Proverbs 17:17 – A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
I met with my friend Derek for lunch last Saturday. It was the first time we had seen each other in over 35 years. Yes, 35 years. He was, at one point, the best friend I had. We were in high school together. We did a lot together. Most of it was legal.
We sat together last week and talked for four hours, and except for bathroom breaks we talked non stop. It was absolutely marvelous. He brought me up to date on a bunch of people that I had completely lost track of but since he still lives in the city where we went to high school he has been able to stay in touch. We laughed together for four hours. We said the old tried and true things like “Do you remember when …” . At one point I brought up something that almost made his drink come through his nose. There was not a ten second period when we weren’t talking.
It wasn’t all reminiscences either. We talked about current projects. He quizzed me on my interests and my beliefs, although as a geologist he stated that it would be better if we didn’t discuss creation. Fair enough. He told me of two book projects he is working on. His passion for his chosen profession was evident to me and I trust that mine for my God was to him.
By hour three he started to try to use language that he thought would not offend me. We both roared in laughter as he caught himself trying to speak in a manner that has been foreign to him all his life.
My greatest memory of this real friend goes back to November of 1970. I have told the story here before of my father getting fired from a church where he was the pastor. That firing brought our whole family into a crisis that my parents never fully recovered from and which all us children still talk about today. One of the repercussions was the almost total absence of money. My mother had been hospitalized due to the stress of the whole situation on her. Dad was no housekeeper. Put those three things together and what you have every morning was a young man getting himself ready for school with no money for the bus or, as is important for this story, for lunch.
I remember the first day I arrived at the school cafeteria without lunch or money. There were four of us who chummed around together in those days. Bill, Sandy, Derek and Ken. I took my place at the table across from Bill.
“Where’s your lunch?” Bill asked.
“I didn’t bring one”
“No, I don’t have any money”.
He reached into his lunch bag and lifted out half his sandwich and gave it to me. I took it and ate it.
I do not remember how it came to be known that my not having either lunch or money was the norm, but it did become known. And until I moved in with a family who could provide lunch for me, Derek, Bill and Sandy had their mothers put extra food into their lunch bags for me. They fed me lunch for three months. There was no fanfare. There was no “you owe me for this”. There was just a bunch of guys who hung around together who wouldn’t have it that one of them couldn’t eat at lunch time. They did not think they were doing a big thing. They were just doing what needed to be done. They were doing what friends do.
I asked Derek on Saturday if he remembered this. He told me that he remembered that our family had been having a rough time but he had no recollection of helping me eat. Beautiful. This thing that has resonated with me for almost forty years didn’t even register with him as something worth remembering. This thing that has stayed with me for this long as a testimony of what real friendship is about is proven to be what real friendship is about by his not even thinking it was big enough to keep in his memory banks. Why would he remember such a small thing, such an ordinary thing, such a natural thing?
“You saved my life Derek” I said to him last week. He thought that was pretty cool. We talked about things of faith. I would love for Derek to become a committed follower of Jesus Christ and he knows it. But I could never wish him to be a better friend.
Friendship. What a gift from God. And you know what my fear is? I fear that if he did commit himself to Christ he would stop being so much fun and so caring and so nonchalant about how he demonstrates love to his friends. He might start talking about how he shows the love of God to people. He might start thinking that God really is doing something great through him. He might become like me.
Lord, forgive me for thinking it and help me to be the kind of Christian who loves his friends and doesn’t think it is such a big deal. Help me to stop talking so much about it and just do it and forget about it. Thanks for putting Derek into my life and thanks for putting him there again.
Save him Lord, but don’t change him in this thing. You’ve done a great job already.