When our former pastor and his wife invited my wife and me to go together to Chiang Mai, it was not for a mission trip or a spiritual retreat. Instead, we took long walks in gardens and parks, visited local markets and museums, ate delicious northern Thai food and even indulged in spa treatments.
We took each day as it came, keeping mainly to one outing a day, focusing our energy on the chosen activity and spending time together. What resulted was a very relaxing holiday, punctuated by long chats over coffee. Our time together afforded me the opportunity to reflect on the topic of friendship, specifically the gift of friendship.
I felt what my former pastor, who is now a personal friend, offered freely to us was a very rare and precious gift. Our experience exemplified three characteristics of friendship.
First, true friendship is a gift that is generously bestowed, with no agenda or expectations. I did not feel that my former pastor wanted to achieve anything while with us. We simply did what good friends do while hanging out together—he and his wife generously shared personal stories, lessons learnt while serving in the church, and the principles they now try to live by.
The second characteristic of true friendship is that it must be accompanied by another precious resource—time. We cannot develop a relationship with someone unless we are willing to make sacrifices and give time to them. Instead of feeling that he has fulfilled his pastoral work upon retirement, my friend is busier than ever. He has to consciously carve out time for his spouse, expanding family, and individuals to whom he ministers.
Third, friendship requires openness and the willingness to be vulnerable. Personal ministry can be risky, as not everyone appreciates your intentions and efforts nor handles your weaknesses gently. As his wife and he shared their struggles and past hurts, we saw in their honesty an example of what it takes to be a God-loving couple. They were real to and with us, which makes this friendship all the more genuine.
In this season of Advent and Christmas, we are reminded of Jesus, God’s gift to humankind. Jesus came and died to make available a new relationship between this fallen world and the Almighty. God’s gift was freely given, carried a high cost and made Jesus vulnerable. He gave us the free will to choose whether to accept or reject the Giver and His gift. This Christmas, to whom you will offer the precious gift of friendship, one that blesses both the receiver and the giver?
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
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