“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” – Proverbs 18:24
There’s a scene at the end of the last Lord of the Rings movie that always manages to make me tear up. The companions that had embarked on the great adventure of the three films are united on the western coast to bid farewell to Gandalf, the wizard of the group as he prepares to sail off to a distant land. While sad to see their friend leave, they have known this was coming for quite some time. Tears filled the eyes of friends despite previous attempts to emotionally prepare for the moment. When they get there, however, they receive a terrible surprise.
Unbeknownst to them, Gandalf wasn’t the only one of their group to be leaving the land of Middle-Earth, never to return again– Frodo would be as well. Frodo had grown up with the rest of the companions. They had been together since as long as any could remember. No one else in the group would have undertook the journey if it were not for their friendship with Frodo.
Tears begin to flow freely and audible sobs are heard. All the moments the four had spent together flash before their eyes– the excitement of starting a grand adventure, the perils that awaited them at every turn, the hardships faced against impossible odds, the strange new worlds discovered, the laughs and tears shared along the way, and the final victory over evil.
Frodo explains that he must go because of the heavy physical and spiritual damage he had taken from the journey. His only chance of living on is to travel with Gandalf to a distant land. As he embraces his friends one last time, he boards the ship with Gandalf, ending their epic story and parting with his closest companions for the final time.
What’s striking about the scene is the emotional depth and connection the friends share. The pain that manifests in their last moments together demonstrates the intimacy among the friend. To come to know they will never see him again fills the friends with more pain than experienced throughout their adventure. For them to respond with such sorrow at their parting, the relationship must have filled them with an equal extreme of joy.
Friendship is the most unique form of relationship. As these mythical creatures of a fantasy world have shown us, it has the power to lift us to the highest highs and plunge us to the lowest of lows.
A person can live a perfectly fulfilled life without romance (contrary to what Nicholas Sparks will tell you). Many people have grown up without parental love and developed into wonderful, capable adults. Yet, if you go through life without friends, you will go insane.
If true, then it’s no surprise to learn that the most gruesome and feared punishment in the judicial world is not the death penalty, it’s isolation. When you separate a man from any possibility to have even the most basic friendship, he losses his mind. The typical human being was not meant to live a friendless existence, for no life at all is preferable to a life without meaningful human contact.
So with a dying hobbit and solitary confinement in mind, here’s 4 characteristics of a true friend:
1. A true friend wants what’s best for you
A friend that wants to see you fail is not a very good friend. This goes without saying. By contrast, a friend that wants to see you excel and thrive has the right perspective on friendship.
The closest friends know our hopes and dreams and want to see them fulfilled. They see the good in each other and the good in the world and strive to see the two meet. The best friends want the best for us, even if it means letting us have the good seat on the couch.
2. A true friend lets you in their life
The most embarrassing reoccurring dream I have is one where I show up to work naked. Nothing holds as much shame as being totally exposed and facing the contempt of those in your life. But that’s a bit like what friendship is.
To be a true friend, one has to open up their heart to another, revealing all the good, the bad, and the ugly. The best of friends open their lives to one another and still find a way to enjoy the other.
3. A true friend is not repulsed but overjoyed by your life
In the act of opening up to one another, true friends can look past the faults and flaws and see the beauty underneath. They see value and dignity in the other whether or not that person sees it themselves.
“Every man should keep a fair-sized cemetery in which to bury the faults of his friends” claimed 19th century ministry Henry Ward Beecher. True friends lay to rest the annoyances they have with one another, not allowing the dead to ruin the lives of the living.
4. A true friend never lets you down
A promise is a promise, and friends keep their promises. True friends are utterly reliable. If they said that they would do something, you best believe they will be faithful to their word.
True friendship differentiates itself from mere acquaintance at many points but most notably here. A lesser friend will tell you to ask for anything if you run into trouble. A true friend needn’t be asked– they will already be there when trouble arises. True friends are friends in the good and the bad, not simply when it benefits them to be a friend.
The list is far from complete, but even with the few traits we have listed here, we begin to see a sad reality– we are rarely, if ever, good friends.
I’ve had some pretty great friends in my life and none of them have ever lived up to the expectations listed above. Sure there have been glimpses of it from time to time, but I’ve never seen the whole package.
Personally, I can point to a handful of times in my life where I acted towards my friends with even a hint of the selflessness characteristic of a true friend. The sad reality is that we are pretty terrible friends.
So how can we actually live out the values of true friendship?
By looking to the only one who did.
Jesus Christ is THE true friend.
He’s the only one who will never fail you because he’s perfectly good and all-powerful
He’s the only one who sees the good in you through the bad for he made the beauty inside.
He’s the only one who shares his whole life with you, hiding nothing through his word.
And he’s the only one who wants the best for you no matter the cost, experiencing death itself so that you might have the best thing in this world, him.
When we see how Jesus is the truest friend, we’ll begin to become true friends to others. We will no longer use friendships to benefit us. For if we have everything we need in friendship with Jesus, what could we possibly need from others?
We can finally give freely to friends and not expect anything in return. The character of friendship will naturally begin to form in us, overflowing from the union we have with Christ.
What’s sad about the Lord of the Rings is that because of the journey, Frodo is wounded mortally and taken from his friends. The best part about the life of Jesus is that by his mortal would, we can now have him forever– and grow as friends because of it.