Can We Be Spiritual Friends?

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.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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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34 thoughts on “Can We Be Spiritual Friends?

  1. This is beautifully said Michele. I’m going to revisit your words and share some of them with my ladies Bible study. Thank you April for hosting Michele – she has such a way with words and perfects squeezing humor into much truth. For me, it’s important for my spiritual growth and mental well-being to have friends who are like minded – sisters in Christ. Michele is one of those dear friends. ~ Abby

    1. Thank you for stopping by, Abby – it’s a pleasure to meet a friend of Michele’s here, and yes, her post is beautiful and well worth revisiting. I’m glad you plan to share it with your Bible study group. And thanks again, Michele, for being my guest!

  2. You have spoken a lot of truth here, Michelle. True friendship and fellowship are indispensable to a living faith. I have been blessed with those with whom I can be open and honest and know it will not make a difference in our relationship. For me, It is usually over the phone, but it is quality time nonetheless. I am so thankful to the Lord for giving me these friendships to care for, to care for me, and to keep me on my toes, spiritually speaking. God bless.

    1. Sounds as if you have some very precious friendships. Like you, I’ve spent a good many hours on the phone building relationships, particularly when my children were all very young. And we DO need each other, particularly for “keeping us on our toes!” I’m grateful for the younger women in my life who challenge me with their enthusiasm.

  3. My reaction to the first scenario would have been the same as yours, Michele! Thanks for these reminders that we need friendship in our own lives as much as we need to extend friendship to others.

    1. That opening scenario is such a great reminder that friendship takes risk–the risk of reaching out, the risk of being vulnerable. Thanks for taking the risk of leaving a comment, Barbara!

    2. Oh, good.
      It’s always so reassuring to hear a “me too,” Barbara! While it’s important to have healthy boundaries so we don’t over-extend ourselves on any front, I have had a tendency to set mine very high. I’m learning, and God is patient . . .

  4. It’s good to be reminded to make the effort to reach out and take time for those relationships that are most precious. Friendships are things to treasure.

    1. Absolutely! And we’ve become very private and very task-oriented, I think. It’s hard to quantify what’s accomplished over coffee with a friend, but our souls need permission to take the time needed for knowing another person and being known by them.

  5. Self-care is a priority in my life. We need to take care of ourselves if we want to fully show up for others. With that said, I have zero spiritual friends in real life. What I mean by that is I have a spiritual friend in Delaware that I met online, however, it’s been a while since we’ve connected and we have yet to meet in person.

    Outside of her, I don’t have a spiritual friend that I can invite over or say let’s meet up for a bite etc and it’s not because I don’t show myself friendly, no, it’s because women are horrible to each other with their competitive jealous spirits. It’s awful the way we treat each other. I’m constantly reaching out and making myself available to connect with others. My constant prayer is that God would send me at least one genuine spiritual friend.

    1. Thank you for sharing, Yvonne. A spirit of competition and jealousy can certainly kill a friendship, and I’m sorry you’ve experienced that. In Michele’s title, she refers to spiritual friendship as a “rare gift”–it’s just not found everywhere or with everyone we meet as you’ve discovered. Maybe re-connecting with your friend in Delaware might help? and in the meantime, I join in your prayer for a genuine spiritual friend that you could meet in person.

    2. It is very sad when competition and insecurity get in the way of true friendship, Yvonne! Trusting along with you for someone nearby and one in spirit to come into your life. May it be so!

  6. This is such a beautiful post. Spiritual friends are such a precious gift from God. I need to make more effort to be present, and available, listening with my heart. Thanks for so much encouragement!

    1. Oh, Cheryl, this business of staying “present and available” to friends is one of my big challenges, so I’m taking it on in 2019. My children are growing up fast, and, therefore, need me in different ways that actually leave me free to be more involved with friends. Do you find that your home has a force field around it that keeps you there whether you need to be or not? I do! I can always find a reason (an excuse?) to spend time alone, but I’m arguing with myself more effectively these days!

  7. Love this, Michele! I have bestie who lives in PA. Outside of her I don’t spend much time cultivating spiritual friendships, but that definitely needs to change. Thank you for giving me some food for thought.

  8. Those long-term, long distance friendships are so precious, but I think you are right in assessing a need for someone close by that you can welcome into your home and meet in person for regular accountability.

    1. Tiffiney, I love those long-term friendships where we always seem to pick up right where we left off even if we haven’t seen one another for a while. But I appreciate Michele’s encouragement to spend time on relationships close at hand, and that’s definitely good food for thought.

  9. I feel so very blessed by the in real life soul friends God has placed in my life. Which is no small thing considering how often we have moved. It was my biggest concern moving to a non-military town, but He has provided just the right women for me here, too! Such a great piece, Michele!

    1. I love hearing that, Liz, because I have heard other women say how hard it is to keep finding new friends after every move. You should consider writing a resource for women who are either in the military or ministry or other fields where serial moves are part of the landscape. It sounds as if God has especially gifted you in forming friendships and just plain being willing to start over.

      1. What a blessing to find such friends along the way, Liz! I second Michele’s suggestion of putting together a resource–that would be such a valuable help especially for those who face the challenge of multiple moves.

  10. This post touches a tender place in my heart. Over the past two years I’ve extended multiple invitations to meet with various women in an effort to water the seeds of a hoped-for-friendship. Not one of these dear women reciprocated or stayed in touch and it seems my attempts to build relationship were useless. I’ve prayed for a spiritual friend for several years, but it’s seems as though life’s busyness hampers community.

    1. How sad when life’s busyness gets in the way of building genuine friendships, Tammy, especially so because we have been created for community. I admire your perseverance over the last years, and pray that there might yet be growth from the seeds you’ve been sowing. And may God bring comfort and healing to your tender heart.

    2. I admire your tenacity! Some crowds are just tough to break in to for whatever reason. It’s that way here in coastal Maine. Even though I was born in Maine and have lived here most of my life, I’m not from THIS PART of Maine . . .
      One thing that has helped me to break the ice in a couple of different contexts is working alongside other women. Volunteering to sell the brownies, serve the casserole, clean the windows, direct the VBS, call the list of parents, etc. really has helped. And friendship has eventually happened, but it took time. There may be an element of “We may as well get used to her because she’s not going away” to it, but Hey! It’s working!

  11. I so agree, Michele! I cannot begin to tell you how much my friends have helped me to refuel and gain perspective in my life. It seems like a lot of bloggers are talking about self-care today, and this is one that is very important to that task as well. I will be pinning and am grateful for April sharing your words with us today!

    1. Sometimes we need that little bit of “borrowed faith,” right? I do, too, and it’s easy to get so busy that we put relationships on the back burner.
      It’s been great to share thoughts on self-care here at April’s place!
      Thanks for your good thoughts today!

  12. I really appreciate the conversation that’s been happening in response to your post, Michele – the glimpses of treasured friendships, the challenges of distance and busyness, how friendship sometimes eludes us in spite of our prayers and perseverance. But the journey isn’t over yet, and I’m glad we can encourage one another.

    1. It’s been encouraging to have this conversation. We all seem to affirm the need for friendship as part of a flourishing life–and as you have said in your lovely book, sometimes self-care is a matter of just doing what we know we SHOULD do for ourselves.
      I’m a work in progress here, so I’m sure I’ll be continuing to process this! Thanks for the open door of welcome to think out loud in community.

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