Growing up in West Texas, I had a pretty well-developed system for knowing who my friends were. Friends were the guys — and occasionally the girls — you spent time with. Looking back, I’m not sure that the great majority of that time was very productive. But, even today, it seems like quality time. We played ball and pretended we were people we would never be. We shared dreams and schemes and, on occasion, the blame for schemes gone bad. In simplest terms, we were there for each other.
Eventually, of course, I found my best friend, Nancy. And I’ve poured most of my friend energy into that relationship. I’m not certain that she would say that all of that effort on my part has had happy results — or even that there has been all that much investment at times. Thankfully, our love and friendship has grown because of her enormous capacity for others.
I know that similar cues that determine friendship exist in today’s relationships. Perhaps the activities are less strenuous. And now the dreams shared are sometimes those lying broken around us. The happy times are no less happy, though. However, with the pressure of life as an adult, there seems to be less quality time for friends.
Or so I thought. A friend of mine recently went through a period of crisis. I was one of a number of folks who went to his side. Part of our function was to simply be there and absorb the moment with him. If you’ve ministered to people who are sick or who are grieving the death of someone close, you’ve probably heard this activity described as “sitting with” the suffering person.
Years ago, I was mentored in “sitting” by a long-time minister at our church, Brother Horace. A good brother at the congregation had died suddenly. I was dropping off some things at the church office that day as Brother Horace was making his way to visit the family of the deceased. “Why don’t you come with me?” he asked.
I was in my early twenties and, other than family, I had never gone to visit a bereaved family. Reluctantly, I said yes. But in the car on the way to their home, I became nervous. “Brother Horace,” I questioned, “What will I do when I get there? What will I say?”
“Simple. Say what seems right. And if you have nothing to say, just sit. Through the years, I’ve never had any one recall what I had to say, but almost every one remembered I was there. Being there is the key.”
And so it is with friendship. In my friend’s crisis, I came to realize that there was no place for me to “sit.” Those spots were taken by individuals who had been there more often. No, my place was just inside the door. Standing just a bit to the side.
I just happened to run into this friend downtown, recently. And even though my perception was that my involvement was very slight, he was effusive in his greeting. He thanked me over and over for what I had done.
The expression on my face must have been one of puzzlement. He paused as I stuttered, “I really wasn’t that much help.”
He moved closer and whispered, “But you were there!”
Friendship and love can grow in even the shallowest soil. And so I’m called back to Brother Horace’s sage advice. Say what seems right. And if you have nothing to say, just sit. And to that wisdom, I add this corollary. When there is no place to sit, just stand.