The popular proverb states that “You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends.”
I think this cliche is meant to console those of us who have to cope with challenging family dynamics. Our family—our parents, our siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins—may cause us stress, but we have an opportunity to surround ourselves with individuals who impart energy to us by the manner of their friendship.
I don’t mean for this post to sound anti-family—I deeply love my imperfect, idiosyncratic, family of which I am a part. My aim here, rather, is to highlight the blessing of friendship. I say “blessing” as a way of qualifying the notion that we “choose our friends”. Of course we choose our friends, but I also strongly believe that God has positioned certain people in our life in order to facilitate the fostering of friendships that bring us encouragement and draw us closer to Him.
I’ve just returned from 28 days in Ontario, Canada (where I was born and raised), and the theme which continues to linger in my mind is the theme of friendship. Having been away (living in Nassau, Bahamas) for 13 months, there were many that I was eager to reconnect with. While it proved impossible to see all of our friends, we did get some meaningful time with some of our best friends.
In Proverbs we read, “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). I feel so blessed to say that there are men in my life who, by every appearance “stick closer than a brother”.
One friend, whom I met as a 12 year-old at camp (Muskoka Woods), along with his wife Sandee, hosted us for three nights and treated us to gourmet food and poolside fun. Twenty-six years later, Duncan Macgregor continues to stick closer than a brother.
My former clerk of Session from St. Giles Kingsway, Don Taylor, and his wife, Lois, hosted a dinner party for us. When I was Don’s pastor, he was my always-supportive colleague and wise friend. Seeing Don again reminded me how blessed I was, and am, to have such a loyal and generous friend.
After some time at our our cottage in Eastern Ontario we returned to the Greater Toronto Area where we would spend a night at the home of Dave & MaryAnne Terry. Dave was my “best man” from my wedding day, 17 years ago, and has been among my very best friends for two decades now. Our friendship overflowed into ministry support when David served as an elder at St. Giles Kingsway during my time as Senior Pastor there.
The next evening took us to Ric & Andrea Jacka’s home. Andrea, a dental hygienist, kindly cleaned all of the MacPhail’s teeth—a luxury for us since we have yet to procure a dental plan in The Bahamas. Ric & Andrea have been one of our closest “couple” friends since we connected at the church of my student ministry (Good Shepherd Community Church) 17 years ago.
Our final night was spent in Beeton, ON–the town where I began ordained ministry 14 years ago. We stayed at the home of Jim & Fiona Allan. Jim was one of my elders from Fraser Presbyterian Church in Tottenham, ON, and in that ministry season there was no one I leaned on more than Jim (outside of my wife, Allie, of course!). I remember reading in 1Samuel how Jonathan made an oath to David “because he loved him as he loved himself” (1Sam. 20:17) and thinking that Jim and I had a friendship like that. No, we still have a friendship like that!
I missed seeing one of my closest friends, BK Smith, who now lives in Victoria, BC, where he was recently called to pastor. BK’s Christian integrity has inspired and challenged me for two decades. Time with BK, reminds me of the Proverb, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).
I could go on—as there are other men that God has used over the years to provide me with profound encouragement (Heb. 10:24,25) and comfort (2Cor. 7:5,6). There are also the new friends I have made since transitioning to Nassau, Bahamas. God appears to be repeating His gracious pattern of surrounding me with loyal, God-fearing, friends.
As I consider the blessing of friendship I have received, I am immensely grateful. I am also challenged by the generosity of these friends. I don’t know that I can ever match, or repay, their kindness to me. But I am nonetheless inspired to attempt, in my own small way, to give myself to others so that they too may know the blessing of friendship.