A small town has a unique way of honoring folks who have supported others who are going through tough times. On the wall which surrounds a park near the city’s center, the name of a citizen experiencing some type of difficulty is written inside of a circle. At some point down the road in this person’s trial, he/she is asked, “Who are those who have been there for you through it all – all of your suffering, anxiety, and weakness?” The names of those who come to that person’s mind are added with circles in an interlocking fashion around the original one, as a testimony that these people were there, that these are people you can “count on,” and that these are real friends.
As Chloe packs the last of her things, she bites her bottom lip in bitterness. Her father passed away unexpectedly a couple of months ago, and no one was there for her. She had gotten a couple of phone calls, and a card or two in the mail, but no one had really been there. So, when asked that same question, “Who was there for you during your hardship?,” she responded with silence. No one. Not a single person had been there for her. However, Chloe takes a little bit of satisfaction in one thing. When she waits later that day for that one-way bus out of town near the city’s center, she will take one last peak at that wall. She will see the circle that is all by itself. “And that’ll show ‘em,” she will say as she boards that bus out of town.
Proverbs 17:17 states, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” Notice the second half of the verse. Many believe that Solomon is revealing one of the primary purposes of one’s siblings. They were born (they were put into this world) to help their brothers or their sisters during difficult times. It is just part of being family. On other hand, the friend has no such physical tie. There is no familial expectation that “the friend” must hang with this person through “thick and thin.” The so-called “friend” can leave, any time he/she wants.
But there is a special kind of friend. A true friend. The second half of Proverbs 18:24 tells us of “a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” When a friend loves you through all times – richer and poorer, health and sickness – he/she becomes like family (if not something more). Many scholars believe then that Proverbs 17:17 does not speak of two different people – 1)a friend and 2)a brother – but rather one and the same, and that the tough times in your life reveal who your real friends are. They may start as “just friends,” but adversity in your life has made them something more – has made them family.
As the brakes on the bus make their familiar screech, Chloe prepares to say goodbye to that despicably loveless town. As she had rehearsed, she turns around to look at the wall and her lonely circle painted on it. Its isolation reinforces her feelings of hatred and bitterness. While waiting to board the bus though, she has more time than she imagined she would have, so her eyes begin to wander up and down the wall. At countless places, there are other circles, lots of other circles, with names of true friends all woven together surrounding that inner ring in a picture of support and encouragement. But all of a sudden, like the awakening rush of a bucket of ice-cold water thrown in one’s face, Chloe realizes something. Chloe’s circle is not just a lonely circle – it is her only circle – on the entire wall. Nowhere else on the gigantic canvas filled with names can her name be found. And the truth then becomes fully known – that as her neighbors had suffered and wept around her for years upon years, Chloe had never ever been a friend to any of them.
Far too often, I use adversity – sometimes even the mildest challenges in my life – as a test of others’ friendship for me. I sit back, with arms crossed, and exclaim, “Let’s see who is really my friend now.” Such a mindset is so self-centered – I view the world as if I am always the inner circle and others are supposed to revolve around me. But I am troubled when I ask myself, “When is the last time that I have been a friend – a real friend – to someone who is in need?” Please know that adversity not only reveals your true friends; it also shows how much of a friend YOU really are.