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.