You are better off to have a friend than to be all alone, because then you will get more enjoyment out of what you earn. If you fall, your friend can help you up. But if you fall without having a friend nearby, you are really in trouble. If you sleep alone, you won’t have anyone to keep you warm on a cold night. Someone might be able to beat up one of you, but not both of you. As the saying goes, “A rope made from three strands of cord is hard to break.”
(Ecclesiastes 4: 9-11)
In the Icelandic film Rams, two sheep farming brothers have not spoken to each other for forty years. They live in adjacent houses on the family farm. Both are unmarried and attached to their flocks.
A prize-winning ram belonging to one of the brothers is found to have a degenerative disease that affects the nervous system. After the other brother reports its symptoms, which is then found in two other farms, all the sheep in the valley are to be destroyed. The farmers must burn their hay and disinfect the barns.
The brother who reports the outbreak kills his flock before the biohazards team arrive but hides a few ewes and a ram in his basement, as they are the last of their breed. His brother resents him for reporting the disease and the subsequent cull, inflaming tensions between them.
When a member of the biohazards team discovers the sheep, the two brothers are forced to collaborate and attempt to drive them into the highlands in a blizzard. Their quad bike bogs down in a snowdrift, and the brothers become separated. The sheep wander off, and one brother collapses near death from hypothermia. The film ends with one brother attempting to warm the other in a womb-like shelter, acknowledging their reconciliation.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free. Then you discover that prisoner was you. When the bond breaks it is a painful way for a friendship to come to an end. Best friends have the power to help and to hurt like no other. The seeking and giving of forgiveness can help a friend when you or they fall. Falling out of friendship is all too common even amongst Christians and churches. These divides can remain for decades unresolved.
A forgiving friend is a gift from God. Initiated reconciliation, even if I perceive the fault to be on the other side, shows that we want to preserve a friendship that we truly value. Reconciliation is not easy if we have been deeply hurt. It may be awkward to approach someone who has hurt us in the past. But we can pray and trust that love demands we be responsive to the pain of a broken friendship. As the poem below expresses, if we remain generous in our forgiveness, there will always be fresh hope and new beginnings.
Pray that the Lord will soften your heart and open your eyes so that you might become a better friend.
This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.
Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.
If you remain generous'
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
Excerpt from To Bless the Space Between Us Quotes by John O’Donohue (2008)