"By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped." Ecclesiastes 4:12 (The Message)
In a culture that prizes the individual it’s easy to forget that strength to make it through every day, every trial, every disappointment comes from others. The Teacher (King Solomon) included this “saying” in his book of wisdom but it wasn’t original to him. It was a common axiom in the ancient near east.
In the Epic of Gilgamesh there’s a scene where Gilgamesh and his friend Enkidu take 50 men and travel to the “the land of the living” (literally, a land of cedar trees) where Gilgamesh falls into troubled sleep. Worried for his friend, Enkidu tries to convince Gilgamesh to leave but Gilgamesh replies, “Two people will not perish! … No one can cut through a three-ply cloth!”
We should remember two things about strength. First, we should always seek to be the strength others need, especially in their time of need. Second, we should not run in our rabbit holes when things get bad. We should, rather, call on a friend.
Interesting how in the verse we see a progression from two, to three. Apparently three isn’t a crowd. It’s just right.
Think about the times you’ve been most encouraged. For me, the times praying with my wife or sharing a hardship with a friend come to mind. And still other times brim up in my memory, times when I was surrounded with a group of people whom I loved. We shared, we sang, we prayed, we laughed and I left with strength to overcome.
In sports we hear about “team chemistry” and how important it is for a team to possess it. But if players isolate themselves, or act selfishly, they weaken the team. If players, on the other hand, bond and place the needs of their teammates first, they find success.
It’s possible to be, to work, to live within a group of people and yet remain isolated—many things put us there. Things like shame, fear, selfishness and greed—all stemming from a vision turned inward, toward the dark, toward our selves.
The greatest conqueror among us, however, finds new vision in the hope of conquest, in the light of service and in the strength of brotherhood.
Jesus said, “I call you friends.” Then he went and died for us. Oh to wrap ourselves around him—each of us, locking arms, locking hearts. Strong.
Today’s Prayer: Lord, we are strong only in Your strength. Help our weakness. Be the strand we wrap ourselves around today.
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Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.