Years ago, Oprah Winfrey’s talk show had an opening theme, a song, that was also used as the background for promotional ads for the show. It was a lilting, sort of sentimental tune, easy to sing or listen to, and always ended with the line, “You’ve got a friend in Oprah!” My thought at the time on hearing that was, “Maybe, but would she cross the street to shake my hand and say ‘Hello, friend!’?” The song really bothered me. I was not yet as involved in “techno-friendships” as I am today, where I have “friends” by the hundreds that I have never met. Does the song still bother me? Yes, but probably in a different way.
The definition of “friend” has changed over the years. It reminds me of how English or most languages, probably, have gone overboard with descriptions or superlatives. In the Gospel of Mark 10:17-18 the following is found:
17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.”
(Italics are mine.)
Of course the story moves on from there as Jesus speaks to the man about what is required of him, but for this portion of today’s post, I’m interested in the word “good.” When did simply “good” become not good enough? After all, God referred to all of Creation as “good.” Quite frankly, just between you and me, if I were to create something along the same order as God’s creation, these days I would certainly call it a lot more than just “good.” We have words today that mean so much more than “good!” We’ve got better, best, excellent, superlative, outstanding, extraordinary…as a matter of fact we have so many words (as you will see below) to describe “good,” that the word “good” has come to mean “ordinary.” I wonder how that happened? Was it our zeal to describe our feelings of awe about people, places, or situations that led us down the road of language dilution? I don’t know, and I must say that I am probably among the top 10 people in the world who will choose or at least look for a five-dollar word, when a nickel word will do. Both my father and my father-in-love were that way – I learned from the best: the A-1, ace, “baddest,” beyond compare, boss, capital, champion, chief, choicest, coolest, culminating, finest, first, first-class, first-rate, foremost, greatest, highest, incomparable, inimitable, leading, matchless, nonpareil, number 1, optimum, out-of-sight, outstanding, paramount, peerless, perfect, preeminent, premium, prime, primo, principal, sans pareil, second to none, super, superlative, supreme, terrific, tops, toughest, transcendent, unequaled, unparalleled, unrivaled, and unsurpassed users of language in the universe!
Which brings me to the word “friend.” It is a word used today, often to describe relationships based on no more than an iconic face or a place on a page in “Facebook,” or a “follower” on “Twitter”, or even a “follower” on a blog! How many followers or “friends” do you have on your site, how many people have you “friended” today? What an odd choice we have made when we have chosen to call almost anyone with whom we have established contact, a friend! (And I am definitely among the many who do!) What bothers me about Oprah’s song, and about “friending,” is what I perceive as a sort of lonely, sadness in it all. Are there really people out there who have no one else to call a friend than someone’s name and photo on a computer page, or a woman they know only by how she represents herself on TV – someone they have never met, nor formed any sort of relationship with, except to watch her on television? A friend is someone on whom you can rely, someone who will be there with you, either personally or in spirit, through all of life’s trials, tribulations, joys, and triumphs.
As it says in Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 –
because they have a good return for their work:
10 If one falls down,
his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
and has no one to help him up!
11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Friendship is a good thing, and should never be trivialized or used in place of words more descriptive of other relationships. Relatives, acquaintance-ships or other people with whom we are or have become familiar are not necessarily friends – although a friendship may evolve over time. Friendships are precious things to be nurtured, developed, treasured, and guarded. Friendship takes time, effort, and work – and our best friends are those who forgive us our lack of time, effort and work in and on their behalf! I am very fortunate to have many dear acquaintances, lots of people I like, and many I enjoy spending time with. My own negligence is probably the only thing that keeps me from calling them, and being called by them, a friend.
It is my deep desire to be more of a friend and to have more friends. I do have some, who, along with my husband, I count among the stars of my life. They know who they are. If they don’t, then I haven’t been doing enough work lately; although you cannot ever really do enough, nor spend enough time engaging in the work of friendship or the labor of love, and it is joyful, fruitful work and labor indeed.
So, I don’t have a friend in Oprah. So what? Maybe I’m blessed enough to have a good relationship, or perhaps even a friendship with you, gentle reader. But of all, there is one friendship that I treasure above any others:
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
Oh what peace I often forfeit, Oh what needless pain I bear,
All because I do not carry everything to God in prayer.”