Who better to write an article on self-care and friendship than Michele Morin–a friend and sister Redbud writer who was part of my Four Gifts launch team, and who often writes about friendship on her blog, Living Our Days. Michele is a wife and homeschooling mum who reads, writes, gardens, and does life with her family on a country hill in Maine. Thank you for being my guest writer today, Michele!
Self-Care and the Rare Gift of Spiritual Friendship
“Hey, we have a lot in common! Maybe we should meet for coffee?”
Coming from Facebook, a place where “friendship” usually remains distant and virtual, this was startling content. Add to that a full schedule and a hard bent toward introversion, and there was every reason for me to log off, click on “unfriend,” and run like crazy. The risk of a face-to-face meeting with a total stranger is way outside my comfort zone, and yet the outcome, in this case, was a real-life friendship and a lesson in self-care.
Even with open laptops and a list of technical topics for discussion, when I meet with this particular friend, the percent of time devoted to “business” may be pretty low. Conversations meander as coffee cups are emptied and refilled. I almost always come away from face-to-face time with friends enriched and encouraged in a way that transcends even the satisfaction that would have come from spending that time hammering away at my to-do list. We gauge the temperature of each other’s hearts, and somehow our faith is shaped in the context of spiritual friendship.
In Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith, Janice Peterson has defined spiritual friendship as
learning to see the worth God has placed in each person and appreciating the gifts individuals have to offer. It’s being willing to share when you need to share and learn when you need to learn. It’s caring for the well-being of the other person, and letting [the other person] care for you as well. (page xviii)
Spiritual friendship is the gift we give to others that circles around and gives back with a greater return. It’s a form of self-care that recognizes that, at our core, we were made for relationship and deep connection by a God who is also relational. In a culture in which loneliness is the norm and competition is the default, genuine friendship is a rare gift.
Partners in Prayer
Three of us sat around the table, and the salad and soup were mere side dishes to the conversation that was going on. We chewed and chuckled, sharing our stories, but the culmination of that gathering was the time we spent in prayer, standing between sink and microwave, lifting one another God-ward with words that had been informed by time in deep conversation.
I can pray intelligently for the people I have met over a cup of tea. One of my friends accomplishes this through a “porch ministry,” an offering of hospitality in real time. The stories that are shared on the porch become grist for prayer and the foundation for meaningful connection. Here on the coast of Maine, porch conversations may require a jacket even in mid-July, but the good work of friendship always requires that we “clothe [ourselves] with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:14).
Clothed in love, true spiritual friendship requires sacrifice. There are times when it would be easier to pull the shades, ignore the phone, and hang a “closed” sign on our hearts, but the love that binds us together sees needs and learns the ways of love. By this same binding love, a true friend and prayer partner will understand the wise boundaries and the sacred pauses that are necessary in a supportive and open-handed relationship.
Another Pair of Eyes
In the throes of a comprehensive kitchen renovation, I was becoming overwhelmed with colors, textures, and materials, all requiring a decision, but all beginning to look alike to my weary brain. Gathering up the pile of samples—flooring, cupboards, counter tops–I took them to a trusted friend and asked the fearful question: “Do these look horrible together?”
At this point, I wasn’t looking for someone who would make me feel good about my decisions. I needed another set of eyes on my choices, and, if necessary, the faithful wounds of a friend who valued my good more than she valued my opinion of her. A true friend is committed to telling the truth, and spiritual friends are committed to each other’s growth. They will call out one another’s ugly-kitchen-choices AND their ugly-life-choices—even if this means addressing the inward sins that may not be visible to others: self-obsession, bitterness, and pride. We are fellow students in God’s classroom, and we are there, together, under His training.
Companionship in Trouble
A web of friendships can make God tangible and put flesh on the unseen. When God is silent and life is loud, the borrowed faith of a trusted friend brings perspective into the room. Why else would the psalmists have written so often with plural pronouns about testing and trouble? For example:
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place. (Psalm 66:10-12)
Together, spiritual friends endure the refining process, and, together, they come into “rich fulfillment,” either through celebration or lament. Community is absolutely necessary among those who believingly follow Jesus Christ, for when life is gritty, we need support, and when it is glorious, we need those who will celebrate with us.
Curating the Environment
Is spiritual friendship part of your self-care strategy?
Looking around at the people closest to you, can you identify someone with whom you could go deep in caring and encouraging?
If not, do you wish you had a community like that?
Begin today and start with YOU.
In your Bible study, when you’re out for coffee, when friends or family are gathered around your table, begin by being honest. Some will respond in horror. However, there will be those who will stop with their mug half way to their lips, turn their eyes in your direction, and murmur, “Me, too.” Curating the environment for honesty, prayer support, and meaningful conversation begins with one person who recognizes the value of friendship to a flourishing life and is willing to take the risk of going first.
Caring for ourselves and caring for others in the context of relationship involves serving and being served. Spiritual friendship accepts the gift of another’s perspective and allows it to deepen our own, for in this process of seeking meaningful connection, we reflect the image of God. Bridging the separation between heaven and earth, He made the first move, spread His arms wide, and invited us into relationship with words of commitment, acceptance, and love: “I have called you friends” (John 15:15).
Writing/Reflection Prompt: How is spiritual friendship part of your self-care?
Michele Morin reads, writes, gardens, and does life with her family on a country hill in Maine. She laments biblical illiteracy, advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes,” and finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She blogs at Living Our Days because “the way we live our days will be, after all, the way we live our lives.”
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