I’ve got friendship on my mind this week. From the unexpected gift of a midday phone conversation with a soul friend, a few days at my annual ‘preacher camp’ with the dear friends and fellow pastor colleagues in ministry, an anticipated upcoming baby shower with friends who I’ve loved for decades, and daily reminders of the people who know me and love me still — people I’m so fortunate to call ‘friend’ — my friends. I watch the ways you are friends with each other, celebrating how you show up for one another in times of vulnerability or suffering, days where you’d rather just nurse your own grief or exhaustion but the gift of a friend checking in is the balm you didn’t even know you needed.
I hold up moments like these alongside others of observing fracture and disruption between friends, times where given the climate of this particular moment — much of which came to a head in our political sphere this week! — people who hold long roads of experience and love with one another find themselves unable to identify common ground around things that matter. Friendship is complicated, of course, and yet is a force central to human flourishing.
I learned this week of a lovely reflection on the nature of friendship from author David Whyte. It’s sat with me, shaping and seasoning my own gratitude for the friendships I’m deeply fortunate to share, and calling me forth to be a better, more generous friend in return. I share pieces of that with you today with a note of encouragement in the friendships you nurture. May you foster such abundance!
FRIENDSHIP is a mirror to presence and a testament to forgiveness. Friendship not only helps us see ourselves through another’s eyes, but can be sustained over the years only with someone who has repeatedly forgiven us for our trespasses as we must find it in ourselves to forgive them in turn.
A friend knows our difficulties and shadows and remains in sight, a companion to our vulnerabilities more than our triumphs, when we are under the strange illusion we do not need them. An undercurrent of real friendship is a blessing exactly because its elemental form is rediscovered again and again through understanding and mercy. All friendships of any length are based on a continued, mutual forgiveness. Without tolerance and mercy all friendships die.
In the course of the years a close friendship will always reveal the shadow in the other as much as ourselves, to remain friends we must know the other and their difficulties and even their sins and encourage the best in them, not through critique but through addressing the better part of them, the leading creative edge of their incarnation, thus subtly discouraging what makes them smaller, less generous, less of themselves. Through the eyes of a real friendship an individual is larger than their everyday actions, and through the eyes of another we receive a greater sense of a self we can aspire to, the one in whom they have most faith. Friendship is a moving frontier of understanding, not only of self and other but of a possible and as yet unlived future.
But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.
Together in God’s work of Love,