Looking back at the milestones that mark the past several months, I can say without hesitation that this year has been unparalleled by any other year in my life. 2009 has been the year of amazing friendships. Uniquely, so many started because of the Savior, Jesus Christ. Even He seems much closer than ever before. This is a year that I will always cherish and never forget. Perhaps that is because these friendships have come after a lifetime of seeking.
Growing up, I always wanted a best friend. Everyone else seemed to have one. My circumstances seemed a little different than most because the friends I saw at school during the week were different than those I played with in the neighborhood. And those friends were different than the ones I saw at church on Sunday. That had a lot to do with living at the edge of an elementary school boundary and living at the edge of a congregational ward boundary with a little sliver of cross-over territory shared between the two. It was sort of a no-man’s land. The girl next door was a great friend for a lot of years until it was cooler for girls to play with girls and boys with boys. Still, she is a friend of mine to this day. We had everything in common way back when.
The need for friends didn’t change as I got older, but only increased. There is such a power in finding someone else who thinks like you do, who feels like you do, and who shares the same things in common. I think we all want to trust and be trusted, to love and feel love in return. That need is a powerful motivator. It is also not without a counterpoint growing up.
Becoming a teenager is really an awkward thing to do. It feels strange and it is strange. I know very few people who didn’t feel that way at some point. At that age, most teenagers lack confidence and connection. Almost overnight a change occurs where the need for friends becomes stronger than the need for family. As uncomfortable as that age may feel, I think this desire is really a divine gift Father gives to His children to prompt them out of the comfortable nest of security and into adulthood. It motivates each of us to grow up a little.
Now that I have a couple of sons approaching that age, it is fun looking at the world through their eyes. I am glad they trust me enough to talk about their friends, their interests, and their attractions, namely girls. For all its ups and downs, that period of life results in tremendous growth. What I don’t think most teenagers realize (while they may know everything else) is that for the first time in their life, they are capable of that rapid growth. It is not by accident, but by design.
I realized a defining moment when I found that I was tired of being unpopular and I could do something about it. At that age I always felt that no one wanted to do things with me because they never asked. So I would stay home and feel sorry for myself. That all changed one day with an idea. “Maybe there are other people who are waiting for someone to extend an invitation like I am. Maybe they really are just like me.”
With that thought I picked up a phone and dialed a friend. (Back then, phones still had dials that clicked rather than buttons with digital tones.) He answered with a hello and I responded, “Hey, a group of us are going bowling, would you like to go?” He replied, “Sure. Who is going? I responded, “Well, right now, you and me, but I have a few more phone calls to make.” I didn’t see my comment as being dishonest. For the first time in my life, I was exhibiting a little bit of confidence in the future. That confidence paid off, and within the hour, there were more than a dozen of us who were included in a friendly game at the bowling alley. That idea, successfully proven, was about to gain momentum.
By the time I graduated from high school, I had some tremendous friends. For the first time in my life I knew what it was like to be so close that you could almost read each other’s minds. It was the closest I had ever come to being of one heart and one mind with someone else. I was fortunate to have really good friends – the kind that pressure you to do good things instead of things that are harmful. Many, many are still good friends. (In fact, you are probably a good number who are actually reading this blog. Cool.)
Attending the University of Utah gave me a new perspective on confidence. I realized that if you acted like you knew what you were doing (instead of being a lost freshman) that people just assumed you did. Better yet, they like being around you because of it. Confidence, if not overbearing, seems to attract other people because it offers some security. Funny thing, much like being happy, confidence is a choice. Deciding to be brave isn’t easy, but it isn’t as hard as it looks either. I am glad I have seen both sides, or I wouldn’t have believed it. My confidence grew and so did my group of friends. Having a little bit of confidence helped me for the next phase in my life.
Serving a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Looking back, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I loved it, and I find I am often a little jealous of young missionaries who are just leaving home for the first time. I think the biggest reason is because of the friends I made.
Again, I found that there were a lot of people who were just like me. They were looking for something, but they were waiting around for someone to come find them. Unfortunately, they hadn’t figured out my little phone trick, and they hadn’t quite figured out what they were missing in life. It was such an amazing experience to share some of the things that have made me wonderfully happy in my life and see that they then became happy, too. But the best part was the relationships.
I recognized that after having a discussion about deeper things, especially things that are eternally true and yet very relevant to now, had a profound affect. One little taste and I was hooked. In a short period of a couple weeks, I found that I felt as close to some of my newest friends as I had to friends that I had known a good part of my life. I marveled at how that could be possible and I observed one common thread every time. When we talked about deeper things, we invited the Holy Ghost to bear witness of the truthfulness of the things that we said. That is His divine role, to testify of divine truths. When that happens, I think we get a reminder of what we felt when we lived in heaven before coming to this earth. It is as though we feel a little piece of home, and we long for it. We yearn for it. And then we crave to have that feeling in our life more and more. It was this feeling, the feeling of having a member of the Godhead included in a new friendship that created a powerful bond as deep as eternity.
Since then I have pondered on what I can do to be a better friend, and how I can be of most help to someone else. I suppose that is why, when I have a chance to share something, that I prefer to share the things that I value most. That is if I know the listening party is interested.
The next phase of my friendship development was meeting and marrying my wife. Though that makes it sound pretty quick it wasn’t quite that fast, but almost. It was here that I found my very best friend in the world. (Thanks, Liz.) I am a romantic at heart, and that part of our relationship has been wonderful, but there has been more that has made our relationship deeper. Together we learned to become one, to have one heart and one mind. I had a taste of that when I was younger, but only to a smaller degree in comparison. Together we found a strong unity that has been the glue in our marriage. Unity is power, and love is a great motivator. These alone should be motivation for finding one to whom you can be true and faithful. Fifteen years of marriage is just the beginning of a friendship we plan to last forever.
During our marriage, other friends have punctuated the paragraphs of our lives like a recurring theme or storyline. Just at the right moments we have had epiphanies of significant importance, and those friends have been there to help, encourage, and inspire. Many times they were there at the moment they were needed the most, in answer to prayer. It has been those friends who have helped to build a shed in the backyard or re-shingle a house. Those are the friends who have invited us to yet another barbeque on the patio or a surprise birthday party for another friend. We have played sports on the field and on the court. We have shared experiences, ideals, goals, thoughts, and prized moments. Without exception, the strongest of those relationships have also had one familiar thread – Father’s hand was in all of them. He brought us together, and He was the one thing we had most in common – He as well as His Son, and our Savior, Jesus Christ. The influence of the Holy Ghost has made all the difference in the feelings we feel when we share deep and significant things. These have been powerful relationships.
This year, however, the year of friendships, has been different. Beginning with a stage production of Savior of the World, where our family all had a chance to participate, my life began to change. Perhaps it had something to do with the role I had to play. Part of it may have been the way that others saw me in addition to what I felt myself. Part of it was definitely my focus on deeper things. Through the experience of thinking about the life and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His sacrifice and His atonement, as we rehearsed, sang, and performed, each of us knew Him a little better than before. Each of us wanted to know Him more than we had before. Most importantly, each of us learned what it meant to worship Him and to feel closer to Him. That is the most beautiful feeling I have ever experienced. Sharing that experience with many others who had the same desire was more powerful than anything else I have known. Love. Unity. Commitment. We felt these and an overwhelming feeling of closeness to God as we focused our lives on Him.
A beautiful thing happens at the Last Supper of our Lord before he offered Himself a sacrifice and ransom for all of us. It happens in the name he gives to His disciples because of their faith. Jesus said, “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.” (John 15:14-15) What an incredible statement of appreciation for the God of this world to speak to us and call us friend. What a privilege to have Him share that which He treasures.
With this new insight, I yearned like I never had before. I prayed for charity and to feel the love of God like I had not before. I was given new understanding and received according to my prayers. I was given new friends. The friends that I had before became more important to me, and closer, too. Some friends, unlooked for, became especially close. My own wife and children became greater friends and a greater strength to me. Other family members became closer to my heart. They have each been an answer to my prayers. Like Jesus said to his disciples, “that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. These things I command you, that ye love one another.” (John 15:16-17)
From friends I have learned to care more deeply. I have cared for more, and I have been cared for by many others. Yet, in spite of the increase, I have come to value relationships with individuals especially, one at a time. I have treasured the importance of “one” the most. There is strength in a group, but there is power in being one.
Interestingly I have found friends in unexpected places. I have renewed old acquaintances via the internet and social networks, and I have made new friends by accomplishing common objectives with strangers. I have even discovered friends among the homeless on the streets. With each, my heart has gotten wider with a desire to be one.
In His intercessory prayer, Jesus prays to the Father that his disciples may be one as He and the Father are one. He continues, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17:11, 20-21) This is the path for all those who wish to be with Him in the celestial kingdom of our Father.
As I reflect on examples of friendship in the scriptures, my mind always turns to Jonathan, son of Saul, and friend of David. He was the heir to the throne of his father and yet he loved his friend more. The scripture says, “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” While his father was the king, Jonathan’s loyalty was to David, because he saw that the spirit of the Lord was with him. Jonathan not only gave him his clothing and his robe, he risked his life repeatedly to save his friend. (1 Samuel 18:1-4) He cared not for the honor of a throne, but only of the honor of his friend. Jonathan understood deep and meaningful relationships. They were his treasure.
Friendships have become my treasure. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (3 Nephi 13:21) The deeper the friendship, the greater the treasure. I have been given many gifts this year, but friendship is the greatest of them all. I believe this is also because true friendship is charity, which never faileth. For those who have ever been a friend, I thank you. Your love and prayers have been a great strength. For you who have loved the most, I thank the most for a debt that I will never be able to repay. I have definitely been changed for the better.
Looking back on my childhood, and my desire for friends, I think I have come a long way. I have been blessed abundantly. Fortunately, I can still remember what it was like to want, to long, and to yearn. With that in mind, I now wonder, “Who is the next friend I will make? Are they disguised as a stranger or a beggar? Are they waiting around for someone to come find them? Where can I make a difference for someone else today?” Perhaps they are waiting to have a discussion about deeper things but have only yet to realize it. The only way to find out is to keep looking for friends. That is when discoveries are made.
This is not an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am solely responsible for the views expressed here.