Bonding time can happen simply through working or serving together. At the moment I don't recall any friendship-defining moments that fall into this category, but I have nevertheless observed the principle. On numerous occasions I have worked with someone that I previously didn't know well - in VBS, in church ministry, in outreach opportunities, etc. By the end of the day or week or quarter, I felt a closer bond to the person I had worked with, maybe wanting to give a hug to someone that previously I hadn't really known.
I believe that bonding time happens most effectively in going through difficult times together. I remember a mission trip to Mexico. Our team arrived to find that most of our team was staying in an empty apartment - with no beds and no doors, not even for the bathroom. The rest of the team was crowded into a small house with no running water. The days were very hot. We battled rain and super-sticky mud. Perhaps most challenging was the unpredictability of our days. We never knew when we would get food, and our ministry plans changed so often that it seemed there was no plan. At the end of our two demanding weeks, when we were very close to home, our flight got grounded, and we were stuck overnight. Through those shared experiences, there was a bonding with other members of the team. There was a rapport established by having gone through those challenges together.
I don't believe my experience is unusual. This is why support groups work; the members share the same difficult experiences, and a bond is created. Veterans can have a bond with each other, never having served together, based simply on their common background. A family can draw closer together during a serious illness, death, or crisis. Church members can bond through financial or legal challenges, a church split, death of a pastor, and so on. There is something about going through difficulties together that brings a closeness that other factors cannot bring.
In light of that truth, I want to consider that God shares every difficult experience with His children. "For He Himself has said, 'I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you'" (Hebrews 13:5). God will never leave His children, no matter how rough things get. He will always be there, even if everyone else deserts. Other friends may prefer to share only the happy times; those friends might become scarce when trouble arrives, maybe most scarce when the trouble is deepest. God is not like that. There is no trouble so deep, no trial so severe, no difficulty so challenging, that God decides He has had enough. There are no limits to what God is willing to go through with His children.
Such faithfulness by a loving God should promote a deeper bond between the believer and his Savior, as the believer realizes that God remained right by his side through the darkest hours. The believer recognizes that God stayed with him from beginning to end of the trial and never gave up. The believer becomes aware that God listened to his heart cry over and over again; God listened when no one else wanted to, or when the believer struggled even to express any words. God's love and comfort were constant. Beyond all of this, God gave the help and grace that no one else could have given. With these assurances, the bond should deepen. When God and the believer work through these challenges together, they should emerge with a rapport beyond what existed before.
Some might protest that there is still something missing. It is one thing for someone to remain faithful to give support during a trial and to be available, but there is a different, higher level of support from someone who has gone through the same thing. There is a difference between empathy and sympathy - between support and understanding. While a sufferer may appreciate someone who is willing to stand by him, he may feel that something is missing when the helper can't really relate. The support can seem insincere or ineffective if the helper doesn't share experiential knowledge; he is like an outsider looking on. There is a special, somewhat inexplicable bond and rapport with someone who has lived through the same things.
This is the beauty of the Savior. He was absolutely perfect, but Hebrews 2 teaches that He added to His perfection something that no one would have thought to require, making Him even better than perfect. "Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:17-18). Jesus came to this earth and learned about sorrow, pain, and temptation, so that He has a heart-level understanding of what His children are talking about when they come to Him. Jesus can sympathize. He can understand and relate very specifically to the trials of His people. He is absolutely equipped to go through every situation of life with them.
The believer has a Savior who not only is faithful but who also can sympathize. A trial is an opportunity to relish that relationship and watch it grow stronger. Each challenge is an opportunity for the believer to bond more deeply with His Savior and to emerge closer to Him than ever before. These are wonderful truths. The believer never goes through anything alone. At his side is someone who knows and understands him. God is always faithful and constantly shows His love and support. These truths form the foundation for a deep bond that cannot be matched with anyone else.
"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. . . Since you are precious in My sight, since you are honored and I love you." Isaiah 43:2&4a (NASB)