Friendship and Grace
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:12-14
I travelled recently to visit family and to attend my 40th high school reunion. I have to say I had a great time at the reunion. It was even better than I anticipated. I reconnected with folks I had not seen for 40 years. We had bonded through shared experience and at a formative time of our lives, so with many of them it was almost as if the connection had been only briefly interrupted, even though we have grey hair and grand-children now.
With a handful of them – those with whom I was closest in high school and with whom I have stayed connected over the years, our reuniting was a deeply moving and joyful experience. Outside of the reunion events, I had time to reconnect with two friends in particular. We spent time reminiscing and sharing news of our lives. We talked about how much our friendships have meant over the years, even though we have lived hundreds of miles apart and not always kept in touch as regularly as we would like. In my experience, with those kinds of friendships, the bonds are so strong that we don’t need to speak frequently. Whenever we are able to be in the same place and spend time together, it is as though we were never apart.
One of my dearest and longest friends was not at the reunion and was not in town when I visited. His name is Kurt. He and his wife, Denise, were away visiting their son on his 30th birthday. Kurt and I have been friends since the third grade and have always been close, so I felt able to call him only a few days before the reunion and ask if I could stay at his house. He said, “Sure, we’d love to have you stay here. And, if you need a car while you are here, use the 4-Runner in the driveway. We will leave keys on the kitchen counter.” The next day he called and told me that instead of leaving keys for the house, he had reprogrammed the garage door opener and inside door lock to open with the last four digits of my cell phone number. Who, except a very dear friend, would go to that trouble?
All of this got me reflecting on the significance of friendship and especially deep and long-lasting friendships – the sort in which you can be really vulnerable and honest and in which you have shared significant and, at times, painful life experiences. I feel deeply grateful to have such friends. It occurred to me for the first time that friendship can be a means of grace through which we experience not only the love of our friends, but we are also touched by the love of God through them.
Exercising our God-given capacity for friendship is crucial to a life well and fully lived. We may be able to survive without friendships, but we don’t thrive. Friendship is an essential part of God created us to be.
Of course, we do not always choose friends who are good for us. Sometimes we thrive by letting go of unhealthy friendships. Yet, even when we do choose well, sometimes our friendships fail of falter. We are all flawed and sometimes hurt one another, intentionally or otherwise. For intentional friendships to succeed, we need to love through the hurt and be willing to work hard at mutual forgiveness.
Jessica Griffith and Amy Andrews met in a creative writing class in graduate school and bonded through reading the story of Ruth and Naomi together and through their shared passion for writing about God and faith. But they lived in distant cities, so they kept in touch by writing letters. In 2013, they published a book of their correspondence titled, Love and Salt, that portrays how their emotional and spiritual friendship grew over time.
Griffith confesses that she does not consider herself a very good friend and refers to “the trail of my failed friendships.” She believes the inspiration for their book came from a source outside of themselves. “I find myself thinking incredulously, this really happened – this overwhelming experience of God among us – and it happened to me,” she wrote. “There really is an unseen love that tends us through the hands of others, and it works even through fatally flawed, self-centered, and guilt-ridden creatures like me who fail a thousand times. I understand that friendship, far from cloying, shallow, and sweet, is another mystery, another place where God surprises us.”
God’s grace can work through our friendships allowing us to experience love, intimacy, vulnerability, healing, and companionship. The Spirit of God can work through us in our friendships (and other relationships) for mutual love, comfort, healing, encouragement, and joy. This is grace abundant, working in and through us.
In communities such as Church of the Village, we have the opportunity to experience spiritual friendship. Since we need friendship to live fully and abundantly, as God intends, and since we are also imperfect, then in our friendships, as in other relationships, we need to strive also to act in the ways that the apostle Paul recommends in the Letter to the Colossians. We need to clothe ourselves with love and compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. We are called to bear with one another and even yield to one another. And, following Jesus, Paul tells us, “Forgive each other as God has forgiven you.” We are sisters and brothers in Christ, but we are also spiritual friends in Christ – seeking to grow together in love, forgiveness, compassion, and in a passion to see justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. In this place, where the law of love is our supreme rule, we still need to be intentional and work hard at our relationships with each other. Beloved, we need each other to thrive and grow as a community of faith, love, and justice. As the song goes, “I need you. You need me. We’re all a part of God’s body.”
 Jessica Mesman Griffith, “Friendship, by Guilt or Grace,” June 24, 2013 blog on Patheos.com. Available online at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/goodletters/2013/06/friendship-by-guilt-or-grace/.