Friendship is a tricky thing. Today’s world of social media and texting adds a level to friendships – or rather takes away a level – that has never been experienced before. Throw in a pandemic and the whole idea of how to “do friendship” could make anyone crazy.
Recently I finished two books that speak so true of what friendship is meant to be; The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton and The Chosen by Chaim Potok. While each of these books also speaks into the idea of family, it’s the view of friendship in these stories I feel the world needs right now.
In The Outsiders, we meet Ponyboy and his family. Ponyboy is part of the Greasers, which as you can assume, is not the most well received group in town. They are pitted against the Socs who are the well-to-do teens of the community. The story is told through the eyes of Ponyboy, who is sort of coming of age and trying to figure out where he fits in the Greasers. He’s set apart from his group because of his younger age and also his success in school. In the end, he does get mixed up in a mess and he runs away with fellow Greaser, Johnny. While his reasons for running away aren’t completely selfless, he mostly doesn’t want to leave Johnny alone with his troubles. He walks alongside him, giving up a future that might have allowed him to rise out of his poverty. Over time, a situation arises that forces the two boys to choose between their safety or the safety of others and Ponyboy and Johnny don’t even give it a second thought. This theme of sacrificing your desires and dreams for a friend is repeated throughout the novel. One after another, these Greasers and even some of the Socs realize that friendship is precious. When we stop looking at life through the lens of what-can-I-get and view it through the lens of how-can-I-love, there are gifts that we would never receive otherwise.
The Chosen introduces us to Reuven and Danny. They begin their acquaintance in animosity and there is no reason why they should ever be friends. While they are both Jewish, their theology and their upbringing should keep them apart. But Reuven’s father is truly a picture of how I want to be as a parent. He quietly urges Reuven to forgive and to be a friend to this boy who he knows will need a friend. Reuven’s father is such a patient listener, not lecturing or telling him what to do, but letting him process. He asks questions that cause Reuven to think deeply about how to love his friend well. Reuven becomes a quiet and solid place for Danny to wrestle with his beliefs. Together they walk through the end of World War II and the knowledge of the atrocities their people experienced in Europe, and the response of their New York community. They wrestle with their goals for the future, the expectations of parents and the deep struggles that come with honoring others.
There’s a line in an Andrew Peterson song, The Rain Keeps Falling:
Well I'm scared if I open myself to be known I'll be seen and despised and be left all alone
These two stories are perfect pictures of the gift that happens when we do open ourselves up to being known. Vulnerability with others is such a risk and there are times that our vulnerability in friendship can bring hurt, but more often it’s a risk that can bring us unimaginable gifts.
They are also beautiful pictures of denying oneself for the sake of others. They show a setting aside of opinions and disagreements for the sake of relationship. Not an ignoring of difference, but an acceptance of difference. For boys especially, these characters are examples of a vulnerability and kindness that reveals true toughness.
It often requires more strength to offer forgiveness, to sacrifice what you desire and to walk with a friend through hard things. This is the kind of friend I long to be…and I long to teach my children to be.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Outsiders and The Chosen are considered classics in the realm of Young Adult novels. As such, they take a frank look at weighty emotional struggles and even violence. As always, we urge you to engage with the young people in your life, and the stories you share with them, to help foster a holy imagination that finds redemption in age-appropriate places.