How to be a "Medal of Honor" Friend

I recently heard on the NPR program, “Humankind,” the story of a son who died young in an accident with a drunk driver. His mother described him as "loving, compassionate, and a person that many people considered to be their best friend." That last description--being best friend to many--struck me as quite remarkable. It said more to me about his character than the other adjectives.

 Being a friend to others has a direct correlation to faith and being a faith exemplar. When we truly befriend another person we, in essence, enact a promise to be reliable, honest, and show up when the one we’ve befriended needs us. That’s a huge commitment that calls us to go beyond our own needs and conveniences for another.

Research shows that, at best, we can only maintain about two such relationships. According to evolutionary psychologist I.M. Dunbar, these two are usually a spouse and one other person. Why? A true friendship demands an enormous amount of bandwidth. True friendship requires frequent contact and true availability for another person. It’s not because you expect to get something in return, but because you love the person for being who they are.

Jesus took friendship to another level. He said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15.13). We usually don’t see this degree of commitment to one’s close companions, except in the military. This type of friend is quite rare. In the military, persons who display this level of valor are often recipients of the Medal of Honor. I’ve dreamed of having this type of courage and pray that if the moment ever arrives, I’ll be able to respond, accordingly, for the person in need.

When I as a kid, I used to believe that a best friend was someone that I liked the most. The person may have been exceptionally funny, cool, or someone who made me feel good about myself. As I’ve gotten older, I realized that true friendship has little to do with whom I like, but everything about who I can rely on, someone “in the cut,” as we used to say in the hood. He or she is honest with me, challenges me, and who extends true love to me—even when I’m not my best me.

A best friend is not the person that we like the most or "feel" the closest to, but the one who will be there when need him/her. On occassion, my so-called “best friend” was occasionally the one who left me hanging. I'd find myself rationalizing why I still considered him a best friend.

An example is my friend, Chief, who I have such excellent chemistry with. We can talk for hours and never run out of things to discuss. I’ve been to his place after a night out and we’d sit on the steps talking longer after I said my first, “goodbye.” But, on big events such as my wedding or 50th birthday party, Chief never showed up. When I really looked forward to his presence, he gave excuses. I realized then that I maintained hope for his support on big occasions at my own risk. So I learned to downsize my expectations, yet engage him with my eyes wide open, not wide shut.

We have learned from Dr. Bessel van der Kolk's powerful book, The Body Keeps the Score, that parents who fail to provide their children with a safe, nurturing and responsive environment can exact irreversible traumatic stress on their children. Poor quality friendships can have the same impact on us. None of us are immune from lackadaisical friendships.

The fact of the matter is that when we are loving, compassionate, and dependable for other people, we help them grow, and subsequently, master their own faith. The same applies to each of us. Beginning with our parents, our earliest faith nurturers, every friend that is there for us, offering the safety and support for us to be our authentic selves, helps grow our faith.

Best friends come and go. Realizing this adds meaning to the bible verse that “there is a season for everything under the sun.” Some of the people who impact you the most only hang around for a season.

These days, the people that I once considered my best friends don't return my phone calls. While I realize that they are probably busy with life’s increasing demands, it seems that something else has occurred: our friendship has passed to another season. Perhaps, the winter of those friendships has set in.

President obama presenting the medal of honor.

President obama presenting the medal of honor.

When we returned to Dallas a few months ago, only three of our many friends showed up for drinks or dinner with us. All the other best friends were nowhere in sight. It seemed clear that I was no longer in the BFF category for them.

Conversely, I have a few Medal of Honor friends: my spouse, godchildren's parents, my personal editor, CH, a great colleague in Puerto Rico, and others. I can't name them all.

How do we know who our best friends are: They're the ones who are reliable, honest, show up when they promise, and show up when you find yourself in need.

When you consider your friends, do you believe that they’d designate you as the Medal of Honor friend? Would any of them describe you as "loving, compassionate, and a person that many people considered to be their best friend"? And who among your friends might you bestow the Medal of Honor?

I hope that you find these questions powerful and worthy of our deepest friendships. Find time to seriously reflect upon them. Remember this: friendship goes both ways. My faith and your faith depend on it.

Finally, there was that Six Feet Under episode about the biker Santa who was killed in a freak accident. His wife and friends showed up to make his funeral arrangements. The wife wanted a simple burial, but the friends insisted on a true biker service on Christmas Day because, as they said, "He was the f&#@ing best!" [Emphasis theirs.] Now, that's how I want to be remembered.



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