Twelve years ago this coming August, my mother died. She was 87 years old and suffered a massive stroke from which she could not recover. I was able to fly to the States and be with her in the hospital for a few days before she died peacefully in her sleep. In accordance with Jewish tradition, she was buried the next day. When the funeral was over, two elderly ladies that I recognized as friends of my mother approached me. One was very small, bent over, walking with a cane and weeping deeply. She spoke of how much my mother meant to her. She said that they met at age 14 and their friendship lasted 73 years. I have known my mother’s friends pretty much all my life, but I never realized the enduring power of their friendship until this dear lady spoke those words. The ability to maintain a friendship over 7 decades is an extraordinary gift from God. In honor of my mother, I would like to speak of this facet of who she was – a friend for life. It is a quality of which I am very proud and which I prayed would be manifested in my life as well.
My mother’s circle of friends was formed in the 1930s when they were teenage girls living in Baltimore. As their numbers increased it evolved into a somewhat formalized membership group with 25 to 30 ladies. They held all sorts of social activities as well as community service projects. They grew up, married and started families, and though some moved away and dropped out there was a core that remained close. When I was in my early teens I became more aware of my mother’s “girls.” (I
always teased my mom about her use of the term “girls” to refer to women who were obviously “old ladies” in my adolescent eyes. Of course they were at that time about 30 years younger than I am now!)
There were about a dozen or so that continued to walk closely together with their lives intertwined. In spite of their advancing years and the gradual diminishing of their numbers, their friendship remained strong. With the passing of my mother, the two ladies at the cemetery were the last ones, yet their presence still carried the beautiful testimony of the love and lasting connection with all those that had been together through the years.
Friendship is indeed a godly quality. To be a friend is to manifest an attribute of God. In Isaiah 41:8, the prophet tells the nation Israel that their ancestor Abraham was God’s friend. The promise of blessing to Israel is seen here as a direct consequence of the friendship of Abraham and God. The fruit of real friendship extends throughout the generations. In 2 Samuel 9:1-8, we see that when David became king over Israel, the house of Saul was totally devastated. David aggressively sought out someone who was left of the family of the former king so that he could bless him because of the friendship that David had had with Jonathan, the son of Saul.
In the days of Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, enemies of the nation gathered against Jerusalem and Jehoshaphat called the people together for a time of prayer and fasting. In 2 Chronicles 20:5-7, his appeal for help from God was based on the fact that the God of Israel was ruler of the entire universe and in that authority he had given the land of Israel to his friend Abraham and his descendants forever.
In James 2:23, Yaakov (James) also brings out the fact that Abraham was God’s friend because he believed what He told him in Genesis 15. Though he had no children and his wife was barren, his descendents would be as numerous has the stars in the sky. It is interesting that Shaul uses the same verses from Genesis to emphasize faith, whereas Jacob emphasizes works. This is not contradictory – it is complementary. And it’s appropriate that Jacob applies these verses this way because friendship involves doing things for one another in a relationship. If friendship is genuine it is shared in life experiences.
In Numbers 12:5-8, the Lord rebuked Aaron and Miriam, the brother and sister of Moses, because they criticized him (ostensibly over his authority to lead, but in reality over his marrying an Ethiopian woman). In verse 8, God said about Moses, “With him I speak face-to-face and clearly, not in riddles; he sees the image of the Lord. So why were you not afraid to criticize my servant Moses?” God spoke with Moses, literally, “mouth-to-mouth.” This is intimate communication. Those on the outside of that relationship cannot be critical of those on the inside. What God says to Moses, he says out of love, even when it contains criticism and correction. That’s the privilege of friendship. The daughter of one of my mother’s friends said that her mother would never allow her to speak a negative word about the “girls,” but among themselves they could say whatever they wanted! In Proverbs 27:6, it is written, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”
In the relationship of Moses and God, both of them could speak freely. Not only could the Lord reprove, rebuke, exhort and command Moses, Moses, with great “chutzpah,” could disagree and argue with Him, even at times getting the Lord to modify His stand! With a true friend, one can negotiate a path through the most intense circumstances. The foundation of love and concern for the other partner is strong enough to maintain the structure of the ever challenged and evolving friendship throughout the years.
In John 15:13, Yeshua said this, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” The laying down of one’s life for others certainly encompasses the possibility of physically dying in order that another might live. However, such an extreme act of sacrifice is surely not the path most of us will be required to take. Yet, there is a laying down of our lives that is required in order to build quality relationships that stand the test of time. Shaul put it very simply in Philippians 2:3,4. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”
Friendships that span nearly three-quarters of a century don’t just happen by accident. They grow from the fertile soil of humility and are nourished by genuine acts of loving care for the welfare of others. Dear Mom and friends, thanks for the example.