24 March 2014
FRIENDS, ACQUAINTANCES AND CONNECTIONS
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