How many of your primary school friends do you still keep in touch with? And how about those from your secondary school, polytechnic, junior colleague, university, army or from your previous work place? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a single digit number. And like it or not, that number will slowly but very surely decrease as you age. As I turn 21 for the seventh time this year, I think I’ve learnt a fair bit about friendships – and how most of it takes places in phases.
All right, let’s get technical; when I talk about keeping in touch, I define it simply by the frequency of meeting up. Let’s just put a yardstick of at least once per quarter – that’s four times annually. (I actually believe that if friends can do it twice a year, it’s already an accomplishment. The younger readers of this blog may struggle to understand this, but mark my words on this. When you get to my age, remember you first heard it from me.)
By that definition, with the exception of those who are attending the same church as I am, I keep in touch with a grand total of zero from primary school, one from secondary school (who happens to be my best friend), none from polytechnic, army or from my Shanghai stint. Be it DL from ACJS, CC from ACS(B), JC from NP, ML from BMT, JG from SOA, JH and JQ from 40SAR, LT from OCS, or KS and TS from Shanghai; mind you, when I was in whichever phase, these buddies and I went through some significant moments of life together. We were convinced that we’d be more than just good friends for that period of time.
So I’ve learnt this – enjoy the friendships forged wherever you are at. Milk and remember it for all it’s worth. And know that these friendships are strong and that these friends are important, but at the end of that phase, remember that they are all but permanent friendships, albeit at that point closer than your closest church friends. This is a cynical and very un-sanguine, un-Joey, pessimistic way of looking at things, and I know may protest against this statement, but you heard it from me first – these friendships will not last.
The ones that will last, whether you like it or not, whether you stick around long enough or not, are the ones whom you see in church every weekend. At least that applies to me. These aren’t your seasonal friends – these are your friends for a lifetime. I remember mentioning this at the R-AGE DNA sermon I preached at the beginning of this year – that church friends, fortunately or unfortunately, unlike your friends from outside, are here to stay. You can always change a clique and hang out with a different bunch of school or work friends when you get sick of the current ones. But face it – you can’t get rid of your church friends and they’ve got to face it too – they can’t get rid of you. It’s just like how we cannot change our family members; we’ve simply got to stick to them and find a way to make it work.
And when I look back at the brothers and sisters that God has put in my life in this church, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude, because I know that I’m going to be growing old with them and my kids are going to marry their kids (whether they like it or not). The question that I leave with you is – look around you, look at your friends and look deep into their eyes, and look into your heart… How many true friends do you have? How many friends are you true to? After all, true friends attract true friends.
fast-forward 17 years.
Dinner tonight was an event 17 years in the making. Catching up with DL over a simple dinner was delightful and nostalgic to say the least. How does anyone actually get up to speed on nearly two decades of life? The last time we were close was when we were together in Primary 4 in Anglo-Chinese Junior School. These were the same two kids who, being equally short, partnered each other at the front of the class queue; the two 8-year-old kids who sneaked into Sentosa alone after school and accomplished it with cunning and enterprise beyond their age; and the same two kids who, from such vastly different family backgrounds, shared such pleasant childhood memories.
So, how do you catch up on all those years? Simple – by testifying God’s goodness over the years and by spurring each other on in ministry. You blend in common history to project a linked future. I think it’s no coincidence that these same two kids now share a passion for young people and worship; it is almost divinely appointed that these two boys now do their bit to introduce change, make a difference and leave a legacy in their church; it was affirming that these two boys, now men, subscribe to the same leadership concept and in them both resides a strong desire to impart to a younger generation.
Unlike other “old friends” whom I’ve caught up with over the years, I felt that with DL and I, there was no need to prove to each other how far we’ve come – there was no worldly comparison of one another’s achievements and experiences. I told myself, before the dinner, that if we were to spend the next couple of hours reminiscing old times, the friendship would remain in the nineties. I never expected to feel so comfortable with DL – I’d like to think that there was little or no pretense in our interaction; it was like finding a brother that I’ve always had, but lost contact with through the years. My testimony and spiritual journey was the antithesis of DL’s – a dramatic turnaround juxtaposed against traditional obedience; yet both end up 27 years later, serving the same God with similar fervour.
Instantly, I knew that this meet-up set the tone and manner for all future meet-ups with old friends, at least that is what I’d desire. There was an exchange of ministry, of knowledge, of experiences, of struggles and victories. It was more honest and candid than I had expected it to be. Our 2.5-hour dinner tonight made 17 years feel short. At the end of the day, I took home one thing – that God is indeed good and faithful and would use us for His glory wherever we are and have been. I rejoice with DL’s young marriage and the impending birth of the child in his wife’s belly this October.
I encourage you then, when you meet up with old friends in time to come, not to share about how good you’ve become or the great things you’ve accomplished, but to share with each other what God has done in your lives and how good He is indeed. And watch how God connects the people who love Him. You could never go wrong with that approach. I already look forward to the next time God brings DL and I together.