“Greater love has no one than to lay down her life for a friend.”
This morning, after exchanging a series of texts with my BFF, I texted, “I love you, you know. I am so glad you’re my friend.” And then the title of tonight’s post popped into my head. First of all, I am not sure I mean taking a literal bullet. The question is, how far are we willing to sacrifice for the people we call “friend.” A young relative of mine is such an extrovert that she immediately calls everyone her friend. She meets people at her favorite local coffee shop or pub, strikes up a conversation about her favorite things, exchanges contact information, and very shortly refers to that person as, “my friend so-and-so.” And she genuinely means it. She meets all kinds of people, in person and virtually, all of them friends. But would they take a bullet for her? Not likely. And that’s okay.
Still, I wish for everyone to have someone in their life for whom they would lay down their life and could reasonably expect the reciprocal. Greater love hath no one, indeed.
I can remember a keen sense of bafflement, mixed with heartbreak and a smidge of betrayal when the person with whom I frequently exchanged “Love ya like a sis,” at the end of a phone conversation, turned away from me, acting like she hadn’t known me. I had gone away for some months, out of the country with my parents and younger sister. When I’d left we had tears and such, like any BFFs would when parting. But when I returned less than six months later, she’d treated me like a stranger. While I had no idea what had happened, I experienced such pain and confusion. Being an introvert and a deep thinker, I pondered it internally until I could emerge having made some semblance of sense of it. Her treatment of me after such pronouncements of undying friendship, led me to be a bit more reserved about who I considered a friend.
I would say I’ve spent more time being a friend than having one. I know that friendship is really meant to be more of a two-way engagement, however, I’ve found that I’m a much better listener than talked, advice giver versus advice receiver, and a shoulder to cry on rather than crying to anyone. That said, it is an interesting question to ponder: for whom in my life would I lay mine down for, would I take a bullet for? In these days where taking a bullet for someone is no longer confined to military or law enforcement personnel, it has become much more literal than it should be. People have been called upon, in those situations, to lay down their lives for perfect strangers (I’ve often wondered what made a stranger “perfect”) shielding them, covering them, ushering them out of harms way. This is not about that.
This is about thinking about the depth of commitment we have for our friends and loved ones. If there is such a hierarchy, then it is a no-brainer for me to lay down my life for my family and the small handful of close friends who currently grace my life.
As I ponder these 40 days, and the last days of Jesus’s life, I think about the idea that he would lay down his life not only for his friends, but for “perfect strangers” that he would never meet across distance and time. And when it came time for the reciprocation you might hope for from your friends, Jesus was disappointed. It began when he asked his disciples to watch for him, to be present for him as he slipped into the garden of Gethsemane. There he prayed and agonized and wrestled with God to remove the burden of his impending torture and death. He sweated great drops of blood, so great was his anguish. When exhausted from prayer time, and perhaps weighed down with the awareness of his fate, he returned to the place where his friends were to keep watch, he found them sleeping.
“Couldn’t you even keep watch with me for one hour?” How disappointing that must have been, that there, when he needed his friends, they slept on the job. Could he even hope that one of them would take a sword or spear for him? Three times he asked them simply to stay awake and keep watch for him and all three times he returned and found them asleep. Some friends. And when he was betrayed, by a so-called friend, and led away to be battered and crucified, even then only a handful of his friends and his mother showed up for him.
I don’t know what I would have done in their positions; I like to think that I would have stayed awake to support Jesus, and then would have gone to his bogus trial and his crucifixion, but I’m not sure. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. Indeed, I like to think I would take a bullet for Jesus, or for anyone for that matter. I am not anxious for that commitment to be tested, but it’s worth thinking about throughout this 40-day sojourn. And when you see your friends and loved ones, hold them tight, wish them well, and let them know you have their back.