”Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” – 1 Samuel 18:3 ESV
True, valuable friendships aren’t made in the parties and the celebrations, they are made in the trenches.
In the trenches of World War I, the norms of tactile contact between men changed profoundly. Mutilation and mortality, loneliness and boredom, the strain of constant bombardment, the breakdown of language and the sense of alienation from home led to a new level of intimacy and intensity under which the carefully constructed mores of civilian society broke down. As historian Joanna Bourke has documented in her exciting work on First World War and masculinity, men nursed and fed their friends when ill; they bathed together; they held each other as they danced, and during the long winter months, wrapped blankets around each other. These moments were often grounded in experiential reality, the nature of these encounters – men on the verge of death, under fire, or being ill – giving them an emotional nakedness and intensity that not only outlive their contingent nature but that continue to grow in emotional value and resonance. It is debatable whether these relationships were those of “comradeship” or personal “friendship” or trench “brotherhood”: each of these relationships had its particular nuance and value, though it is difficult to straitjacket human relationships and feelings, especially in times of physical and emotional extremity. Moreover, they were all forms of male intimacy during crisis with inevitable overlaps or continuity at times and touch seems to have cut across the range of these relationships. The conditions of trench life dictated that there could be moments of perilous intimacy between relative strangers: the trench journal (October, 1916) records an incident where a severely wounded man fell on an unknown stretcher-bearer and said, “Embrace me. I want to die with you”. On the other hand, W. A. Quinton recalls how one night, as he lay shivering, “old Petch put his overcoat in addition to my own over me, taking care to tuck me in as a mother would a child.” A. F. B. notes, in , that Smalley was the great favourite of the Third Battalion for “his heart was as big as his body – his strength like a lion’s – his touch to the wounded as a woman’s.”
– revised extract from the chapter ‘Kiss me, Hardy: the dying kiss in the First World War Trenches’ in Santanu Das, (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
These days, the combination of social media and political correctness and so many other divisive and isolating societal factors seems to leave us with a wealth of acquaintances who might know about us to the surface level, but very few friends (if any) with whom we have deep, meaningful, trusting, and truly loving relationships. These types of relationships come as a result of costly commitment, not conditional companionship. They are the result of lIves intertwined that bear the frayed edges of a worn life of bearing the weight together.
And if you have this type of friendship and love with someone, it is to be so highly valued amidst the things of this world that most of us call treasure, favor, or blessing. And if we don’t have it, our hearts long for it and hope for it, not knowing if we could ever actually find it. But how does one find such a thing?
Many of us have been hurt and betrayed enough times that we have given up hope in finding someone that we could trust at that deep and meaningful level. so we stop stepping up to the plate because everyone has failed us, because everyone at some ppint has fallen short and let us down, so we let ourselves slip into isolation. We decide to develop singular coping mechanisms for dealing with our problems, which really end up being us burying them and housing them to fester and take root deep within.
There is something that can’t be explained in the freedom of sharing our faults and struggles with a fellow man or woman and to have them hold us, tell us that they are there for us, pray with us, and weather the storm by our side. Yes, this is a treasure. And it starts with our being willing to bear those burdens for others ourselves. It starts with us stepping into the messiness and discomfort of someone else’s personal struggle and not just offering to bear the weight, but stepping in and lifting them up and caring them, even in those times where they put up a fight at first. This is what love looks like.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.
John 15:12-14 ESV
Lord, send us about your work today. strengthen us to build those books that are strong and true and trustworthy because they are made of the stuff of your Holy Spirit. Bind us together and heal us by the commitments and faithfulness that are lives serving and encouraging, and even correcting and holding each other accountable in that true love that isn’t judgemental expectation, but is hopeful, unwavering trust that comes from two or more gathered together truly seeking your touch, your counsel, your will. We love you, Lord. Let us walk together with You, close together, seeing your very character and nature showing itself to us in those who love you and who love us – and rising that they might catch a glimpse of the same in us. Amen.