“A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.” – Sirach 6:14
Friendship has always been a topic of great interest to me. Ever since I was 9 years old, it has been my life-long quest to find a friendship of deep mutual blessing, intimacy, and love. I have been very fortunate in having some wonderful friends in my life, and yet, my restless soul continued to thirst and seek for ‘more’.
In the beginning, I wanted friends for the joy I derive from their company. I wanted friends so that there were people I could share my joys and sorrows with and hang out and have a good time with. I wanted friends so that I could confide my hopes, confess my fears, and have someone that would understand and love me for who I was. Perhaps that’s the first level of genuine friendship. For where love is, God is. And God was certainly present in those friendships.
However, after I started to grow in personal friendship with the Lord, I began to realize that the kind of human friendship I was seeking was one that was centered on Him. I could not imagine not sharing my greatest love – Jesus – in the kind of ‘perfect friendship’ that my heart was seeking. When someone else and I share a love for God… we experience an amazing spiritual bond that cannot be found in other friendships. Our common love for Christ brings our friendship to a different level altogether. So I began to think that a Christ-centered friendship was one in which my friend and I talked and shared a lot about our God experiences, and where we could confide in one another about our faith journey. And I thought that this must be the best kind of friendship for a believer. For not only is God present in such a friendship, he is consciously welcomed into the friendship and celebrated.
Yet, as I continued to know, love and follow our Lord more closely, I have found that there is still an even higher level of Christ-centered friendship to aspire to. To share about God experiences and support one another is easy compared to this next level of discipleship and friendship – and that is when each person is dedicated to perfecting their faithfulness to God in their own lives, so that they can love one another in freedom and truth. What does this mean? It means honouring God first in my life, not only in word, but in deed. It means consciously and intentionally building my friendship with God as the most important relationship in my life, so that I may be made holy and chaste in all my relationships. It means letting my love and trust for God be the source of all my actions.
It means putting up boundaries to protect my sacred space even from those I am closest to, and learning to recognize and respect their boundaries as well, even when they are not aware of those boundaries. It means desiring that my friend have a deep abiding love with God even more than I desire him to have a deep bond with me. It means taking a step back from a cherished friendship when I recognize that I might be in the way of God’s growing His friendship with a friend I love. It means truly seeking God’s will to be done in my life and my friend’s, and subjecting our friendship to the greater glory of God’s kingdom.
A truly Christ-centered friendship is one where I can lay down my life for my friend and love him as Christ does. This calls for a truly pure and selfless love that our wounded and insecure hearts are not naturally capable of. But we must desire it, and we must believe that it is possible, because such friendships that seek God first make up the strong foundation upon which all other relationships in the Kingdom of God are built!
One mark of such a friendship is that it becomes a source of blessing for others, and not just for the ones in the friendship. The friendship is no longer defined primarily by personal intimacy but by communion in God – a communion that embraces all whom God loves. The friendship is placed in Christ’s hands, where love is broken, shared, and multiplied a hundredfold so that others can be fed.
Are you perhaps thinking that this is too high a standard for friendship? It is no more than living out what Christ asks of us – to love one another as He has loved us (Jn 13:34). It is true that striving for such friendships require us to take up our crosses and die to our selves, and that it can be very hard at times. But what is impossible for us becomes possible with God’s grace. And the joy, peace, and freedom that we experience in being faithful to God… it is out of this world. Literally.
So if you find after some time that your friendships, no matter how many or how strong, still leave your heart and soul restless, perhaps you may want to make more space for God and put Him in the center of your life. If our hearts are meant to be restless until they rest in God as St Augustine so famously wrote, then no friendship can satisfy us until it is “baptised” by our love for Christ and incorporated into our friendship with God.
The Kingdom of God is waiting to be built, one Christ-centered friendship at a time. All we need to do is to follow Christ and give our “Amen! (so be it)” Will you do it?