What makes a friend?

A result of writing on one topic is that other topics get introduced without effort, which brings us to today’s subject. I am pleased to present this, a subject in need of addressing.

Last week, after I announced I am living as a female and then changed my public profile, many kind and well-meaning people encouraged me that if anyone doesn’t support me, or if anyone unfriends me, then they were never a true friend to begin with; good riddance to them.

Are these and similar thoughts correct? Let’s examine them. Is a friend:

  • one who always agrees with another;
  • one who will approve of everything another does;
  • one who would never unfriend another from Facebook;
  • one who will never be mean to another?

Often, it is only when we disagree that we have opportunity for discussion, which leads to learning, new ways of doing things, and many positive results. In my mid-twenties, when I began working in an office and I often found myself regularly disagreeing with a certain person, I learned to say to myself, “This is okay. By her not agreeing with me, I am learning other ways to think about things and do them.”

I came to value disagreement. I learned how to disagree: always be respectful, listen to the other person so that the other person will listen to me, and be honest about the things in discussion. Wow, have I ever learned from having this attitude! I have grown into a much more well-rounded person.

I often find myself wishing Republicans and Democrats would really listen to each other, rather than appearing to reject ideas simply because they do not follow party lines. Really, just because an idea came from the other party it is automatically to be trashed? Now, before we focus on politicians, let’s be honest: aren’t a lot of people like this? If an idea isn’t their idea, then, boom, it is shot into space, never to be heard again.

A true friend will disagree if he does not agree. A friend will listen to the reason. Friends will display respect for each other as they discuss their angles. Whether or not they come to agreement, they will remain friends, and even grow stronger in their bond because they worked it out in love.

Is approval a mark of friendship? Not even close. I have my own standard of living; many of my friends and family members and church family members do not live up to it. I do not approve of plenty of their behaviors. I am confident that I have behaviors not on their approval lists.

So long as the behavior is not too severe—and the level of severity will be in the eye of the beholder—we allow all sorts. I might as well mention one that I do not like: tattoos. Many people know this about me. I do not like bodies being painted, beautiful skin covered up, and having my eye distracted by their body art. Yet, I have never argued with anyone about tattoos, and every family member and friend who has them is someone I love the same as ever.

But, yes, there are behaviors which will go past our approval point. The behavior could even warrant an unfriending on Facebook. Since last week, I have been unfriended by more than two dozen. In two cases, I know why; the men were kind enough to tell me. In one case, the Christian man completely disagrees about my findings regarding gender dysphoria. He has patiently read my stuff. We have shared several private messages. I finally offended him too deeply for him to continue to publicly affiliate with me. Yet—go back to my first point—each of our messages of disagreement have been respectful and, at the end, we both were able to wish the other God’s peace and blessing.

The other friend is a pastor. His reason for unfriending me, besides not agreeing with my points, is that he believes I am wrong to be discussing these things in public. He and I also have shared respectful messages. I agree with his unfriending me: since he believes I am wrong to publicize this, he needed to do so. Our affection continues, even if it has been strained. And, how impressive is this about his character? He continues to read my posts. My admiration for him has grown.

Finally, will a friend never be mean to me? In a perfect world, yes. In the real world, no. Even so, that is no excuse for being mean, for unleashing unkind words, for name-calling, for short-tempers and out of control ones. None of us wants anyone to do that to us, right?

I made a vow to myself before beginning to tell folks about my condition in the summer of 2013. No matter how a person reacts to me, I will never react with anger or yelling or chewing out anyone for not being understanding. I have worked hard on that vow. I hope that, no matter how anyone feels about where I have arrived with my situation, each one can honestly say that I have remained kind and calm, reasonable and respectful, a person who lives the Golden Rule.

In the end, because we all blow some or all of these things at times, we abide in sharing the gift of forgiveness. No matter one’s religion or philosophy of living, forgiveness is a universal gift, one which wise friends employ graciously and lavishly.

For the Christian, we remember the Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our sins as we forgive others their sins. We are thankful for the Lord Jesus atoning for our sins, and so we gladly forgive others.

Whether we are the one who messed up or the one who forgave, we rejoice in our reconciliation. We move on in love.

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