Some of the highest suicide rates and incidents of alcoholism are in the world’s northern regions. People who study this sort of thing attribute at least a portion of this unique problem to weather patterns that occur this time of year. It stays so dark and cold and gray and dismal for such long periods of time, they just can’t stand it. In the U.S., we call it cabin fever. What happens is some people can begin to feel extremely isolated from one another and think there’s no hope, that the sun will never shine again, that their friends can’t understand them and, in fact, have abandoned them. They get blue and depressed. They hole up and have little contact with folks who care for them.
I’m talking about relationships that are life-giving and affirming. There’s nothing more reassuring than true friendship with someone you can count on during thick or thin times. A popular Christian sports figure and motivational speaker wrote a book about this whole subject. He categorized two kinds of people in your life: those who lift you up and those who tear you down. Those who seem to have a neutral influence usually end up falling into the second group because they are not really contributing to your well-being or to the relationship for whatever reason. He said the basis for all our relationships (social, business, or personal) can be judged by answers to three questions:
1) Can I trust you?
2) Are you committed to excellence?
3) Do you care about me?
Trust is something that is earned and is the foundation for any meaningful relationship. But not everyone who is trustworthy will be your friend. A true friend will earn your trust. The second question is one I hadn’t anticipated. Why would a commitment to excellence rank with trust and care? Someone you can really count on is someone who wants to help you succeed and prosper. If friendships are not challenging or stimulating, they grow stale. The commitment to excellence, however, is the leavening agent that sparks a relationship to new heights and greater depths.
But only the test of time makes it evident who in your life will honor you by sticking with you when the going gets tough. A true friend is someone who cares for you during the times when you make mistakes, get sick, or feel unproductive, confused, or even helpless. They don’t betray confidential matters you don’t share with many other people. Care is more important because it involves more time and effort. It takes an investment of who we are and what we have. You can also measure your own value as a friend to others by using the same guidelines.
Jesus told his disciples, “I have called you friends,” with the expectation that they keep his commandments. He called them to a higher place, a place of excellence, a place of love and commitment to Himself and to one another. He said there is no greater expression of love than for someone to lay down his life for a friend. He demonstrated that kind of love for them and for us on the cross. Laying down your life for someone not only means being prepared to die for them but also being willing to live for them.
Real friends are hard to come by and we can never have enough of them. It’s vital to let your friends know you appreciate them.