“You have too many friends”, my mother seemed to complain. Of course I didn’t know what response to give. It wasn’t until recently when someone described me as ‘sticky’, that I finally got a response. I guess I’m sticky like that.
I have three thousand, three hundred and seventy-six Facebook friends, and counting. And to think that some of my friends aren’t even on Facebook . . . that number surely falls short. From all the places I have lived, schooled, worked, fellowshipped and partied. From family members to I-met-you-at-a-gathering-and-we-clicked friends to friends of good friends and acquaintances. Friends from so many countries and so many races. That’s the make-up of my friends list. And apart from those I have never met, I have shared some memory with each of these people. Memories I readily remember and some hidden in the deep crevices of my mind. Some of hugs and kisses, others of just crossing paths. And everyday, in every new circle I find myself, I make a new friend and the list will go on.
There was a time in my life when I thought my friendships would be my undoing. You see, the thing about being a sticky young girl is that you can easily get influenced by anything. And as the typical human Xerox that I am, it wouldn’t be long before I would start walking, talking and acting like the people I was hanging around. I wasn’t even conscious of it. I would only notice it when my mum asks me “Why are you walking like that?” Like when Fisayo always greeted me by saying “ha ya doin?” I caught myself copying it as fast as Flash, and soon it became my own. The funniest one was when I copied someone’s walking steps. It’s funny because she had a limp, so my shoes began to wear . . and tear 🤦🏽♀️ So over the years, I tried to rediscover my original personality after it had been jumbled up so many times by all my association. But one thing remained the same: I’m still sticky. With this in mind, I have become quite careful of my association, because I know that influence pretty much comes with the package.
But lets try to be deep now.
What does it really mean to be a friend?
Consider this story:
“Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat. They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn’t reach him because of the crowd. So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles. Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, “Young man, your sins are forgiven.” Luke 5:18-20
In the world where everyone is all about their own business, it’s quite tough to envision anyone who would go out of their way to make sure someone else is settled. And out of your way is one thing; putting yourself in harms way for another is quite something different. The friends of the paralysed man would have had to overcome their fear of height, if they had any, the risk of falling and becoming paralysed themselves, damning the consequences of what the owner of the house, whose roof was vandalised just to get their friend to Jesus, would have done to them. But none of those things deterred them from pushing whatever barrier stood before them on behalf of their friend.
Intercession is an act of friendship
I’ve always likened the act of the roof-breaking friends to INTERCESSION. Taking someone you claim to care about over the hoops they cannot jump themselves. Standing in the gap when they have no power or will of their own. Breaking the roof of heaven just for another to get the attention. That is friendship. When you get on your knees to pray and your issues are the last on your prayer list, and might never make it in there, because your heart is so moved by what others are going through, you can’t help but cry to God on their behalf; even when you are no better off. That is friendship.
Here’s another story:
“Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him, ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence.” Luke 11:5-8
Now everyone has their limits. Midnight? Why? But isn’t that what friends do? I wouldn’t go to just anyone’s house at midnight. I must know that the house I am going to will open it’s doors for me when I get there, or else I’ll stay home. That boldness only comes with genuine friendship. Hence the midnight visitor. But begging for bread at midnight? That’s another level of boldness! And unfortunately for this guy, his boldness did nothing to help him. His friend was in bed and didn’t care if he froze in the cold. There are friends like that. Their standards are so high, they break it for no one. Those high standards are loyal to their standards alone, after all, you must know that the reason I’ll have bread in my house is because I’m always ready for anything, and you’re not. Besides, it’s midnight and I don’t take any calls after 10pm. But at the end, he succumbs to the pressure and gets up to attend to his friend. It’s easy for anyone to pick out from the story ‘though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake’, so why did he do it? . . . because of your shameless persistence.
Friendship is the place to hide my shame
Where else can I be vulnerable? Where else will I let my hair down? Where else would I never be ashamed of my weaknesses, except in the company of friends? It takes a true friend to recognise your shame and act to cover it. The man didn’t have to answer no matter how hard his door was banged. He could have released the dogs in response. But he didn’t. He got up, and attended to his friend, because he wouldn’t let his friend go back home naked from exposing his shame at his door. That is friendship. The friend who shamelessly persisted must have known that his friend’s house was his only place of refuge, where his shame will be covered. He must have known that his friend, despite the high standards he had, would at some point give in to his call for help. And he, for the sake of another friend who he let into his home at midnight, was not ashamed to be shameless, to meet the need of that friend. That is friendship; the confidence that never fails you in the end.
As I think on these stories, my mind is drawn to the friendships I share. In my small corner, God has blessed me with people who I can undoubtedly call friends. Those who will bring the bread to my house at midnight, and those who will stay in bed and throw their house keys down. Those who will break through any roof to get me into the presence of the One who is able to fix me. Yes, I am blessed. And as I think about these friends, one readily comes to mind.
This friend of mine is an embodiment of intercession. She takes upon herself your bothers and begins to weep about them in prayer like her life depended on it. She will break the roof and break it again to make sure you’re placed right in the centre where Jesus is standing. And Jesus must attend to you, whether He likes it or not, and she will make sure He does. This friend of mine will not open the door for me at midnight, she has very high standards. In fact, she might insult me in the process of telling me she’s not coming to the door. But it’s her house I’ll end up anyway, because I know that after I have banged her door like I will always shamelessly do, she’ll get up, in the end, and attend to me. That’s my friend. And I am blessed.
As you take the time to evaluate your friendships today, do one more thing: ask yourself if you are the best of friends you can ever be. Ask yourself what you would do to be the friend someone might need. Ask yourself:
Would I be my friend if I was someone else?
Happy Birthday Ugochi Mary-Jane Okorie. Thinking of you today inspired this piece, and I’m a proud friend.