More than ever I’ve been considering the simple beauty yet profound influence of good friendship. What comes to your mind when you consider the idea of friendship?
My ministry partner, John, has dug into urban ministry among the chronically homeless for the past 35 years. During the duration of those years he’s also pastored a small church.
I’ve learned much from John over the years but the one aspect of his life and work that influences me most is how seriously he takes his friendships. Once a month John gathers with the “old farts” – a collection of four men between the ages of 50-80 who spend an entire morning just to be transparent about their joys and pains. I’ve heard John speak to the enormous weight of influence that comes from these trusted friends sitting down to unload about their health, marriage, and work. He acts as if these friendships have shaped his character like nothing else.
Then there’s my friend, Scott, a catholic priest with over 30 years of ministry work behind him. It seems I can’t escape a conversation with Father Scott without him mentioning the importance of an “Anam Cara” or soul friend. He testifies to this in his own life through his weekly meetings with the same friend for the past 16 years. He claims that the consistent impact of this particular friendship transcends their political and theological differences and moves him toward a richer way of living.
There’s more than a little contrast between the emphasis these men place on friendship and the relevant activity other pastors call multiplying disciples, mentoring, or being missional. I don’t think those notions are bad but I can’t imagine them translating well in a conversation with my next door neighbor.
The distinctive power of friendship boils down to dimensions. The love and influence flows in both directions. It's mutual. This hasn’t typically been the case in my experiences with church discipleship or mentoring where someone competent and qualified “pours into” the other. (I've never quite understood what that means.)
Like nothing else, real friendship seems to remind me of how numb or unpresent we tend to become in day to day life. As usual Henri Nouwen expresses it so well.
“One way to express the spiritual crisis of our time is to say that most of us have an address but cannot be found there. We know where we belong, but we keep being pulled away in many directions, as if we were still homeless. All these other things keep demanding our attention. They lead us so far from home that we eventually forget our true address, that is, the place where we can be addressed.”
We become numb. We struggle experiencing our experiences. And we can essentially become dishonest without even realizing it. The mirror provided in a good friendship helps with this.
"I no longer call you servants... Instead, I call you friends." It's hard to believe it, but Jesus actually said those words to his disciples. Jesus fully endorsed the power of friendship.
I interact with so many people who have 1000 friends but no friends. No loving eyes to see beyond our surface image. No hospitality to both our light and shadow sides. We long for another to walk with us as we search the infinite and unknowns worlds within us.
Friendships are mysterious and messy at times. It's exhausting to be a good listener. It's never as easy as clicking "accept" on Facebook. But more and more I imagine that if the church is to be the church both now and moving forward I suspect it'll be because we learned to practice the sacred and difficult art of friendship.