In a letter to lifelong friend Arthur Greeves, C. S. Lewis expressed his deep appreciation for the blessing of true friendship. How highly did he value it? “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods,” Lewis declared. “Certainly to me it is the chief happiness of life.”
He continued with advice to young men who were contemplating where to live: “I think I shd. say, ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’ I know I am v. fortunate in that respect.”
Lewis’s The Four Loves, written near the end of his life, contains the treasures of a lifetime of rumination on the various aspects of that word “love.” In it, he seems to have a special devotion to the friendship manifestation of genuine love. He recalls with fondness what the friendships he experienced with Charles Williams and J.R.R. Tolkien meant to him, and what is missing when one in a circle of friends has died.
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets.
Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald.
As a result, says Lewis, “true friendship is the least jealous of loves.” Adding a third or fourth friend to the circle only increases the closeness. Therefore, friendship might be the nearest resemblance of Heaven that one can taste in this world. In Heaven, “the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.”
“Friendship must be about something,” Lewis concludes. “Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travelers.”
We all need friends. We all need to be a friend. And only by being a friend first will we know what it means to have friends of our own. Friendship is a giving thing; one receives only by first giving. Selfishness must be set aside. And isn’t denying self the heart of what our response to the Gospel should be? When we do that, true friendship will become a reality.