In a January 2010 interview by “Ministry and Theology (목회와 신학)“, when asked about what advice he could give to young future leaders of the Korean church, my father replied with the obvious striving for Word-centered ministry and a bit less obvious ‘common sense’, but then he added, to my refreshment, in his answer: Friends.
한평생 적어도 다섯 명의 가까운 친구를 사귀어라. 지금 당신들이 20~30대인데 30년 후에 만나도 ‘야, 너 잘 있었어?’ 이렇게 말 할수 있는 관계, 목회에 관해서 자기 아내한테도 말 못할 사정을 서로 허심탄회하게 이야기할수 있는 관계, 그리고 급할 때 도움받을 수 있는 이런 관계를 지속할수 있는 다섯 사람의 친구 목회자를 사귀어라. 그러면 한평생 외롭지 않게 목회를 할 수 있다. [Translation: At least make five close friends in your life. Right now you are 20’s and 30’s, but make at least five friends in ministry, who 30 years from now, you can meet and say dispensing formalities, ‘Yo, how you doing?’, or who you can shamelessly and honestly speak about ministry issues, or who you can call for help in cases of emergency. If you do, you can live a life in ministry without loneliness.]
To such wisdom, I dare add a couple of things. One, to make close friends of different pursuits. Variegation adds freshness to ones life, but not only that, it provides perspectives that are instructive. Most people have a tendency to flock towards people similar to them, but such can lead to stagnation of character. Not to say that self-improvement is the end goal of friends but the effect of friends is that they enrich ones life, and they do so not only by the enjoyment of one another but through the different perspectives they bring to the table. As Richard Lamb says even of seeking Christian friends in The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends,
I need different people in my life, not just others who love God, but also people who love him differently than I do. I need people who relate to God as seekers and stumblers, skeptics and believers, leaders and followers, radicals and loyalists. And when I attend my small group and think (as I often do), “These people aren’t like me,” I need to follow up that reflex with a response not quite so reflexive: “Thank God they aren’t!”
Secondly, apart from the five close friends, to continue to make new friends in your life. Most people at a certain point in their life, usually at the age of 30, stop meeting new people and focus their time and energy on those they already know. Alex Williams writes in his NY Times column titled “Friends of a Certain Age“, how difficult it gets making new close friends after a certain age possibly due to the difficulties of fulfilling the three sociological criteria: proximity, repeated spontaneity, and settings of vulnerability,
In studies of peer groups, Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor who is the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, observed that people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife, but that they grew closer to the friends they already had.
Basically, she suggests, this is because people have an internal alarm clock that goes off at big life events, like turning 30. It reminds them that time horizons are shrinking, so it is a point to pull back on exploration and concentrate on the here and now. “You tend to focus on what is most emotionally important to you,” she said, “so you’re not interested in going to that cocktail party, you’re interested in spending time with your kids.”
As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.
But thirdly, there has to be a disclaimer of sorts in our day and age. The wonder of the internet and introduction of social media into our relationships have hazed our sense of proximity. In the opinion column of The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Faux Friendship“, William Deresiewicz comments that we have mistaken true proximity and intimacy with our friends by replacing it with the brightness of our computer screens,
And so we return to Facebook. With the social-networking sites of the new century—Friendster and MySpace were launched in 2003, Facebook in 2004—the friendship circle has expanded to engulf the whole of the social world, and in so doing, destroyed both its own nature and that of the individual friendship itself. Facebook’s very premise—and promise—is that it makes our friendship circles visible. There they are, my friends, all in the same place. Except, of course, they’re not in the same place, or, rather, they’re not my friends. They’re simulacra of my friends, little dehydrated packets of images and information, no more my friends than a set of baseball cards is the New York Mets.
Of course, in all this discussion of age and friendship, we must remember that whether you are 20 years old or 50 years old, friendship is not something that can be found like treasure buried on a stranded island. CS Lewis says in The Four Loves, ”
That is why those pathetic people who simply “want friends” can never make any. The very condition of having Friends is that we should want something else besides Friends….
Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one.”
It is when two or more people traveling side by side discover a deep similar interest or excitement that friendship is sparked, but this only, I want to add, is a very Western perspective, and if not Western, merely a comfortable perspective on friendship. As I have seen how my father has made life-long, close friends (probably more than five), I have learned that you must be a good friend before desiring to have friends at all. One of his dear friends, my confirmation pastor, Rev. Jung-Gil Hong, tells an anecdote about how he is where he is because of his friends,
CCC 사역에 집중했고, 전도하는 것이 무엇보다 소중하다 여겼던 그 시절, 학교 수업은 뒤로 한 태 노트 필기하나 변변히 못하고 있다가 시험이 닥치면 문인현 목사님 댁에 몰려가 숙식을 함께 하며 시험공부를 했었죠. 그러다 독자인 문인현 목사님이 결혼하게 되자 신혼집에 몰려가 공부할 수는 없다 해서 옮긴 집이 박형용 목사님 댁이었습니다. 신학교 3년의 학점을 채울 수 있었던 데에는 박 목사님 댁에서의 시간들이 결정적인 역할을 한 것 같습니다.
그렇게 학교를 졸업하고 목사의 직분을 받는다는 것이 너무 버거워 강도사 시험 준비를 전혀 하지 않고 있었습니다. 언제나 지도력을 발휘했던 박형용 목사님은 저를 공부시키기 위해 한달에 몇 번 같이 모여 공부하자고 제안했고, 동기들 중 늘 교제를 나누었던 문이현, 서춘웅, 천성덕 목사님 등 몇 사람이 밤을 새며 공부를 했습니다. 그러나 정작 저를 위한 일이었음에도 학생 전도에 온 힘을 쏟던 때라 그 귀한 시간에 단 한 번도 참여를 못했습니다. 공부를 안 했으니 강도사 시험을 포기하려고 했는데, 친구들이 일단 논문부터 쓰라고 자신들이 모아 놓은 자료를 주어 간신히 논문을 제출할 수 있었습니다. 좋은 자료를 바탕으로 쓴 논문이라 어렵지 않게 논문이 통과되었습니다…
To paraphrase, the reason Rev. Hong was able to pass the licensure exam and eventually the ordination exam to become a reverend was through the intentional help, support, and sacrifice of his friends. In addition to these stories, in their respective speeches for each other’s retirement ceremonies Rev. Hong and my father took friendly and endearing jabs by referring to the other with all formalities aside (this is no small thing in Korean culture). At 60~70 years of age, they still comfortably and endearingly refer to each other as they used to do when they were in their 20’s. Such, I believe, is a good picture of a life-long friend. Though I hope to have that one day, in the present day, to my friends, I hope I am on the path to becoming such a friend.