Recently one of my closest friends and I were working on a project together. I glanced down for a moment at my sleeping baby and was suddenly overwhelmed by the joy she is to me and the and the challenge of guiding her back to her Father in Heaven. My feelings were a mixture of tenderness and fear at the awesome responsibility. Tears came to my eyes. After another minute of contemplation, I looked up into the tear-filled eyes of my friend who had been watching me. Instantly, I knew she understood my feelings. Although nothing was said, we had communicated in a way that I will always cherish.
Friends—those people who have shared something of significance with me, taken parts of me into their world, and treated those parts with kindness. These are the people whose eyes or hands or words let me know that I am special to them.
I believe that one of the most important things anyone can learn in friendships with others is how to penetrate to meaning, understanding, joy. Too often we are content with the surface. I find that many times I give no more of myself than what is socially required, and I act as though I want no more in return. This is especially unfortunate in my relationships with my sisters in the gospel, with whom I spend hours working in various church callings. Most of the time I do care about them but I seldom find ways to adequately show it and I seldom take the time to explore their souls enough closeness.
And yet, I have received great rewards from the friendships I have worked at and cherished. It seems to me that our Heavenly Father wants his children to bless each other’s lives—and friendship can not only bring us great joy but lift us toward righteous ideals. The more I consistently work at them, the more I realize my friendships are not a burden but a great blessing.
A significant part of what I am—interests, talents, goals—has been discovered or developed because of friendships. I never would have believed that I could draw or paint anything successfully until I was encouraged by a friend. She helped me as no art teacher could have, I think, because she cared about me and about my effort more than about the result. This is the kind of encouragement we all need when insecurity makes us sensitive to failure.
Another friend, who lives some distance away, helps me keep my daily journal. She expresses sincere interest in my day-to-day happenings and saves each of my letters. Eventually she will return them for my journal. This accomplishes two goals at once: My journal is more exciting because I write more interesting things to her than I would to myself, and my friend and I have more contact.
From another friend I learned of the “little victories” of life. Progress, by her definition, was doing each task a little bit better than before. Some examples of “little victories” might be running one minute more than my body thinks it can, getting up at precisely the time I intended, singing while I wash the dishes, avoiding the temptation to be the center of attention by spreading gossip. My friend knows me well enough to recognize my triumphs, and it really cements my progress when she says something like, “Sheryl, I noticed you finished that job you really didn’t want to do.” I happily chalk up another “victory.”
Sometimes my friends help me discover or verify myself—the impression I’m really making. I am not always certain that the way I act really communicates what I feel. Friends can help me know, for example, if my silence is interpreted as intent listening or merely boredom. They can help me know if I have been kind or indifferent, cheerful or gloomy. Of course, we can’t rely on others for our self-concept—the perfect insight of the Spirit must confirm our worth and potential. But often friends who are in tune with the Spirit of the Lord can be the Lord’s vehicle to give us his help.
Friends can add whole new dimensions to our lives. I’m happy to know that someone sees things as I do, but I also gain tremendous insights from those who see things differently. I have one friend who has much more courage than I about becoming a part of “other people’s business.” One evening she heard a group of young people talking, laughing, and taking the name of the Lord in vain as they walked by her house. She went out and talked with them about her feelings for Jesus Christ, his atonement, and his influence in her life. Her approach was totally different than mine would have been, but I learned a great deal from watching her, and I reevaluated my own behavior.
Friends can lend support during difficult times. Obviously, we feel a need for the love and concern of friends during a crisis or a catastrophe. But their support can also be essential during more subtle difficulty—when tasks seem overwhelming, or children seem unresponsive, or sickness disrupts the routine. The understanding ear or compassionate embrace of a friend can make a great difference.
Another blessing my friends bring is just pure enjoyment. Being with them makes me happy. Reading what they have written makes me happy. Knowing that they exist and that they are making a difference for good in the world makes me happy. Their souls radiate a beauty which attracts me like a magnet and inspires me to be more like them.
Of course, not all attempts at friendship succeed at first try. We may make mistakes that block the progress of a friendship, end it completely, or bring unhappiness rather than joy. One person I know received a letter from one of her friends, saying that the time they spent together had interfered with her effectiveness as a wife and mother. Shocked and chagrined, she examined the possible causes and realized that she had echoed her friend’s frustrations with her husband and her role as a mother and homemaker, rather than helping her solve her difficulties. This woman resolved to be wiser in her friendships, and to support her friends constructively rather than reinforce the negative tendencies they might have.
God hopes his children will bless each other’s lives. He commanded us to love each other, and in our society, the words “I love you” are considered a valuable gift to be prized and treated with reverence. In reality, the value of that gift depends upon the character, wisdom, and motives of the giver. No matter how a person “loves” us, he can still harm us if that love leads us away from the Savior.
One of the most fascinating consequences of following Christ is mentioned in both the New Testament and the Doctrine and Covenants. Paul, describing the celestial state, says, “For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Cor. 13:12). We also read that those who receive celestial glory will “see as they are seen, and know as they are known, having received of his fulness and of his grace” (D&C 76:94). These passages tell me that it is possible for me to see myself and experience myself precisely as God sees and knows me. In other words, as I grow toward perfection I can have a more perfect picture of myself, without any distortion from the eye of the beholder, since God’s view is perfect and undistorted. The words also imply to me that those worthy to dwell in the presence of God have a special relationship with one another, understanding and being understood perfectly—undoubtedly an even greater joy than we can possibly imagine.
The ultimate goal with reference to all relationships is to come closer to Christ. Therefore, I can judge the progress of my relationships with my husband, children, parents, and friends not so much by things they give me or words they say but by whether or not we are helping each other come closer to life eternal. By this criterion, we may discover that we are blessed with a whole group of “best friends” we had not realized we had.