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This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants[d] any longer, because the servant[e] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another. –John 15:12-17
It was Marie’s kindness that brought us together as friends. We would run around her big yard as small children and laugh. She was the first best friend I can remember.
Then, we moved.
Marie and I said goodbye and promised to write each other. After a couple months of handwritten letters on pastel blue notebook paper our letters became more sparse and new friends came into our life.
Mary Jean and I supported each other through upper grade school. I had a grown up body a couple years before my classmates would reach puberty. I felt socially awkward as the tallest and most rotund girl in my grade school. Mary Jean was the smallest girl in my class. There is a picture of us standing next to each other, bodies completely opposite, but our loving friendship for each other shines through.
Later there would be Kelly and Megan who would come over to my house and swim in my pool. Our imaginations would keep us in the pool all day as we pretended we were synchronized swimmers and design entire water ballets. My favorite was the Triple Threat Water Ballet. Aspiring basketball players who thought maybe we could take our love of basketball and our love of the pool and mix them together. For our friendship, it worked.
There would be Adrienne, John, Brian, Brian, Crystal, and Katie who got each other through high school. Supported each other in hockey games, tennis games, student council and disagreements with parents. Later we would come back together when Brian died in our early 20s way earlier than any of us were ready to say goodbye to him.
Mindy and I would room together throughout college and support each other through love and becoming adults. Rachel and I committed to transformation through seminary. Her lack of ego and healing presence continue to root me today. Years later and life and love lived, it would be John and Heidi who I first called when my husband and I separated. Emily, Kerlin, Winnie, Nadia, Emily, Krista, Rachel, Leslie, Marla, Reilly, Beth, Brad, and many other friends have accompanied me along the journey and I (prayerfully) have accompanied them. I fear that in naming some I will hurt others who I have not named. That is far from my intent. I’m an extrovert and each one of my friends I love so very dearly. So dearly.
Friends are a gift from God.
My friend, Tena, got me into yoga where I began reconnecting with my body and my spirit, learning how to be a friend to myself. Learning how to grow in intimacy with whom God has made me and enjoy the pleasure of my breath and courage as I rise up in warrior 2 position. I’m still learning this.
My colleague and I are leading our church through a series on holy friendship. We are inviting our church community to look at the value of holy friendship. I couldn’t be more grateful for my friends this year. The friends who support and the friends who are gently honest and point out things that are difficult to look at about yourself, but because they love you, they go there with you. That’s real friendship; the ones who champion your best self. The ones who laugh and cry with you.
In John 15 Jesus looks at the disciples, people like you and me. People seduced by ego, people who struggled with self worth, people who had the best of intentions, and people who Jesus chose (just like how Jesus chooses us, today, something that I marvel at). He looked at his friends and said, “You are no longer my servants, but you are my friends. When you love, you participate in my friendship.”
Jesus, our savior, calls us friends. He makes himself vulnerable to us. Friendship is vulnerable. Friendship is the work of intimacy. God says I want to be your friend. That moves me and slows me down and opens me up and reminds me of the Thomas Merton prayer:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
You’ve known this all along. Some years ago, in Michigan, at the end of the World Communion of Reformed Churches assembly at Calvin, my English friend Jane Rowell was stuck in Grand Rapids for a few days. And she was feeling poorly too. I said to Jessica Bratt, do you know anyone whom we could connect my friend with? Jessica said, I know exactly who. And it was you, Jes.
Thank you, Daniel. I do remember that encounter and that time with Jane dearly. Hope you are well.
I haven’t known you for so long as Daniel, but the spirit of Christ who is my friend speaks through you, and so you always make me feel welcome, and I see that happen with others who come to know you. You are Jes, who fosters holy friendships. May all of us find that gift in ourselves.
James, that means a lot. What a name and blessing to be offered. May we all find that gift in ourselves, indeed. I know you have it. I see it. Blessings.