I am, by any measuring stick I know, a selfish man. I wish it weren’t so but it is. Sometimes I look in the mirror and smile because it’s not as bad as it used to be. But still… If I were a house for sale, the seller would describe me as “a great opportunity for renovation if you enjoy long hard hours, sweaty work, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty”.
Occasionally I use this blog to point out that I am extraordinarily wealthy. Not in the financial sense; in great friendships. It amazes me still. Sometimes the realization sneaks up behind me on tip toes, taps me on the shoulder, and I turn to see it… stunned again at the richness and depth of my closest friendships. The writer Anne Lamott used a simple adjective to describe this rare relationship phenomenon: load-bearing.
My friend Barry The Builder recently gave up his Saturday to help me with a project. It wasn’t the first time, or even one of the first dozen times. He is one of those people that finds joy in doing things for others. He has generously helped me over the years on numerous projects around the house and heart. In all that time, Barry has never once pointed out even my most obvious character flaws. I marvel at that kind of grace and restraint.
Neil The Walking Concordance will sit and talk (mostly listen) to me ramble, seemingly for hours. I don’t think he realizes yet that I usually don’t have a clue what I’m saying. It is a remarkable thing when someone invests the intense investment of actual listening to one’s monologue… as if I were disclosing secrets of the universe. Yet time and again, he sits there patiently, smiling, nodding, listening. Then when the long-awaited moment of silence comes, he shares his deep experience and thoughts and grace with me; often in great detail. And I wonder at that: he was actually listening to me. For me, our conversations are like old friends taking long walks through familiar woods, except we take a different route each time, almost always ending up closer to God than when we began.
Mike is most like me in thought-processing. We’re both IT guys so we’re analytical by nature. One might say we take it to extremes sometimes, and I wouldn’t argue the point. I recently learned that he also mentally maps out routes when running errands, to make the most efficient and simplest circuit possible, even if the travel takes place over several days. I’ve been doing it for years, and thought I was the only one. We each have a tendency to obsess about things that do not require that level of detail. It is because of Mike that I can convince myself that I’m not suffering from some obscure mental-emotional debilitation that causes people to bang their heads against brick walls for no reason. We’ve learned to laugh at ourselves, together. If you’re in the thick jungle of a trial, you want a friend like Mike calculating the shortest path out.
To top it all off, each of these men do this stuff while bearing difficult situations in their own lives. They are my load-bearing friends, and load-bearing friends are uncommon. Which is also true of super heroes. By deductive reasoning, I therefore conclude: my friends are super heroes. I wish I knew where they get their capes but I guess that is a super hero secret.
In Matthew 26:50-51, Mark 14:47 and John 18:10, we have the dramatic the story of Peter drawing a sword and striking the servant of the high priest when they came to arrest Jesus. There is no doubt my friends would spring into action to defend and protect me in similar fashion, sans sword.
I have another load-bearing friend in Jesus.
“No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” John 15:15
Barry repeatedly demonstrates selfless and joyful service to others.
Neil tirelessly teaches me how to really listen to people’s hearts, and how to care for them.
Mike frequently reminds me to laugh at myself, and not take myself so seriously.
And Jesus teaches me to love.
To help me learn how to love, He sent these three remarkable men into my life. Men who continue to love me well, even in the midst of my bad moods and judgmental tantrums and cranky weariness. One who becomes a friend of Jesus is forever changed by that friendship; and in no small measure, by these rarest of human friendships too.
I am, quite literally, praying that you have load-bearing friends as well. We all need them.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Proverbs 17:17