The text of the email was short, but it set the context. The text went something like, “things were a little quiet in the basement, so I popped down to find…” Those words obviously were meant to lead me to the photo, which would connect to the subject line of the email.
So I had to open the photo. And there she was: my two-year old granddaughter. She was in her pajamas, sitting on the bottom step of the stairs, which led to the basement. Right next to her was a good-sized Pooh Bear, her favorite. She was holding another one of her stuffed animals, a guy named JZ. I have not the faintest idea why the long, slinky animal is called JZ. All she says is, “he’s a smiley guy!” The rest of the bottom two stairs found countless more animals---all apparently gathered for a tea party!
Instead of tea, I did notice her plastic cup of milk. And there was a bowl that contained what looked like cereal. I mused that “tea party” was simply a generic term to indicate she had gathered her pals for a time together. She looked quite content. I guess she figures, if you are surrounded by good friends, what else do you need? Thinking about that, I realized I agree with her philosophy.
I began to treasure the fact that this two-year old was beginning to teach this old guy with a Ph.D. a thing or two. I never realized how young scholars could be! So I stared at the picture for a while to ponder what she was trying to teach “an old dog.” I don’t ever want to get so old that I can’t learn some “new tricks.” So here are a few things my little one taught me through the photo.
Of course, the most important one is the blessing of friends. I know if I had to choose to be rich in money or friends, I instantly would choose friends. That would guarantee that we could die loved instead of rich! No one was ever born with friends. We make friends, we keep friends; we can even screw up friendships. But to have no friends? That is an impoverished life, indeed.
Secondly, she taught me to treat my friends well. Clearly food and drink are important ingredients to friendship. Just as surely are good conversations. She may have favorite friends---the ones she holds more dearly. But that does not mean the ones who are not quite as close to her are marginalized. They matter, too. They are cared for in significant ways.
The best way to explain this is to resort to my knowledge of Greek. In Greek the word for “friend” is one of the words for “love.” So if you are speaking Greek, you talk about your friends with the language of “love.” Put in this context helps us understand that friendships of any kind are love relationships. My little granddaughter may, in fact, see Pooh Bear as her “best friend.” But that does not mean Pooh Bear exhausts her love. She still has enough to go around for the others on the step.
Another reminder that she offers me is the need for regular time and attention needs to be spent with friends. Friendship is a bit like food. We can go for some time---a few days---without food. But long-term fasting from food imperils our health. And finally, without food ultimately spells our demise---that is, we die! I think the same thing is true for friendship.
We need friends for a healthy life. We don’t have to have them in our lives every moment. We can fast from certain friendships. But ultimately, we need healthy, helpful friends in order to live well. Most of the spiritual giants about whom I know counsel the importance of friends. In fact, I know one of the most important designations Jesus offers to describe his disciples is “friendship.” At one place in the gospels, he turns to the disciples and says, “I call you friends.” The Greek word there is philos---a love word.
“A tea party with some friends” said the subject line in the email. A picture was, indeed, worth a thousand words. I leaned back and begin to wonder. If I were to invite my friends to a tea party, who would join me on the bottom steps of my basement? Do I have a special, close friend---like Pooh Bear? Do I care for my friends and make myself available?
The good news is friendships can be cultivated and nourished. If you have no one who would join you on the step, it is not too late. Begin investing in relationships. Take time to care. Throw a tea party. It is the spiritual way of eat, drink and be merry---it’s a good life.