Pentecost 58

Pentecost 58

My Psalm 58

Make New Friends, Keep the Old

Recently, in a discussion with a twenty-something young man, I asked: “What is a friend?” His response started out very much like what one would expect but then took an interesting turn. He replied: “Someone to trust, rely on, and care for.” For him, friendship was a two-way street. Friendship was not something we valued in the reception but a living growing entity that required as much giving as taking and receiving.

Author Bella DePaulo, PhD., has written extensively about relationships and considers friendship to be the forgotten, overlooked relationship and remarks about how important friendship will become in the twenty-first century. In a 2012 article published by Living Single, she told of a research study that had people estimate the steepness of an incline before them. When people stood next to a friend, the incline seemed less steep. The findings agreed with Helen Keller: “Walking in the dark with a friend is better than walking alone in the light.”

De Paulo, in an article for Psychology Today concluded: “We also like ourselves better when we think about the friends who are important to us. Taking a moment to consider what we appreciate about our friends can also help us cope with our own shortcomings. In several studies, people took a test and then spent some time thinking about a warm and positive friendship, a cold and negative relationship, or a neutral relationship with an acquaintance. Then they were told that their performance on the test was not very good. If that happened to you, what would you want to do? Banish it from your mind and walk away? Or accept an opportunity to learn more about the skill that was tested and how to improve it? In the study, the people who were most open to working on their deficiencies were those who thought about their good friends.”

Building the Robert Louis Stevenson quote that “A friend is a present you give yourself”, politician Hubert H Humphrey stated: “The greatest gift of life is friendship and I have received it.” Greek philosopher Euripides felt that “One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.”

Dr Christine Brooks and Sean X began in 2013 a project they call scienceoffriendship.com. Believing that the digital connections of the modern age have affected friendships, they started with considering the “the multi-layered scaffolding that is our body, our minds, and our culture”. Their project will have a three-tiered approach: “The scope of our work covers Wellness and how we treat ourselves and others, Social connections, networks, and communication dynamics, and Neurobiology and the aspects of it that fuel connection, friendship and bonding.”

In the early 1900’s George Engel began his medical career in New York. Like most doctors of his time, he was focused primarily on the disease. Medical convention at the time felt if you knew and cured the illness, the patient would be cured. Dr Engel was a physical physician and disdainful of psychosomatic medicine. At the start of America’s involvement with World War II, Engel accepted a research fellowship position at Harvard, appointments in Cincinnati and later the University of Rochester where he introduced a treatment profile involving psychiatric interventions with patients. His biopsychosocial model, as it became known, believed that health and illness are consequences of the interconnected factors in our lives of biological, psychological, and social factors.

Dr Engle’s biopsychosocial model would help explain how a hill can seem less daunting when we consider traversing it with a friend. It also explains why people with similar healthy immune systems but active and vibrant friends’ support system progress better than those who live secluded lives yet may in fact be healthier from a physical standpoint.

In the Oprah.com recommended book, “Prince Harming Syndrome” author Karen Somalsohn references Aristotle’s three types of relationships: relationships of pleasure, relationships of utility, and relationships of shared virtue. Somalsohn maintains that a relationship serves two purposes: “den of pleasure; laboratory of growth”.

Perhaps a true friend is the one that not only provides an environment and rapport that can be enjoyed but also one that encourages us to grow. That, however, is still a rather one-sided experience and does not address the young man’s caveat that a real friend is to be nurtured themselves. Are our truest friends those that need us as well? Is the need to nurture, to contribute, a necessary element of friendship?

Friendship is, at its core, community. As Rollo May once said, “Communication leads to community – that is, to understanding, intimacy, and mutual valuing.” Ralph Nichols continues this in his comment: “The most basic of all human needs of the need to understand and be understood. The best way to understand people is to listen to them.” Even King Solomon agreed: “Give me the gift of a listening heart.”

Man is a pack animal. His creation was not to be alone, regardless of whether you choose a creation-type of beginning or an evolutionary process of beginning. We need our friends and true friendship is a two-way street. We need to be valued but we also need to feel we can offer something of value to another.

You may not believe fully in the Japanese “kenzoku”, a word which translates as family, but friends are those with whom we have a similar commitment, a shared connection. Whether or not that leads to a shared destiny or reflects shared lives past, our friends are family. Friendship, real friendship, must be nurtured and cannot be allowed to become stagnant. Whether your friend is someone you see daily or a simple name clicked on FaceBook, it is the nurturing communications in which we engage that grow the friendship. After all, whether the friend is an old one or a new one, whether silver or gold, all are precious and must be valued.

My Psalm 58
(I should tell you this is NOT one of my favorite psalms as I am really not that vengeful of a person and this psalm is all about vengeance!)

Dear God, I am mad.
I am really, really angry.
I feel betrayed;
The betrayal of a friend is the worst kind.
I want them to hurt as I hurt.
When they lying mouths open,
I want their teeth to fall out.
Their promises are like evaporating water
And their mark in my life leaves my soul withered.
I want someone to run over them
As they ran over my hopes.
Our friendship has withered into dust.
They are a slimy snail slithering away.
I want them gone from my memory instantly.
I want the sun to set on our friendship.
Mostly, I want it to stop hurting.
O Lord, the faithful will be rewarded, I know.
Vengeance is not mine to deliver.
Help me feel your love, O Mighty One.
To you I am precious, I know.
You will judge and you alone.
Let the sun set on my pain and anger.
Help me to go forward, Father Almighty.
To You, I call out for help and mercy.

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