I've been thinking a lot lately about friendships. Lowell Bennion once said that there is no higher value on earth than "fine human relationships." He said he "rejoices" in friendship, "in those people, not a few, with whom I feel very comfortable, sense a mutual honesty and trust, and experience `creative togetherness'."

It is rare and wonderful to find someone with whom you can feel "very comfortable." It is rarer still to be able to hang onto such a relationship for a long time.True friends are more than people who may admire you and want to spend time with you. Some of these people want to share their troubles and dreams, but fail to leave time for you to do the same with them. In short, some people only want to talk about themselves, and may not even realize that you do not regard them as friends at all. Above all, friendship cannot be a one-way street.

I'm incredulous over how much friendship has to do with geography. Marti and I have noticed over years that we have had some valuable friends who have moved away, and it is never completely predictable how enduring those friendships will be.

There are people who move away and promise that they'll keep in touch, and then you just never hear from them again. There are people who say they'll write but only send Christmas cards on which they sign their names, but leave no note, no hint of their present life or thoughts. Such a card is like not writing at all, except that you know they are still alive.

There are people who move away and truly intend to keep in touch, and try nobly to do so - for awhile. But gradually, their letters appear less and less frequent, and they fade from view. Soon it becomes clear that they have actually forgotten what the relationship was like, and it is no longer important to nurture it.

There are people who move away, and these are very rare - who are determined to keep in touch. They not only write, but they call on the phone, and even make a visit now and then. They show they really care. This is that rare relationship that seems meant to endure. We just had a telephone call the other day from two such people, who just called to chat from California. Not for a holiday - just for friendship.

One exceptionally good friend moved away away to Cincinnati, then to Connecticut where he was close enough to visit occasionally. He's been gone about four years, and although we have not written many letters, we have had some great phone calls and better visits. When we get together we immediately share our lives, and it seems immediately the same. Nothing has changed, and we literally pick up where we left off.

Then there are people you grow up with, who share your cultural baggage and childhood memories. Most of them go in such different directions that any interest left is the kind reserved for class reunions - curiosity.

But there are a few of these friendships, mostly from college days, that seem durable, remarkably so. When we go home to Utah to visit and get together with these people, it seems exactly the same. We can talk and share as if we had never been gone.

We all need durable friendships with some depth to them. We need people we enjoy being with, people we can trust, people who bring out the best in us, people who can remind us of the most important things in life.

We can receive positive reinforcement from our own families, of course. But there are often members of our families we would not choose for friends, and if we spend all of our spare time with family members, we can become isolated. By reaching out beyond our families, we can discover our own identity.

So in spite of the unpredictable and fragile nature of our friendships, we need to cultivate them. We need to emerge from the sometimes shattering burden of responsibility found in our work, our community and our church to recognize and even celebrate the quality of our human relationships. Each one of us needs a few very good friends, who want to hear our problems and dreams, and who continue to like us in spite of our mistakes. And if you find some, hang onto them in spite of geography, because they might have been meant to last!