Good Friends and the Art of Taking Things Slowly
By Sheila Jacobs
My mother died in October 2021. She’d had dementia and other health issues for a long time, and had lived in a care home for thirteen and a half years.
Someone had warned me that although you ‘lose’ someone with dementia early on in the illness, when they actually pass away, it’s still a shock. For me, dementia has been a bit like watching the lights in a family home turn off one by one, till all you are left with is one small lamp in the downstairs cloakroom.
I’m single. I don’t have a partner. I live on my own. I have no brothers or sisters, or children. My parents were divorced many years ago. So the vast emotional weight of my mum’s illness – as well as practical affairs – was on my shoulders alone, even though she no longer lived with me.
And it was a long journey.
Mum had often been gravely ill, but then recovered again. But during the last week of October 2021, it was ‘for real’. The doctor told me on the Friday that if I wanted to see her again, now would be the time. I had a minor health issue at the time that meant I didn’t want to drive that day. So I thought I’d leave any visit until the Sunday, because it seemed no one was certain that Mum was actually dying.
But on visiting a friend, she told me that she would take me to see my mum. She drove me to the home.
Mum and I had a wonderful time, talking, laughing and praying together; she knew who I was, too, which was amazing, considering she had forgotten when I’d seen her before. It was a lovely ‘ending’; for, ending it was, as she died on the Sunday. As it turned out, if it wasn’t for my lovely friend driving me to see her on the Friday, I would not have been able to properly say goodbye to my mother.
I decided I’d take the funeral myself, because it seemed appropriate. There were no other family members present, for one reason or another. Some sent beautiful wreaths, for which I was very grateful.
As I stood at the front and looked out at the people in the chapel, I realised that these, who had come to support me, were my real friends. One of these friends was a woman I hadn’t seen for around thirty years – my best friend from younger days. She wasn’t at all well, but she had made the effort to travel to be there for me. That meant so much.
Now, what’s the point of me writing about this in a magazine that is all about single people meeting their ‘significant other’?
I don’t have a ‘significant other’. But I do have Jesus. And I have good friends. Friends who are there for me, friends who I can rely on, and who hopefully know that I will be there for them too. These aren’t people who are flight-by-nights who say one thing but do another. They aren’t telling me they will always be there, and yet let me down when I need them. OK, none of us are perfect and we all get it wrong at times. But if we have friends that we know are real friends, then we are truly blessed.
Friendship can seem to happen quickly. We can meet someone and just ‘click’. But only time will tell regarding how authentic that connection is. In my experience, true friendship can take years to really develop; it has to be tried and tested. Sometimes we may fall out with our friends, or disagree, but we make up with them because the friendship is bigger than the argument.
In relationships, where we are hoping to meet the ‘right person’, it’s the same principle. People can be a little like icebergs. What you see is not necessarily always what you get. We can’t always take people at face value. It takes time to get to know someone: the often complex persona that is ‘below the waves’, so to speak. Indeed, it can take a lifetime to get to know someone. But we do need to be very careful when we embark on a romantic relationship; we need to learn the art of taking things slowly. What’s the rush, after all? Maybe that old adage ‘marry in haste, repent at leisure’ has some mileage in it!
Friends first is such a great piece of advice. I think we can fall in and out of love, even with the same person, but friendship lasts. If there is something about the person we are with that we actually like we can overcome those times when we feel we don’t ‘love’ them, in the romantic sense. Does he make me laugh? Is she good company when I’m feeling low? Has he got my back? Is she in my corner, when the world seems against me? That’s a good friend.
The best friend of all
Of course, there is one who ‘sticks closer than a brother’ (Proverbs 18:24). Jesus is the best friend who never leaves us.
He’s the one who has been with me right from the start, when Mum was first ill. I remember asking him ‘why?’ as I am sure we all do about many varied topics! I felt his answer was this: ‘I’m in it with you.’ And he has been. Husbands, wives, partners, even the best of friends might leave us. Sometimes they choose to leave us; sometimes they don’t, but have to leave us through illness and death.
The most important relationship any of us can ever have is with God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. No idol, not even the desire for a partner, should get in the way of our 100 per cent commitment to Christ. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Our walk with him is often day by day, or even moment by moment. Taking time to get to know him better, to listen for his voice (John 10:27), and to begin to recognise it, is the most important thing we can do.
It is as we become familiar with the Shepherd’s voice, and let him lead us to the still, quiet places, that we are refreshed and restored – whatever our circumstances. ‘Be still and know that I am God’, says the psalmist in Psalm 46:10; it’s in that stillness that we hear, and are comforted.
I know my friends want the best for me, and I want the best for them. So, if Jesus is my friend, then he wants what is best for me too. Only he is perfect, and he knows my future, as well as my present and past, so surely, as I get to know him better, he will lead me in the way that is best for me? It all comes down to trust, doesn’t it?
If I believe he loves me, and that I am saved by his grace – his free, unmerited, unearned favour (Ephesians 2:8-10) – then I know I am safe with him. I can relax, knowing someone who cares so much for me has my life in his hands. We are probably all familiar with the scripture in Jeremiah 29 which tells us that God has a good plan for us (Jeremiah 29:11). The interesting thing is that we don’t usually read on. Verse 13 says: ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’ – not half of our heart, all of it.
If we want God’s good plan for us, his destiny to be fulfilled in us, we need to seek him wholeheartedly. We need to put him first. Then, as we discern his voice more clearly and listen to his words, we can begin to move in the direction he wants us to take – no striving.
I wonder: how much do I seek God for himself, and not just for what he has for me?
How much do I seek his friendship, rather than his gifts – which may include a partner?
Good, strong, true friendship is such a gift – one we can give as well as receive. We use the term ‘just good friends’ but I don’t think there’s any ‘just’ about it. Good friends are worth their weight in gold.
Perhaps, through friends1st, you will meet your lifelong partner – just make sure that they are your friend first. Maybe you will meet many new friends – relationships that don’t lead to anything romantic. These may be friends that you will know years from now; friends who will encourage, support and bless you, in the good times as well as the bad.
Taking time to get to know someone is well worth it. It builds such strong foundations. And taking time to get to know your God is of infinite value. When the storms come, as they surely will, he is the friend who will never be moved. Someone we can cling to.
He’s our friend, but he is also our God. He knows what is best for us. He provides people, and relationships that are very good – as I realised that day at my mum’s funeral. He won’t give us anything bad (Matthew 7:9-11).
So let’s not rush in to something that may not be God’s best.
Wait. Be still.
Sheila Jacobs is a writer, editor, and an award-winning author of eighteen books to date. Her new title, A Little Book of Rest: Walking Out of Anxiety and Fear will be published in 2022 by Malcolm Down.
*All scripture NIV 2011 UK