7-10 mins (1991 words)

Zu Deutsch wechseln

Recently, someone told me that one of my most defining characteristics is friendship. And while there is more to that particular event, if anyone had said that about me 8 years ago, I would have laughed. Thomas has no friends is what I was told too many times. Back then, this statement wasn't true in its absolute form, but I was certainly not working to be a good friend – quite opposite, I'd put in a lot of effort to proof my lack of friends to be a superior trait.

On the Journey

Slowly, that began to change. One day, I sat on a train platform in the cold and dark, eating the food I was supposed to share with a friend. When he had to change plans last minute, I had already decided that I must not be important enough, and obviously this friendship would not be convenient enough to him. I remember the next day, I looked at him in confusion as he gave me a funny gift bag to apologize. And for about two weeks I would look at this simple bag every day, slowly understanding that someone cares. That lots of people care. I finally realized how much I care.

This journey took lots of time until it was suddenly accelerated when I committed to the most unreasonable decision: Move away from all friends and family for a year (that turned into two).

Friends Across the World

You see, I don't want new friends, I want friends that stick. And to have friends literally across the world seems to be the most stupid idea when I know exactly how quickly friends can fade after they move just a city away.

Yet here we all were in this oddly international place, choosing to go deep and go deep quickly for reasons that we couldn't quite get.

At the end of that first year, one quote defined me: It is good that it hurts to say goodbye, because that means we have allowed ourselves to love deeply. I became painfully aware of the reality that things, and more importantly people, change as we leave this unusual place.

Next, I remember coming back after a couple months of summer. After the initial excitement of seeing everyone again – and everyone really just means everyone that matters to me – I remember laying on my bed, wondering if I could do this again. If I could go deep and intimate into friendship again, knowing that many of these ones would not even live on the same continent as me as they would leave this one strange place. Too many journal entries and long chat records remain as proof of something that can rightfully be called internal crisis.

Until that time, I believed that sticking with my previous friends was the convenient life, the easier choice. The truth is this: Friendship is never convenient. And while convenience is a good explanation why most of my friendships started, true friendship is not of functional nature. Choosing the same friends became costly, because we all knew exactly how much we promised to stay in touch for that one summer break, and how much we really stayed connected after all.

Finally, after weeks of internal struggle, I said Yes: to friends that I knew I would have to leave, to friendships that I conveniently diagnosed to be "unhealthy", to people that had long lost the fresh excitement that comes with new and shiny things. I said Yes to friends that knew me in deep and uncomfortable ways.

But this is not just for those few I could choose to stay with, it is also to every new friend I made. As with many things in life, you can't un-know the price that comes with friendships after feeling it for yourself. And so every new friend, every deep connection is a costly thing, yet it's choice that makes it valuable.

What a year we had!

Now, we reached that point of goodbyes, again. This time, I'm leaving without coming back. And while I know that I will see these friends again at weddings and perhaps some other occasions, it will be different. To be honest, I often don't even feel it – some level of denial is trying to soothe the pain. And then I find myself tear-eyed all day as I pack up all my few belongings. Goodbyes are hard. Yet I'm proud I didn't try to avoid them.

Supreme Love

Last summer, I read a book called The Four Loves by CS Lewis. The concept is as simple as it is helpful: The English word love has many layers of meaning, however in Greek (and other languages too), there are multiple words to express the different kinds of love, leading to the 4 loves:

First, storge, the motherly love that brings the nurturing and loving attention of a mother to her offspring. It's the kind of love that is needed for children to develop normally and we're all aware of the destruction that lack of such love brings to a growing child.

Second, eros, the romantic love that drives every love story. It is the love that brings all the rushing emotions and leads to a pursuit of an other that is unlike anything else. Without eros, humans would lack the natural drive to reproduce.

Third, agape, the highest love. This love can only really be given by God, because it is love without conditions, without restraints and love that cannot be disappointed. It is the love that can hardly be described, yet is perfectly summed up in the act of one man that died so that we may live. And as followers of this man, we get to reflect the love that our God embodies.

Fourth, fileo, the love of friendship. And this love has got me. It is the love between two friends, friends that are not to be confused with acquaintances nor with companions. This love defines friendships, because they have, in their truest form, no gain or win, no benefit or business.

Friendships are an interesting thing, for they are not needed, not required to successful or even fulfilled life. If they are truly not motivated by gain or exchange, friendships have no value – and thus many do not have friends, but the ones they call so are only peers that raise their significance or serve to fulfill any other human need. But that's not what friendship is about. Friendships, as CS Lewis says, is unnecessary. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.

Isn't that remarkable? Friends are not about getting life done together (although they will certainly do that), but about enjoying life together. Humans cannot survive without the motherly storge love, nor could they create families without the romantic eros love. Further, we Christians believe that humans only become fully alive as they are exposed to the agape love that God embodies, defines and pours into us – so that we may reflect it onto those around us. But fileo? Fileo is entirely optional, not needed for survival or healthy human life.

Value Through Choice

I believe that choice is what gives value to things. Saying Yes to something only really matters when you therefore say No to other things. A choice implies that there is more than one option.

To make my brief case for this, I would like to remind you that in the garden of Eden, Adam's love for God would have little to no meaning if he could not choose to love someone or something else. My God did not desire a servants army when He created humanity in His image. He could only be loved by them if He gave them the option to disconnect from Him with the full implication that such a choice would bring, and without installing any safeguards or safety locks besides His simple guiding word that needed to be trusted. Adam had his powerful moment of choice, sadly not for good.

Choice is what makes things valuable, be it our love for God or the most mundane decisions – for without choice intention is arbitrary and the attitude of the heart is irrelevant.

What is the most powerful choice then? To choose something that is of no value, something that was entirely unneeded but becomes absolutely invaluable because you decided to choose it. And the more one would continue to choose (to invest in) this optional thing, the more value it retains. And so it is with friendship. Because it has no inherent value, its choice makes it invaluable.

True friendship is never convenient for it requires choice. Many have started by coincidence, but no meaningful connection is maintained without the intentional care that is inspired by the entirely optional fileo love. And if this love is not required for you to sustain your life, it becomes the supreme love, for such a thing could only exist where it is given most selfless.

Fear of Loss

The greatest fear in friendship then is losing it. If it serves only for enjoyment and is built upon continual choice, this joyful pleasure and all the history that was created with it can be lost in a moment. Friendship without function nor gain is fragile, because it does not create dependency, inseparable need or moral responsibility for another.

Facing this fear can only really happen to those aware of the cost, those that choose to connect deeply in full awareness that they most likely do not get to keep the product of their love. As the convenience of close proximity, shared workplaces or common activities falls away, choice becomes more costly. Those that can see such change coming have to face the fear of loss long before they may lose that valued friendship.

It is one thing to experience all the bliss and joy of friendship and then suddenly arrive at the final and painful goodbye – you truly only see what you had when you must give it up. But to me, going in knowing exactly how much it would cost in the end is a much more valuable choice. It is nobler cause to pay for something that bankrupts you entirely when you know each cent of the price long before you receive that costly bill. And because of that, fileo reflects the love of Christ, the love of one who counted all cost and then gladly spent it. The one who knew exactly about the betrayal and hurt He would experience, and decided that it was worthy of bankrupting heaven for the simple sake of love. In friendship, we get to reflect a part of His nature, of His entirely freely given love, no strings attached. He defined pure love to be this way, and it is this that makes it all worth it.

So here we are. It is a privilege to give back the things that God gave freely to me. However, it is painful. It hurts because we loved, and because we chose so again and again. But I need to remind myself that all things are the safest when they are fully committed to Him. The choice to give a friendship back to Him is as powerful as every choice to embrace what He gave to me beforehand – the true antithesis of choice is not a No, but a slow fading, a pretentious Yes, an empty promise.

At the end, I remind myself of that moment a couple weeks ago when I sat on my bed, crying through all these thoughts about the true nature of friendship and love – about the love that becomes most valuable because it is least required in life, not at all to be precise. Finally, I stopped that hurting prayer and in conclusion said to God that it only hurts because You gave me something so precious. And I could never regret that.