Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. 1 Samuel 18:3
Jonathan’s love entered David’s heart in a way that Saul’s hatred never could. –Eugene Peterson
Of all the forces that mark us, I believe none are more important than people. And no people are more important than those we call by the title “friends.” I think there’s no wonder like the wonder of friendship. I think that’s one of the most powerful words in the world — “friend.”
I asked a man one time, “What is it like to be my friend?”
Here is his email response:
Joe, you have a thoughtful, caring conscience. When I’m with you I get opportunity to shed posturing and to get real at any moment. You value knowing the vision of God’s work in the center of my life as being of greater concern than any other work or personal accomplishment.
Knowing there is someone willing to call me on the need for taking personal responsibility for a necessary step in my journey with Jesus rather than merely affirming a stated intent is marking my life.
I love you, Joe.
When a friend does that for a friend, it gets way down into your soul. I’ve read that and re-read that several times in the last few days. Friends that take the time to say words like those are golden.
I had lunch with a man my age a couple of years ago who is struggling with his life. As I sat across the table from him and looked at him and said, “Bill, I just want to be your friend.” His eyes brimmed with tears and he looked down at his Won Ton Soup and said, “I really need a friend. Thank you, Joe.”
What’s the difference between a good friend that happens to be a Christian, and a spiritual friend? A spiritual friend is an intimate, life giving friend who helps me pay attention to God.
A spiritual friend will say to you, “How is God speaking to you in this? How does God want to be at work in your life through this? And how are you responding to him?” They help you pay attention to God.
If you find someone you might want to be a spiritual friend, don’t schedule a lunch with that person and say, “I want you to be my spiritual friend. I want to meet with you and be shaped by you and be committed to you every day for the rest of my life.” Because if that person is healthy at all, they will run out of the restaurant. And if they’re not, you’re going to end up in worse shape than they are.
Test the water, go slow, be patient. Test the relationship by taking little relational risks. Move beyond polite conversation.
Polite conversation is built on trying not to hurt somebody’s feelings. And that’s not a bad thing. Spiritual friendship is different. You might begin by disclosing some area of struggle, not the deepest one in your life, but a significant one.
- Is there a level of empathy there?
- Do they listen well?
- Or do they only want to focus on talking about themselves?
- Are they wise and discerning in their response?
- Is there kind of a judgmental spirit attached to them?
- Do they honor confidentiality?
I have been going through a dry wilderness time in my soul these days. There is nothing in my life that is especially difficult. No hidden sins, no relational trauma, no professional failures. My health is good. My marriage is good. My Church is good. And yet my heart is lonely.
Facebook says that I have over one thousand friends, but that is a lie. Most of them have unfollowed me and I have unfollowed many of them.
I was driving across the great expanse of South Park towards Colorado Springs last week to meet a friend for breakfast. As I drove through that treeless and big sky valley a song came on my sound system by U2 called, Sometimes You Can’t Make it on Your Own.
Tough, you think you’ve got the stuff
You’re telling me and anyone
You’re hard enough
You don’t have to put up a fight
You don’t have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches
For you tonight
Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don’t have to go it alone
Maybe it was the emptiness of the road or the large Colorado sky; or maybe is was the ache in my heart, but when that song came on and I began to sing along, my eyes burned with tears and my voice broke.
I stopped singing and listened to the song wind down. When it was over, I said to myself, “I can’t wait to see my friend this morning.”
When I met with Joe, he didn’t necessarily give me deep words of encouragement or warm words of affirmation. We shared a meal together and it became a sacrament of grace for my soul. It was the simple act of me being aware of my ache and sitting with my friend at breakfast that thawed out my cold, cold heart.
I drove back across that mountain valley and felt the heaviness lift. My heart was strangely warmed, and I whispered to the friend who sticks closer than a brother, “Thank you, Lord. I am a blessed man.”
I’m not sure that anyone can have a great deep friend and be called poor. I’m not sure that anybody could lack having a great deep friend and be called rich.
There is nothing like the wonder of a friend.