When I was a kid, my favorite Bible story was that of David and Jonathan. It seems interesting that out of all the colorful, vivacious stories that are painted throughout Scripture—the floods and lions and giants and whales, the multiplication of bread and fish, and miraculous returns to life—my childhood self chose a simple story of friendship.
I’m not sure what it was that made the story of David and Jonathan stand out in my young mind. But looking back on the story, I’m reminded of the exemplary model of friendship that these two men lived.
Jonathan, the son of King Saul, befriended David, the chosen successor of King Saul. As the son of the king, Jonathan could have become jealous of David, feeling he was stealing the throne from him. But instead, he “delighted” in David, and the two loved each other as their own soul.
When King Saul was jealous of David and tried on multiple occasions to kill him, we read in 1 Samuel of Jonathan’s plan to help David escape from the wrath of Saul. Jonathan knew he would risk facing the fury of his own father, yet his commitment to his friendship with David was something he didn’t take lightly. He jumped in the pit with his friend and helped him escape the assassination plot of King Saul, despite the rage of his father.
In his book, Winning with People, John Maxwell refers to this kind of deep, dependable friendship as the Foxhole Principle, which says, “When preparing for battle, dig a hole big enough for a friend.”
Foxholes are holes in the ground that act as a source of protection for troops during battle. If a soldier were alone in a foxhole, they’d have limited perspective of their enemies and would be vulnerable to potential attack. But if several soldiers joined together in a foxhole, they could look out for one another and more easily counter an attack.
Ecclesiastes 4 tells us that “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (v. 9-12)
As leaders, as in life, challenges and obstacles are one of the only guarantees. Battles will come; it’s not a matter of if, but when. It is foolish and dangerous to enter the battle alone. We need each other: friends who complement our strengths and weaknesses; friends who can be strong when we’re weak; friends who lovingly call us out to be better; friends who remind us how far we’ve come and where we’re going; friends who have each other’s backs.
Not only is it important for us to find these kinds of “foxhole friends,” but to become this kind of friend to others. If we take a minute for some honest self-reflection, what kind of friend are we? Do we keep our commitments? Are we willing to make deep sacrifices for others? Are we willing to stick it out? Are we willing to have the tough conversations? Can we genuinely celebrate with others in their success, even when it may mean we have to lay down a dream of our own or wait our turn?
Life wasn’t meant to do alone. We need each other; we need team.
Who do you have in your foxhole? And who can you rally beside? Let’s imitate the depth of David and Jonathan’s friendship and become the kind of friends we want in our foxholes when the going gets tough.