Last night I had the honor of leading a discussion group into the topic of Spiritual Friendship. For the past 2 weeks and for the next 3, this will be a topic of conversation at the group I lead. (Here’s a link to the curriculum and articles I am using: click here)
The idea of deep spiritual friendship has been on my mind for about a year now since Dana Robert, director of The Center for Global Christianity and Missions at Boston University, came and spoke at a chapel service at Truett (you can read about it here). I first heard this term when Wesley Hill came to Baylor in 2014 and spoke about how Spiritual Friendship is something that must be recovered in the church.
Since then, I have started paying more attention to my friendships. What are they worth? Have I been a good friend? Sadly, I have to say that I am up against a pretty large deficit and a losing streak. I believe I can be a good friend and have often been a good friend, I’m just not sure if I have been consistent or committed to being a better friend each day. I am becoming convinced that many things fragmented in our society are a result of our inability to make friends and be friends (e.g. marriage, economic inequality, race and gender issues). Last night we talked about how often we settle for “being friendly” instead of doing the hard work of “being a true friend” to those we love.
The latter is hard work. Most of us would rather settle for being friendly because it is easy, requires less of us, keeps us in control, makes us feel powerful. I admitted to the group that I often struggle with relationships for several reasons. One is because I have learned that relationships change us. I do not like change. Therefore, when I sense that a relationship is about to change me, I choose to distance myself. It is scary. And yet, friends are gifts from God that can allow us to be more like the people God created us to be. Friends are supposed to build us through encouragement and critique. They should have the right to call us out on things and also the right to love us while being loved by us. If I’m honest, I don’t like people “loving me.” When people “love me” it makes me feel helpless, vulnerable; not in control. Friends have a way of reminding us who we are AND who we are not and it is uncomfortable because I usually pretty content with the person I think I am. The second reason I struggle with relationships is because of the heartaches that have accompanied them in the past. I have been hurt by people in the past and often project that on others in a way that is unfair to them. People are different. I am learning that I can’t live in the past world of wounds and broken relationships. Nevertheless, I must do the proper work of processing and mourning. The way to healing is not by going around suffering, but through it.
So join me. Join me on this quest for healing from my past hurts and into true friendship. Learn with me what friendship means and share your thoughts with me. Encourage me and challenge me. Imagine for a second what it would look like for the church to truly embody this? Maybe we need to throw out all our fancy strategies for missions and evangelism, for discipleship and worship, and learn first (or concurrently) what it means to be friends of God and friends with one another (I’m not saying we need to throw them out completely, but the commitment to strategy must submit to the commitment to love God and love others). In John 15, Jesus tells his disciples, “I have called you friends…” Maybe we need to recover this in our churches. Maybe we can set the world on fire with the deep love that can come through friendship.
So finally, practice friendship alongside me. (I’m not saying “be my friend” but if you want to, that’s cool too!) What I mean is: allow yourself to be led into a true friendship. I challenged the group to find a friend (or two) that they would invest in and commit to helping grow that person toward Christ-likeness. Maybe you can do this too and find that you too, perhaps, if you allow it, will be changed into Christ-likeness in the process. Allow yourself to speak into that person’s life and let yourself be changed by God through that person. After all, the call to follow Christ is a call to die to ourselves, to be transformed, to live with God. Join me and let’s follow this call together.
(by the way, if you are looking for resources, I would recommend starting with: Becoming Friends by Paul Wadell, if you are looking for something more challenging, check out the medieval monk: Aelred of Rievaulx and his book, Spiritual Friendship. As a group, you might even benefit from reading Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together, and discussing it with two or three people each week. Hope this helps.)