I read with interest a recent blog entry by Seth Barnes on Women and Covenantal Relationships. There was a discussion on why women struggle for covenant. A covenant friend is more than just a best friend with whom we share secrets and hang out with often. The friendship between the biblical David and Jonathan is a powerful example of the kind of friends that covenant people are. Their hearts were knitted together; they became one in spirit, much like what a marriage covenant is like. Each loved the other as himself and was willing to lay down his life for the other. In today’s context very few of us will find ourselves in situations where we have to literally sacrifice our life for our friend.
What are some other characteristics we can expect to find in such relationships? Surely, loyalty is one of them. Jonathan was willing to jeopardize his position as heir to the throne, putting his friendship with David ahead of his blood relation with his natural father, King Saul. He remained steadfast to his friend and came to his defense when confronted by his envious and hatred-filled father. The Bible recorded that Jonathan spoke well of David to Saul (when David wasn’t even present). One of the true tests of loyalty is how we speak about our friend in his absence. We don’t want a friend who is full of understanding and nice talk in our presence but says something quite the opposite about us to others when we are not around. Do our words betray our friend?
Another mark of covenant friendship is trust. In order for any relationship to flourish, there must be trust. In today’s “each person for his own” world we are repeatedly told and taught to look out for ourselves. Having experienced too many hurts in life, we enter into relationships with caution instead of trust. In an environment of doubt and skepticism, it is difficult to find or build trust. But that was not true of David. He trusted Jonathan with his life. His friend had told him to hide behind a rock while he went to Saul to “access David’s fate” and return to him with the report. Although that left David all alone and in an extremely vulnerable position, David trusted his friend and did as he was told. For two days, there was no communication between them as David waited. Do you think David might have had second thoughts about his friend’s intentions or loyalty? Do you think he might have panicked a little, tossed and turned in his sleep as the days went by without a word from Jonathan? No, David was calm and at peace the whole time because he knew his friend would never betray him. When we trust someone, we have confidence that this person will look out for us and will act in a manner that is beneficial to us.
The other quality that a covenant friendship has is shared vulnerability; that both parties are willing to let their guards down. It is only when we perceive there is safety that we’re willing to make ourselves vulnerable. In the safety of such friendship we can be open, real and honest with each other. There is no need to hide, no ugly secrets to keep, no ego to protect. We need not worry that our friend will judge us, tell on us, manipulate us or intentionally hurt us in any way. We read in 1 Samuel 18 that upon meeting David on his return from the battlefield, Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt. Jonathan gave David his weapons, his protection, things that make him feel safe. He realizes that he is safe with David; that he can let down his guard and be completely vulnerable with his covenant friend. Many of us are too afraid to let our guards down. To open ourselves up to others exposes us to the risk of rejection, abuse and betrayal. But a covenant friend does none of these things. They know all about us and still accepts us. They always seek our highest good and never betray confidences. When we express vulnerability we are putting ourselves in the hands of others. To be able to be vulnerable is to feel safe.
Feeling safe in a relationship leads to honesty. David and Jonathan did not see eye to eye on everything but they were able to talk about them with complete honesty and reality. Theirs wasn’t a friendship where they just sat around exchanging nice thoughts of appreciation to each other and keep to safe topics of conversation. They did not shy away from difficult issues or but were able to tell each other how they felt with no holds barred. When faced with a disagreement, they did not threaten with withdrawal of their friendship. Within the boundary of their covenant, they knew that no matter what came between them, they would always work things out. Violating the covenant between them was never an option.
Finally, this brings us to the issue of accountability. I personally feel that accountability is extremely lacking in many friendships today. Everyone wants to be liked and loved. Nobody is willing to rock the boat of their friendship by confronting their friend with issues they suspect might create some tension. Only two kinds of people are able to do that – a careless person (because he just doesn’t give a damn how you feel) and a very secure person (because he is able to handle any negative reaction). Yet accountability is extremely vital to our personal growth if being a better person is our goal. Personally I have not found a friend who is able to be that person in my life and I realize how desperately that impoverished me. I don’t want my ego stroked, I need someone who is secure and love me enough to be brutally honest with me when I am out of line. I need someone to challenge me to be a better person. Yet that will not happen until my friend feels safe enough to be open and honest with me. Trust, acceptance, honesty and accountability – they won’t work without the other. For some reason, I find that women today are sadly unprepared when it comes to holding each other accountable. Perhaps we have had too many disappointments in life that robbed us of our trust and security. This is perhaps the reason why cyber friendships are growing so rapidly. There isn’t much to be accountable for if nobody knows the real person behind the nick.
Being in covenant with a friend can be messy business but it is one of few true blessings you can ever find this side of heaven.
May we all find our own Jonathan in our life and may we be a true David to him/her.
Treasured Friends by Ann Hibbard