Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.
– C.S. Lewis
Upon leaving for college my mother gave me some wisdom which guided me every day I spent at school. She said there would be no other time in my life where I would live in such close proximity to so many of my closest friends and that I should take advantage of that while I had the chance. I did. I say all the time that the greatest thing I got from college isn’t the diploma that hangs on my wall but the friendships which hang in my heart. Unfortunately, upon graduating it is easy to let those relationships fall into disrepair as years pass. This is only the natural way of things as we move into new circles and stages of life. But this doesn’t have to be so. Indeed, it’s only being a good steward of the friendships you forged years ago to maintain them as best you can. Sometimes I do this well. Others times not so much. Yesterday I returned from an annual trip with some of my closest college buddies and was reminded, once again, why old friends aren’t only priceless, they are worth the fight to maintain in your life. Here are three reasons that come to mind.
#1: You need people you can’t fool
It’s too easy to dazzle people with a happy face, a few funny lines, or a good story leading them to think that you have it all together. If they only know you for a snippet of time then the charade can continue. But old friends not only know your current chapter of life but the ones preceding it. They’ve seen whatever arc your story has taken over the years – the wins, the losses, the heights, the depths, and everything in between. You can’t fool them, and that is a very good thing! Old friends push us to become honest with ourselves in a way young friendships simply can’t. They force me to remove any masks I’m trying to wear and to deal with the face looking back at me in the mirror.
#2: You need people that can pick up where you left off
Beginning new friendships take work. One of the reasons is the copious amount of time it takes to do our “due diligence” to see if this relationship is worth investing in; that is, will this person be faithful, honest, loving, etc.? Unfortunately, there are times where you’ve invested literally months into a relationship only to find out that, for whatever reason, it’s just not going to work. But old friends have a built-in efficiency about them. You don’t have to wonder if this is someone you can trust, be vulnerable with, or open up to. On the contrary, they are people who you can go as deep as you like as soon as you like. No warm up needed. No vetting. These are friends that can pick up where you left off because of the years you’ve invested emotionally in each other. With old friends you don’t have to think twice about picking up the phone and having someone comfort you when things go south, or celebrate with when things are better than you could’ve ever believed. More priceless than gold, I tell ya!
#3: You need people who aren’t impressed with you but love you still
Old friends know your story in its long-form. They see you in epic not short story. Because that’s the case, they will be less likely to be impressed by you. Why? Because they knew you when you probably didn’t even know who you were yet, and you hadn’t done anything except be a friend. That’s it. This doesn’t mean old friends won’t cheer for you or give you kudos when you do well (they’ll often root for you even more!). It’s that you won’t feel the need to one-up yourself in front of them or throw your credentials/accomplishments around to gain their acceptance. You’ll have this great freedom to just…be…you. In my case, I’ve got men who don’t view me according to the roles I hold as pastor, preacher, or author. To them I’m not Pastor Yancey or Dr. Arrington. I’m just Yancey, their buddy they met 25 years ago. There’s no pedestal-factor with them because they not only know the latest chapter of my story, but most of the chapters that lead up to it. If anything, my old friends have a good way of reminding me that I’m not as great as others may think. And still they love me. Oh, to be truly known and still loved.
Old friends, in a way, are a good picture of the gospel. I can’t fool Jesus. I can’t impress Jesus. I can’t hide from Jesus. And yet, with all my faults and foibles, Jesus helps me become honest with myself, lets me pick up with him where I left off, and loves me in spite of myself. What still blows me away is that Jesus not only gives me himself, but has given me old friends to remind me how good Jesus truly is. Listen, make it your aim to steward your old friendships well. Believe me, it’s worth it!