Who are our friends?
Everyone is first and foremost a friend—even those who may express the most stridently different opinions to my own.
“The Bible and the Christian Science textbook are our only preachers.”
As I have prayed for the world and its leaders, for Christianity, and for the Church of Christ, Scientist, the very first word from that note has often flashed in front of me: Friends. Now, more than a hundred years after our Leader finalized this note, I find this opening word a healing inspiration in addressing the all-too-frequent hostility and disruption in human relationships, discourse, and communication today. At times, it seems the way we talk to each other is coarse, unkind, and unthinking, and can fracture our communities, our workplaces, and even our homes.
Knowing that Mrs. Eddy was always mindful of the words she chose and their import, I wanted to know more about what this word really means. Taking a plunge into a number of dictionaries, I found something different and more meaningful than what I had come to think of as a “friend.” To me the word had taken on almost the meaning of acquaintance, but I found that friend is actually akin to an Old English word meaning “to love.”
Here are a few definitions that made a big impression on me:
1. A person with whom one has a bond
of mutual affection.
2. One that is not hostile.
3. One attached to another by mutual esteem.
4. A favored companion.
This research took me in a more thoughtful and holy direction in considering the word friend. I saw that Mrs. Eddy used it over two dozen times in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, and with similar frequency in her other published writings. I was impressed by this statement: “One marvels that a friend can ever seem less than beautiful” (Science and Health, p. 248).
God had brought us together—two people of different backgrounds.
Then I considered the fact that she required the reading of this statement every Sunday in The Mother Church in Boston and in every other Christian Science church. At these services, there may be individuals present who are new, indifferent, or even hostile to Christianity and Christian Science, and who are of diverse backgrounds, cultures, races, and ways of thinking. And yet, the First Reader is called upon to address every one as a friend! As a fellow child of God.
It was then that I began to see that this word is speaking to and calling upon the unifying presence of divine Love right there, just before the healing message of each week’s Lesson-Sermon is read aloud to the congregation.
I began to think of myself as assuming the role of First Reader in an unofficial everyday capacity, attempting to consider everyone I met, regardless of their attitude or opinions, background or position in life, as a friend. And I began to use my new understanding of the word to elevate my thought and relationships—even with people I might be meeting for the very first time or reading about in the news or on social media who held views contrary to my own.
I also reasoned that the only way we would ever reach and enjoy the realization of the spiritual brotherhood of man, which is the only durable fabric of unity, would be through recognizing the fatherhood and motherhood of God. Being able to honestly look at any other person and feel that they are a friend—our brother or sister—is the application and fulfillment of the biblical declaration that “God created man in his own image” (Genesis 1:27). Anytime I meet or interact with any individual, I have the opportunity to see God’s image—that is, the presence of God’s good, spiritual qualities in everyone by reflection and birthright. So of course they would be my friends!
As this new perspective began to work its way into my daily walk and talk, I had an interesting and enlightening experience. I was working on a landscaping project in front of our house one weekend and noticed a car with darkened windows circling the road around our house several times. I did not recognize the car as belonging to anyone from our neighborhood, and even though there were many deliveries taking place those days by unfamiliar vehicles, observing this car caused me to be on alert.
The next time the car came around, it stopped in front of my house, and the driver lowered his window to ask if I could direct him to a certain address nearby—a house that was vacant and on the market. I was happy to answer his question and send him in the right direction. It was a friendly, yet brief, conversation.
After this gentleman and his wife had a good look at the house for sale, they returned in their car to talk with me again. They were very interested in our neighborhood and wondered if I could tell them more about it. They had driven from a nearby state and wanted to buy the house they had just seen. We had a warm and open conversation for about ten minutes, which happened to include a reference to my professional background. We traded business cards, and they drove away. But that was not the end of the encounter.
My new friend unexpectedly called me the next day and frankly admitted he felt that God had led him not just to our neighborhood but to me specifically. He asked me if I would be willing to advise his company professionally, explaining that he knew there was plenty of opportunity for expansion of his business but did not know how to unlock it.
He remarked that he had been searching not only for a new house but also for the skills he felt he and his company lacked. I was happy to pursue working with him, and within three days our contract for a professional relationship began. Most important, we shared the rock-solid conviction that God had brought us together—two people of different backgrounds.
This new view of interpersonal relationships based on a new, spiritual understanding of what
a friend really is continues to bless me. It is prodding me to do a better job of seeing more clearly that everyone is first and foremost a friend—even those who are strangers or who may express the most stridently different opinions to my own.
The artificial barriers that attempt to divide us by race, religion, culture, or politics can be brought down by the simple yet profound realization that, by birthright, we are all united. Then we might answer this question found in Malachi, “Have we not all one father? hath not one God created us?” (2:10), with a solid yes, and find our collection of new friends growing and growing every day. This is the work God is calling us to do. It’s the work our world requires of us today.