By: Heather Strube
Coracle Spiritual Director
“Friendship forms. Friendship is a much underestimated aspect of spirituality. It’s every bit as significant as prayer and fasting. Like the sacramental use of water and bread and wine, friendship takes what is common in human experience and turns it into something holy.” Eugene Peterson
So, how many of us have already hit a wall? That is, in our pursuit of that well-intentioned goal or resolution that we dreamed about only two weeks ago when the calendar changed to 2017? Regardless of how you enter a new year, there are seasons and shifts in our lives when the pain of not changing exceeds the pain of remaining the same, and so with Good Intentions and Desire to Change as our Guides, we seek to control ourselves and/or our environments to achieve. We yearn to create time & space for quiet reflection; we aim to carve out time in busy schedules to spend more time with family; we try to make an extra effort to meet up for coffee with friends; or we make a plan to concoct healthier meals and exercise more in hopes that a new year will create a new me. Then life happens and we get off course, and we easily blame our Guides who led us astray—they weren’t good enough or strong enough or resilient enough to really help us. As followers of Christ, we can easily apply this mindset of goal-control-results to our interaction with God (we’ve told Him how to solve our problems and how we will be most happy), and if the results don’t pan out the way we envisioned, then we may respond in anger, guilt, shame, and feel utterly alone. Could it be that we wanted to go it alone, intentionally didn’t ask for help, or didn’t want to hear about blind spots from God or others? As I reflect on my own spiritual journey, I have discovered that anything good and beautiful in my life, including repentance, lasting transformation, and any life-giving movements towards wholeness have primarily come through the context and commitment to friendship. What would it look like to reframe 2017 through the lens of friendship and let God transform our ordinary experiences of vocation, work, relationships, goals, and resolutions into something holy?
In You Are What You Love, James K. A. Smith, describes how reforming our habits is a communal activity that is not meant to be tried and accomplished alone. He describes that when he tried to reform his own exercise and eating habits, he decided to use an app: “While using an app might seem like a very individualist endeavor, in fact it represents the accumulated wisdom of an entire community…. In a sense, the app is the conduit of a community.” To me, friendship is like that app. Pursuing God through friendship is an acknowledgement that I am designed to live, grow, and change with others; I need the wisdom of an entire community to pursue Him. So, I seek out a community of friends to receive and give wisdom along the journey. Friendship is a shout out that I am incomplete unless you, fellow pilgrims, are with me as I pursue Jesus. Friendship is the natural meeting place that provides the “accumulated wisdom of an entire community,” past and present, to help me run without entanglement (Heb. 11& 12).
My commitment to friendship has come in surprising and various forms at different seasons in my spiritual growth–a youth pastor, a professor, an older woman, a younger woman, a work colleague, university students, my spouse, my children, a friend that I met at the gym, a small group of like-minded parents desiring to live and parent well, and in more formal relationships of mentoring or spiritual direction. These relationships took time, space, work, forgiveness on both sides, patience, and commitment—they were not all dependent upon us coming from the same backgrounds, having similar traditions, sharing hobbies, or even liking the same foods—those friendships are wonderful to have as well. What was necessary for my spiritual growth, however, was to have others who shared the same desire to pursue Jesus in the daily ups and downs, through joys and celebrations, and in the midst of suffering and loss. These friendships have provided the much-needed encouragement for me to live faithfully—to rest in the truth that I am loved by God; to live attentively in the present moment; to remember that my happiness is not based upon my ability to control my circumstances; and most of all, to believe my friends when they point to the grace that is at work in my life when I am too blind to see it. I became a follower of Jesus in the context of friendship, but more importantly, I have continued to pursue Him with and because of my friends. I am not anonymous or alone in this journey of 2017, and perhaps if I risked a little more in friendship, I might be surprised of what I will encounter this year!