“Friendship is an adventure and a journey that changes us over time.” That is the first line of a group paper the folks in my class on Spiritual Friendship are writing. It is an interesting project. They have been a good group, they are working hard and I respect that effort. So instead of the normal classroom assessment protocol, i.e. exams, we are in the process of writing together a paper defining and detailing what the students have learned about friendship.
The focus is on the nature of friendship. This is the simple question, what is friendship. Most people could offer an answer to that question, but I am confident the students could add some depth and breadth. They have centuries’ worth of thinking from other luminaries of the past. They can cite Aristotle and Augustine. They have read people like Cicero and a medieval monk that virtually no one has ever heard of, namely, Aelred of Rievaulx. Aelred wrote a magnificent little book called, Spiritual Friendship.
The students have thought a great deal about what we would call the process of friendship. How does friendship develop? Finally, they have quite clear answers to the question, so what do people get out of friendship? Again, most people in the world could offer a general answer to this question. But the students can add very insightful details to their answer.
With this in mind, let’s return to the opening sentence of this inspirational reflection, which is also the beginning of the student paper. Friendship is an adventure. Friendship is also a journey. Those two words---adventure and journey---are wonderful metaphors to describe the process of friendship. To see friendship as an adventure is compelling. Who is not up for an adventure?
The language of adventure is tinged with anticipation and excitement. Some adventures have elements of risk. So does the friendship relationship. As friendships develop, we have to risk some things. We risk sharing elements of our lives. We risk being misunderstood or unappreciated. In effect, we risk love. Friendship is a “love word.” All the classical languages, like Greek and Latin, use a “love word” to mean friendship. Only in English does this link go missing. So friendship is a risk of love. That is why it is an adventure.
It is also a journey. Friendship is a trip! The journey of friendship is a journey of relationship development. No one can know for sure in the beginning whether the friendship will actually get somewhere. There is always the possibility that any particular friendship will end in a wreck. Or friendships get lost and never get to any significant destination. When the journey of friendship takes us to good places, then it is a super trip. When the friendship wrecks, it is a lousy, sour experience.
The last part of the opening line of the students’ paper is a daunting claim. The adventure of friendship changes us over time. That is a powerful claim, but I believe it is absolutely true. In fact, I would suggest that a friendship that does not change you over time is not a true friendship. It would be more an acquaintance or something like that. Since friendship is a “love word,” I argue that you cannot be in a friendship without that friendship changing you over time.
In fact, I think there should be a sign hanging over the entrance to friendship that says, “Do not enter unless you are willing to be changed!” In deceptive ways those words---friendship will change you over time---sound benign or relatively harmless. I doubt that many of us enter friendships with the awareness that true friendships will change us over time. But that should be a very good thing.
It is a good thing because authentic friendships---since they are “love relationships”---change us in every good way that love always changes someone. To have a friend is to be loved more and more into the good person that we have the capacity to be. To have this kind of friend is to have someone who cares about me deeper and more deeply into the person God wants me to be.
Indeed for me, friendship is the key to the Spirit. Jesus knew the connection. I love that wonderful passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus tells those disciples, “I don’t call you servants; I call you friends.” Surely this call was a call to adventure. It was an invitation by Jesus to journey with him. It would be a journey of love. Of course, there were risks involved. But oh, the potential and the promise of such a friendship!
I am confident the Divine Spirit continues to call us into this kind of relationship. It might be with the Divine Self. It makes perfect sense for me to understand myself as a friend of God. But it also might mean that I am called into a friendship relationship with some of God’s finest---you and others like you. If you are a true friend, then you can love me into the person God wants me to be. And that, my friend, is the adventure of friendship!