Some time ago there was a popular bumper sticker that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Although this may represent the measure of a successful life for some, I recently had an experience that helped me understand that there is, perhaps, a better measure of success.
I visited the home of an elderly gentleman I have come to consider a friend.
He is in his 90s. He now lives by himself. His home is neat, but modest. To my knowledge he has never held high office or accumulated much wealth.
Yet, he always seems to be happy. As I visited with him in his home I came to understand why. I noted that all four walls of his living room were covered with photographs of people. When I asked who they were, I learned that many were family members, but all of them were friends. I also learned that each photograph had a story, and I listened, intrigued, as he shared the stories with me.
They shared a common pattern. Each began with an act of service or kindness that was reciprocated in some way. This led to friendship, and the sharing of many wonderful experiences over time. To this day many of these friends maintain regular contact with him, and it was obvious to me that this meant a lot to him.
This experience caused me to consider the significance of friendship. How does having friends bless our lives? And, what does it take to develop a friendship?
C.S. Lewis provided an important insight that helps address these questions. He taught that, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art ... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” One of the ways that friendship does this was explained by the Roman philosopher Cicero. He taught that, “Friendship improves happiness, and abates misery, by doubling our joys, and dividing our grief.” Thus, friendship can bless our lives by giving us someone with whom we may freely share experiences, both good and bad.
For this to work, we must be willing to give as much as we take. True friendship works both ways. Oprah Winfrey noted that, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.” It is important to note that if others would have us to be their friend, they will expect this of us. Perhaps, our willingness to give is the most important element of friendship. Friendship really is more selfless than it is self-centered.
How do we develop a friendship? Dale Carnegie taught that, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” This is good advice. I have learned that when I make the effort to get to know someone better, quite often they become a friend. This is sometimes true when I get to know someone that I once considered an enemy.
When Abraham Lincoln was once advised that he should try to destroy his political enemies rather than befriend them, he responded, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
This may be one reason why Jesus taught: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”. (Matthew 5:44) For me, these words have more force when I realize that in him we have an example of the ultimate friend.
In word and deed he taught his disciples, who he called friends, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
All of this came together for me when I considered why it is that friendship is so important to the elderly gentleman. Perhaps the bumper sticker should have read, “He who dies with the most friends, wins”.
Kelly Taylor is bishop of the Walla Walla 2nd Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by e-mail at email@example.com.