“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11
A couple of summers ago, I met up at a local park with one of my closest friends and our mutual children. We are very blessed, in that our children get on as well as we do, and our daughters – born a couple of weeks apart – are very close.
On this particular day, the children decided to play on the monkey bars, and things did not quite go according to plan….
My daughter, having spent many an hour dangling from the monkey bars at her school, completed them with ease; my son, who had always struggled with them, was now tall enough to complete them, and my friend’s son was either too young or just too laid back to care much about them at all. My friend’s daughter, however, longing to follow her best friend, was struggling to complete them and – having just a touch of competitive streak (oh how I can identify with that) – was not prepared to let the matter drop.
Over and over she began to try to complete them; getting increasingly upset with each failed attempt, and mine and her mother’s attempts to encourage and console her only seemed to make things worse. Now, what did the other children do? Did they gloat at being able to complete them with such ease? Did they get bored and leave their friend to struggle alone?
The children, those wonderful children – aged all of 9, 6 and 3 – formed what can only be described as their own personal cheerleading squad.
My daughter stopped dangling herself and offered words of advice and technique, and her friend’s younger brother (in a wonderful display of sibling solidarity) joined in with much enthusiasm as they began to cheer and encourage every attempt she made.
And my son, putting an arm around his friend while she cried, shared – with all the sound wisdom of someone who ‘had been there’ – how hard he had found it too, but that he could do them now, and one day so would she.
We may have left the park that day with the monkey bars still unconquered, but we left with something far more valuable. We left with an unforgettable lesson on the power of friendship and the importance of encouraging one another, taught to us by our children.
Faith and friendship
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12
Jesus, of course, also taught of the value of friendship and, as Christians, we are invited not only to develop a friendship with Jesus, but also with each other as well. In fact, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are in a very special position of developing friendships that not only allow us to encourage and support one another, but that also support us in our own faith journey. United in Christ, we are – in our faith communities – encouraged to follow the example given by Jesus, of loving each other, as Jesus loves us.
In practice, of course, that is not always an easy thing to do. Friendships require care; they need nurturing. They ask us to give of ourselves freely, to forgive readily and to love fiercely.
However, in our busy lives it can be easy to overlook our friendships, to forget the value of our friends. We can sometimes allow jealousy or upset to cloud our friendships, and we can forget to help our friends know their own worth; we can forget to help them know their value to us, and we can forget to build them up, to encourage them.
That day in the park with my children taught me so much about what it means to be a good friend. Children have a wonderful capacity to simply love, to simply value each other, in a way that adults, with all our knowledge and experience, can sometimes simply fail to do. Children, well, they value their friends.
And that is a lesson worth remembering: there is so much value to be found in our friendships, in each other. By growing in our friendships, we also grow in our relationship with Christ, and what greater example can there be of what it means to be Christian, than is shown in the way in which we love one another?