Spiritual Friendships — The Elixir of Life


Gal pals Thelma & Louise. Good film but not exactly the kind of friendship I’m talking about here.

The Old Testament book of Sirach is filled with many nuggets of wisdom for almost every aspect of daily life. The entire book of Sirach is really like a trusted friend, a resource we go to when seeking advice and counsel. In the following from Sirach 6:5-17, we hear a few words of wisdom about friendship.

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds. Sirach 6:14-16).

… sturdy shelter, a treasure, beyond price, a life-saving remedy … In some translations, that last line reads, “A faithful friend is an elixir of life; and those who fear the Lord will find him.” Let that one soak in for a bit. If an elixir is a life-saving medicine, then spiritual friends are like life-saving medicine, too. What a beautiful gift!

So who are your elixirs?

Since “retiring” from the workforce to care for my young children, I’ve spent a great deal of time pondering spiritual friendships. If I had to pick one word to describe that first year of transition between being a working out-of-the-home mom to an at-home mom, the word is loneliness … profound loneliness (okay, two words!). To attack these feelings of loneliness, I started to “play the field” in a stay-at-home mommy play-the-field sort of way by going on playdates, taking initiative and getting involved in community and parish activities, signing up for library programs and activities through the YMCA. And I did my best to befriend the other moms involved in those programs, and I met some very nice women and had nice chats. Yet I was still very lonely and felt empty. Remember how Seinfeld claimed his shows were about nothing? Those “friendships” were really about nothing as well.

Today’s reading from Sirach also address this point:

Let those who are friendly to you be many,but one in a thousand your confidant. (Sirach 6:6)

I started to recognize there is an important distinction between “acquaintances,” of whom I had many, and “true friends,” of whom I had few. My heart longed for more than just chats about breastfeeding, why leggings aren’t pants, recipes for how to use up that bulk bag of quinoa, and results from last night’s episode of The Voice (not that any of that is bad, mind you).

In The Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales writes extensively on what he calls “true spiritual friendships,” going so far to call friendship a “little” or relational virtue. He writes, “If men share false and vain things, their friendship will be false and vain; if that which is good and true, their friendship will be good and true … Friendship which is based on unreal or evil grounds will itself be hollow and worthless.”

Put that way, yes, many of those friendships with the women from the playdates were rooted in fluff … empty stuff. My heart longed for a spiritual friend to sit by my side, to together look straight ahead toward Jesus, and talk about our faith, families, and vocations. And we need spiritual friendships because, unlike my favorite happy monks at Conception Abbey that I’ve met through Joel’s deacon formation, we the laity don’t live in a well-ordered monastery. The road we travel, the life in our domestic monasteries, is often rugged and slippery and we need sacred friendships to steady our way, to fill our tanks, to encourage, help and lead each other to do good deeds.

But how do we get it? What do we need to do to gain just one spiritual friend? Well, three biggies:

1) Orienting ourselves towards Jesus is a great start. You know what they say, if you want a good friend, be a good friend. Be a good friend with Jesus first. How much time have you wasted with Him lately?

2) Ask the Lord, I begged actually, to bring us good, holy friends. Make it a daily prayer. And for the friends already in your life, make sure they are a fundamental part of your prayer life. Pray for them daily, too.

3) Ask for the intercession of a few saints. I developed a “board of directors” made up of saints and asked them to guide my way, to befriend me and coach me how to live.

Somehow by striving to live a Christian life, by allowing the Holy Spirit to take charge, God smiled on my initiative and is now slowly gifting me with some really awesome spiritual friendships. Not only has this happened by way of social media through the connections I’ve made with women across the country because of this blog, but the really cool thing is God has placed some lovely, holy women in my life who live right here in my city. And it is critical to find spiritual friendships nearby. No matter how helpful social media has been in helping me find and develop friends, there is still a need for flesh-to-flesh communication and interaction. Certainly friendships may grow through online correspondence, but in one way or another, we must be present to our friends. For if Jesus came in the flesh, if the Word become flesh, then so also must our faith and friendships be in the flesh.

Little by little, our spiritual friendships have the power to become apostolic. That’s deep, sure. But think about it this way … a spiritual friend will lead you toward Christ, you then help other friends be reconciled or converted and grow in the life of the Church, those friends then go forth and do more of the same. Collectively, we evangelize and sanctify our communities. Could spiritual friendships be the key to the transformation of our culture?

One last thought, from St. Francis de Sales, “…Perfection consists not in having no friendships, but in having only those which are good, holy, and sacred.”

Come, Holy Spirit, send us good, holy and sacred friendships, for on that, so much depends.

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  1. Theresa says

    A good, deep friendship takes time to develop so the virtue of patience is a good thing to work on while looking for that spiritual friend. I have discovered that spiritual friendships come into my life at times when I need a boost and that friendship does not end, no matter what.

  2. says

    In doing #2, God has given me some very dear friends. The summer before my junior year of college, I longed for a Christian friend that summer/at work. So, I asked for one. After checking out my work space and not finding “the one,” I learned that there would be one more person joining the crew. The first time we met, she was reading ‘The Screwtape Letters’ by C.S. Lewis and I knew that God had answered my prayer. I took that as “my sign” and went straight to work being her friend. Luckily, she (Heather) is extremely friendly, welcoming and warm.

    Interestingly enough, her roommate became my second “prayed-for” friend. While I had met her through Heather, we hadn’t really developed our own friendship. The year after graduating college was a really hard transition. I desperately needed friends and someone to ‘show me the way’ to be single and still love life. I felt very alone and asked God for a friend…and Andrea happened to be available that evening, when I needed a friend most. She has been an incredible blessing to me – and did indeed help point me to Christ so that I could rejoice in life.

    In fact, Lisa, you were an answer to prayer, too! When I was searching for a job, I had asked God for a job that would allow me to live in Ames, work with high school students in an educational setting, with at least one Christian. That was you! I still remember one of our first conversations when we were talking about youth & their future and you said, “What about the state of their souls?” …and I knew that I had a friend – and was where I’d asked to be. :)

    • says

      Excellent commentary, Jess! Thank you for sharing. As for that comment I made way back then … certainly one from the Holy Spirit because I do not remember it one bit. :) Thank you for taking me back.

      So have you read The Screwtape Letters? C.S. Lewis also writes about friendship in his book The Four Loves. “We picture lovers face to face but friends side by side; their eyes look ahead.” Love that quote!

  3. says

    Whoa. I just finished reading the daily readings with the kids and was coming down to the computer to email you and the other 2 lovely ladies I was blessed to spend the day with yesterday to say, “Did you read the first reading today?!?!?! How appropriate for today!” But then I got side-tracked in checking facebook and saw this post. Holy Spirit moment right there. Love you!

    • says

      So timely, isn’t it? This post started out to be … “So let me tell you about MY day yesterday with some awesome spiritual friends!” Then I felt it sounded all too … “my day rocked, yours sucked!” So I stuck with the wisdom of Sirach. :)

      Thank you for a beautiful day, yesterday. Can’t wait to see how #2 shapes up. Love you, too!

  4. says

    Thank you for this post, as always. I just found out my spiritual friend is moving across the country! Sooooo sad right now, but know that I am blessed to have her in my life still!

    • says

      I am so sorry to hear this, Fran! I’ll pray for you during this transition. Thank goodness we live in this high-tech age, though, huh? Maybe you two can schedule regular Skype dates? Grab a cuppa whatever you fashion and sit and chat for an hour.

  5. says

    Beautiful! I’m so humbled and overwhelmed by the blessings my spiritual friendships (in person & through social networking/blogging) bring me on a daily basis. I hope we can make that zoo play date happen someday and meet in person, my blogging, CatholicMom spiritual friend! :)

  6. says

    Thanks, Denise! And also thank you for reminding me about that book. I heard the authors interviewed by Tony Rossi on Christopher Close-up several weeks ago, and have been meaning to get a copy of the book since. Sounds like a good summer read for sure!

  7. says

    Spiritual friends are so important! And I don’t think we can make them by trying to “make friends” in the usual way, but by prayer, and by going through our spiritual practice side by side. Nobody is lacking, but some people are going to resonate with us more than others.


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