Tonight began the first of many end-of-the-year goodbyes to some precious people in my life. These are people I love very dearly. I am and will be deeply saddened to see them leave.
Over the past several years I have found myself often summarizing the Lord’s blessings on my life by saying that I am rich in relationships. I have begun realizing that few people have even close to as many wonderfully meaningful friendships as I have, both near and far away. And I have begun realizing that there are few greater kinds of wealth.
My life should have been exactly the opposite — lonely, and curving sharply back into myself in shy and silent selfishness. I arrived at college on August 19, 1998 as a painfully insecure 17-year-old with a deep mental and emotional well and a small thimble of personality with which to draw it out. I thought about everything and felt strongly about many things, but I did not know well how to know and be known. I was too self-conscious and self-consumed for the brotherhood I so desperately needed.
To no credit of my own, God immediately blessed me with groups of friends during those first several years. These relationships exposed my insecurities and coaxed me out of myself, and ultimately led me into the deeply meaningful relationships which have characterized my nine-year participation in Student Life.
To this day I have never been the outgoing extrovert, and have learned to be content with my minimal gifting in relationships and my natural bent toward the life of the mind. Yet I have tasted the sweetness of intimacy and brotherhood and camaraderie, and it is unparalleled. The taste of brotherhood is so sweet that I will forever refuse to live without it, except in those cases of providential and seasonal loneliness that a loving Father will give to test, refine, and confirm my trust in Him.
My time here has been a revolving door, yes, because we’ve served in an educational context where people come and go. This is how we are so richly blessed with so many friends — the turnover rate is astounding! But I have seen that the intensity and intimacy of these relationships only serve to make the relationships elastic, able to bend and stretch and maintain their shape as dear friends leave and cross counties and borders and oceans yet remain dear friends.
I see so many people who do not have these relationships. So many are searching, looking to care and be cared about, perhaps wary of the kind of closeness that opens the door for hurt, perhaps beaten into half-contentedness by the disillusionment of loneliness, often waiting for the other person to make the first move (and many subsequent moves). Many have joined the empty community of individualism and self-protection, a community easy to join but hard to leave.
By God’s grace I have been given so much more, and for this I am deeply, deeply grateful. I say without a hint of hesitation or false humility that I do not deserve this, I did not earn it, and to this day I marvel at it. By all human accounts, this should not have been me. I, of all people, should never have experienced friendships like these.
Yet these brothers that I love, we have passed beyond even friendship and into brotherhood. It is no longer a mere relationship but a bond, a union, an allegiance. It has turned into Proverbs 18:24: “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”
If you do not have these kinds of friends, if you are not growing towards these kinds of friendships, if you are not cultivating these kinds of relationships, start today. Seek to know and be known. Choose vulnerability over self-protection, accountability over obscurity, the climb of togetherness over the gravity of aloneness. Become an initiator and an inviter and a pursuer. Fight for relationships, for sincere time together in the midst of busyness, for a diversity of shared experiences along with the late nights and the road trips and the the dinner tables and the living rooms and the ministry partnerships that weave together the tapestry of relationships. Fight for them. Because you can be rich in many things, but if you are poor in friendships, you are poor indeed.
A few days ago some friends and I were having a lighthearted lunch conversation about the last time each of us cried. The last time I cried, I told them, was late last fall while listening to a student pour out his heart about the second anniversary of his grandfather’s death and the absence of a father figure in his life. I haven’t tended to be a crier, I said, but that was the last time I cried.
This is no longer true after tonight.