After my beloved horse’s passing last year, a young donkey named Dulcie came into my life. Spunky, inquisitive, and gregarious, she was a huge comfort and joy, a healing presence in my sadness.
Dulcie lived alone in the barn and pasture once called home by Ginger. And as long as I visited her long and often, she seemed content with the arrangement.
Still, I began to worry about her. Mixed in with her affection and endless requests for scratches were some not-so-subtle invitations to play “donkey” with her, something I couldn’t safely do. Sometimes she would cut me off on my way to the gate after a visit, demanding that I stay. And after supper, closed alone in the shelter for the night, she would pace for as long as she could see us outside the fence.
As happy as she was when she was with me, I wondered how she felt during the other 20+ hours each day without me.
And so, a few months after her arrival, I decided to find her a friend.
That’s how Tobin came to us. Sweet, smart, cautious Tobin, with the little black nose and bright eyes peering from under a mop of russet hair.
At first I wasn’t sure how the two would get along. But after a very gradual introduction and some initial bossiness on Dulcie’s part, they settled into life together. Now, while Dulcie is still as loving as ever, I seldom get invited to roughhouse or get barred from leaving the pasture. And while both donkeys sometimes stare after my mom or me after supper, more often they go straight to their hay.
I’m reminded how much we humans, too, need friends. It sounds obvious, yet sometimes we seem to forget. We get caught up in work, routines, and family duties and relegate friendship to luxury status. Or we get plunged into pain or struggle and try to soldier on alone. We think we have to do it, that our burdens are ours alone to carry, that no one can ever understand, that no one should ever have to share our struggle.
But the truth is, God made us for community. After deeming everything so far in His creation good, our Maker Himself declared regarding the first man, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18, CSB) And when He laid out His plan for redeeming humanity from sin, He included the creation of a family of God-loving people, all looking out for each other, growing together, serving together, worshiping together, and loving each other with self-sacrificing love.
We can’t (and shouldn’t) ask others to take on all our responsibilities or live our lives for us. But we can and should seek out people who walk our road with us and make it a little brighter and more bearable, who help us get Home.
Because we need (and good friends offer):
One of my biggest reasons for finding Dulcie a donkey friend was so she could regularly interact with someone who understood her. As much as I’m committed to learning all about donkeys and getting to know mine in particular, I can never fully understand how they work. I speak only basic Equus, and have certainly never lived a donkey’s life.
By contrast, Tobin knows all about it. He lives it, just as Dulcie does. Sure, they came from different herds, are different ages, and have their own quirks. But they both approach and experience the world as Equus asinus, and hence can empathize with each other better than I ever can.
Humans have a similar need for empathy. We long to express and connect, to share and vent, to be heard and understood, even if it’s only now and then or with a select few. We like to feel appreciated. validated, and supported. We like to feel that others “get it”.
Sometimes, though, the uniqueness of our lives, interests, dreams, and struggles makes us feel cut off from others. We compare our lives and ourselves and wonder, How could anyone possibly understand?
It’s true that our Creator Himself is the only Person who completely understands us and our experiences. Yet we’re more like our fellow humans than we’re sometimes tempted to think.
We all share basic human experiences like grief, disappointment, anger, longing, confusion, and joy. We all fail, dream, suffer, struggle, and have wants and preferences. We all have the same basic physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs.
We can draw on those similarities to connect with and help others. We can cry together, laugh together, listen to each other, comfort each other, encourage each other, advise each other, and meet each other’s needs. Because we know what it’s like to be where they are and need what they need. We know what it’s like to be human.
And often what they need most is simply to know they’re not alone.
Dulcie isn’t the only one of the dynamic donkey duo to benefit from their friendship.
Tobin, being younger, has seen less of the world and tends to approach it more cautiously. But he also adores his “big sister”. So when Dulcie marches up to check out a new object or soak up attention from a new human, little brother watches, or even tags along.
In this way, he’s gradually become bolder himself, even playing with objects he once thought scary and ambling up to visitors alongside his sister.
Good friends – those who love God and love us – are good for us. They encourage us when we struggle, hold us accountable when we fail, advise us when we need guidance, and love us through everything. When we forget why we’re here or where we’re going, they remind us. And they give us the opportunity to do the same for them.
Good friends don’t try to be God to us – rather, they point us to the one true God, the Friend closer than any brother or sister. They allow Him to use them to bring good into others’ lives, and they inspire us to let Him do the same through us.
“A friend loves at all times,” as the biblical proverb says. Dulcie and Tobin are there for each other when a scary sound comes from the woods or the farrier shows up…and they’re there when it’s time to play!
Their face-nipping showdowns, wrestling matches, and races around the pasture are a source of endless laughter for us humans. Sometimes I think they’re laughing, too, in their own way.
One of the best things about a good friend is the joy they bring to the dullest, hardest moments of life. Not always a “kicking up your heels” kind of joy, but always a lightening of loads, a rainbow in the storm clouds.
They open windows on our daily humdrum to let in light and warmth. They pull our heads above raging waters so we can draw life-giving breath.
They come knocking at the doors of our hobbit-holes and invite us to live. And if we light out on our own, they join us on our adventure – or, if they can’t, wish us well and check in on our progress.
So treasure them. Invest in them. Make time for them. Share with them. Thank them.
And be them.
Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their efforts. For if either falls, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to lift him up.Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (CSB)