my wallet. But, I resisted and did not go.
And then one day, a different friend, one of my foodie friends mentioned Sublime Donuts to me again. And he SWORE that they were the best doughnuts ever and that I HAD TO HAD TO try them. And then another foodie friend mentioned that she’d been there and agreed that they were the best doughnuts ever and I should check them out. So, I made plans to go on a Sunday with my mom and two other friends, but because my friends had talked up the doughnuts so much, I made a special “preview trip” to the shop to see for myself what all the hype was about – because, did I happen to mention that the two foodie friends who recommended the place to me are two of the pickiest, nothing ever satisfies them, kind of foodie people? (Ok, maybe that is not EXACTLY true, but they have very high standards when it comes to food). Back to my “preview”: I don’t remember EXACTLY what I wrote on Facebook, but my report was GLOWING!!! The doughnuts are pretty spectacular. The picture I have attached includes a picture of the strawberries and crème donut (which is my favorite), which is this light, flaky powdered sugar coated pastry, stuffed with FRESH strawberries and some vanilla pudding type crème filling that just melts in your mouth. (That’s the donut right up front on the left) Seriously, you really don’t have to chew (well, except for the strawberries), just let it dissolve on your tongue. Then there’s the white chocolate peach fritter and the Dream Star (think: Creamsicle ice cream bars from your childhood) and the Reese’s peanut butter cup donut (not my favorite, but my pastor (who I bought one for) LOVED it) and then there's the red velvet and the sweet potato and the … well, you get my point.
Add the fact that the store is owned and operated by a young man who looks a lot like me, with melanin in his skin and a passion for good food in his heart, and I was (and am) all about promoting his business. So, I took to social media (i.e., Facebook) and for a week, almost every day, talked about Sublime Donuts and how much I loved that place. I bought donuts in bulk to share with my mom and my brother and my pastor and … and my friends who introduced me to the place did the same. As a result, several others of our friends drove down to the shop to experience for themselves what we kept talking about on Facebook. One friend and her family went so far as to buy 6 donuts and do a taste testing to see which donuts they liked the best, and then how they liked Sublime Donuts in comparison to another favorite donut shop in the area, Revolution Donuts. And all of this during the course of less than a month in time.
This past week, I went to Sublime and purchased two strawberry and crème donuts. I ate one immediately, but saved the other one – initially with the thought of sharing it with my mom, but she didn’t want it, so it fell to me to eat it. I decided to save it for breakfast on Sabbath morning, but ended up running late to church, so I just grabbed the bag and took it with me to church. As I was standing outside about to eat it, my friend who initially told me about Sublime came up to me and we began discussing our love for all things Sublime. As we were talking, another friend (I have a lot of friends, don’t I?) overheard us and asked what was this place we were talking about. Since I had not yet begun to eat my doughnut, I broke him off a piece (making sure he got a strawberry) to try. He ate it, looked at me and said, “I’m pretty picky, but that’s pretty good.” (Uh, yeah…)
Later, after church, another group of friends was standing around talking and Sublime came up in conversation again. (The donuts really are THAT good!). One of the young ladies in the group remarked, “You know, I didn’t go to Sublime at all this week, but I still talked about it to my friends, in real life and on Facebook – and I thought, “you know, I wonder if I talk about the love of Jesus and what He has done for me like I talk about these donuts.” WOW! It was an eye-opening thought, but it was also confirmation of a thought I’d had earlier in the day when I shared my donut with my friend. See, when I shared it, the friend who was standing there with me was flabbergasted that I would share my delicious donut with someone who might or might not appreciate the goodness I was about to give him. And I said to him, kinda flippantly, “but isn’t that what we are supposed to do? When we discover something great and good, aren’t we supposed to share it with others?”
I had a pastor once who used to always say that spreading the gospel message is all about one beggar showing another beggar where to find food. If I can promote a doughnut place with vigor and enthusiasm – and not get paid anything in return for my word-of-mouth endorsement, surely I should be able to (and want to) share the love of God with the same (if not more) vigor and enthusiasm. After all, He died on a cross for me, He sustains me every day, and He loves me in spite of all my shortcomings and flaws. And if that is not enough to “promote” His goodness, I don’t know what is.