The Way of Love

In the Mass readings right now we are working our way through my favorite epistle, the First Letter of St. John. It will play a key role in aspects of the book I’m working on. If there is one word that describes this letter it is love. The Beloved Disciple whose deep spiritual friendship with Our Lord is clearly seen in his writings and the one who took Our Lady into his home is clearly well versed in the school of love. He is the one Apostle who understands the full requirements of charity, which is why he stood fast at the foot of the Cross when everyone else fled.

We live in a culture that lives an understanding of love that is largely opposed to the example we find in St. John as he calls us to follow Christ. Love has been reduced to an emotion or a utilitarian pursuit of happiness. This means that once people have expended their use in our lives or those good feelings pass, we can promptly discard them. Our culture tells us love is about me and my desires. How does the person make me feel? Love is when we feel good about someone. Love necessarily dissipates through hardships or struggles in the relationship. If I’m not being completely fulfilled by you, then I will get rid of you.

This is not only true of romantic relationships, but all relationships in our culture. It is true of our friendships and our family bonds. We maintain what in reality are superficial connections to the people around us. They serve their use or give us some pleasure, but there is not depth or true sacrifice on our part. If the relationship becomes burdensome or difficult then we simply cast that person off and move on. The sad reality is that we all do it. The true understanding of love in all of its forms has been lost to us because of the philosophies of utility and will to power that undergird our society, as well as the innate existential fear we experience because of the Fall.

The message of Jesus Christ as explained to us through St. John’s First Letter is an antidote to this understanding of relationships. First, he explains the nature of God as the one who is love itself. God does not simply love and give love, His very existence is love. This is most exemplified through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross in order to bring about our redemption. Love is by its nature sacrificial. Deeds are required of us to love. It requires everything from us, which is precisely why we tend to flee from the demands of charity. We realize that love will hurt at some point. We will in fact have to watch our spouse, parents, friends, and people we love die one day.

We also come to understand through St. John that we are called to love one another fully. Christ Himself tells us this in the Great Commandments that we are to love God above all else and love our neighbor as ourselves. St. John’s First Letter is a deep meditation on these words. Christ does not tell us that we are to only love our spouses, families, and chosen friends. No, He goes so far as to tell us that we are to even love our enemies.

Now, to our culture, this is sheer madness. We are supposed to love people as long as it feels good and then move on. How are we supposed to love everyone including our enemies? We are supposed to hate and despise our enemies. In our Fallen state this feels much easier. Anger allows us to remain distant from the people who hurt us or who question our worldview. While righteous anger can be a great unifier, most of us battle to keep this unruly passion in check. If we examine our anger towards someone we often will see that it is predicated on vengeance more than justice. It’s a struggle because we are made for love and we want to be loved by the people we love, but often we aren’t, so we respond in anger through our hurt.

The radicality of Christ’s call to love our neighbor means that we will have to suffer in love. While loving the people who hurt, reject, betray, or persecute us does not make sense from our human perspective, there are often deeper spiritual realities at work. It is often the very people who reject us or who seek to hurt us who need our love the most. It may be that our love is given to them through prayer as is the case in those Christian witnesses who have prayed for their concentration camp guards who torture them the most or the saints who were persecuted by their own brothers and sisters, but pray ardently for them. The example par excellence of this is when Christ utters his cry of “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” There is so much we fail to see when we choose to hurt others.

A failure to love one another as we ought to is tied to a wide variety of factors in our lives, some outside of our control, and others a part of our Fallen nature. Many of us struggle to accept the love that is extended to us. We think we are unworthy of it or we do not know how to step out into vulnerability because of the inevitable pain that love will bring. Sin can hinder or make us incapable of authentic love, especially if we objectify people through that sin. And far too many people have fallen for the lie that love is simply about my happiness, feelings, desires, and wants. They have never been shown or taught what love truly means. It is to focus on the happiness of another, to will their good, and it is in emptying ourselves where we find our own ultimate joy.

The counterfeit versions of love that we see in our culture are an understandable diversion from the fear we all must confront in order to love fully. Fortitude is a requirement of love. For the Christian, we know that love is the Cross. This means God will require us to lay down our own lives for others each day as we learn to die to self. This is a painful process and one we flee from repeatedly. The constant mortification of our own ego is difficult. The Fall has made us believe that we are the center of the universe, but through grace we are made into a new creation and that requires purification and suffering. It is through this process that love is perfected and all fear is cast out. We come to find ourselves rightly ordered to God and others, which brings about our freedom. The perfecting love of God turns us into the fully alive human being we are made to be.

The ultimate irony for our culture–and for ourselves–is that as we flee from authentic love and accept empty shells of love, we find ourselves unhappy and lonely. Our culture is extremely lonely. For all of the instant communication at our fingertips, people are more lonely than ever. That is because love requires us to set our own wants and desires aside in order to give. We must become self-gift. A danger of social media is that it breeds narcissism. While it is good to keep up with people, it does not fully create the deep connections and friendship God is calling us to in our lives. We see teenagers sitting at tables with flesh and blood people while all staring at their phones. It’s much easier to placate the ego through attention and likes than it is to seek relationships with the people in front of us who will inevitably hurt us.

Everyone we love is going to hurt us. They are Fallen human beings just like we are, which means that their failings will cause us pain. We can’t avoid pain forever and it is in pain that we learn to love more deeply through the power of forgiveness. Like love, forgiveness is a choice we may repeatedly when others have hurt us. We often want things to be quick and easy and one-time choices. Both love and forgiveness require a repeated act of the will to continue to do what is good for someone and to forgive them when the pain they’ve caused us comes to mind. This includes those people who are no longer in our lives for whatever reason. Or even harder, those people who are still in our lives, but serious damage has been done. Forgiveness is a part of dying to self in love.

Our example, as St. John reminds us, is Christ Himself who shows us the way of suffering in love and the power of forgiveness. His sacrifice for us is truly radical. It is through sacrifice that we are transformed and conformed to Him. Growth in love requires suffering from us. In fact, even though we fear suffering, it is our experiences of pain in our relationships with people that lead love to deepen. Forgiveness deepens our love for others and it mortifies the ego. It is why Christ gave up His life for us and came back to offer forgiveness. He’s showing us the way of love.

Featured image taken from Wiki Commons.

When the Enemy Comes for Us and the Need for One Another

I have not been writing a lot the last couple of weeks. I’ve started various posts, but been unable to find the words to finish them. I hit a rather intense period spiritually in which I found myself taking assaults on all sides. I even ended up having two of the most horrifying demonic nightmares that I have had in years. I’ve had them on occasion for about 15 years or so, some truly terrifying. They will leave me weakened until I can figure out–through prayer–the best way to show strength in the face of the either outright lies in them or the horrifying battles I must contend with in them.

Most recently in one of the dreams I found myself in a dark wood with my daughter trying to beat snakes off of her that were biting her that then turned on me, grew in size, and started attacking my face as I struck them with a large stick. I know it was demonic because of the dream that preceded it, which I have no desire to write about. I had awoken myself from the preceding dream because I identified it for its demonic form, blessed myself, called on Our Heavenly Mother and then fell back asleep. That’s when I was met with snakes. The Enemy had revealed himself. Even though it was terrifying, I was glad to be able to clearly see who was attacking me.

We need to rest.

Last week I was emotionally and spiritually drained. I’ve spent the last few weeks writing and following the scandals, as well as helping people respond to the scandals in whatever way I can in my own parish. I entered into a 40-day penitential season in atonement for the sins of the Church. After entering into that period of prayer and fasting, the stresses of life started to pile up. My husband is showing signs of a flare up of his disease. My dad has been dealing with Shingles on top of his RA. We have had to figure out if homeschooling our daughter is the right fit for her. Spiritual attacks in various forms started to arise, culminating in these terrible dreams. By the end of last week, I was so battle worn that I felt like I could barely stand.

Sometimes these spiritual battles can be difficult to work through and discuss with other people. My closest, trusted holy friends do not experience things at the intensity level that I do, and neither does my husband. Don’t mistake me. I am not some kind of holy soul. Not even close. Most days even though I want to grow in holiness, I’m praying in God’s mercy for Purgatory. I’m selfish, proud, stubborn, quick-tempered, distracted, and too attached to aspects of this world. I’ve discovered weaknesses and darkness within me that I didn’t know existed, which is why when people start talking about how we are good people, I immediately think of the line in my own heart between good and evil. I don’t want to be some vague notion of good. I want to be holy and most days I’m not objectively good. I don’t mean that to be overly scrupulous, I mean to say that I’m not there yet. Someday by God’s grace I will be truly holy.

Engaging in Spiritual Warfare.

Sometimes I don’t think we are prepared by our leaders for the battles we will wage in the spiritual life. We focus on the good aspects, the consolations we receive, of which I have been blessed in abundance at times through no merit of my own. What we don’t hear about is when the Enemy comes for us. When he will launch a frontal and brutal assault against us, and at times, our spiritually fruitful relationships with other people. Since it’s not talked about, I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught that came at me beginning two years ago. I had to study spiritual warfare on my own in order to begin understanding some of the attacks I was taking spiritually and to understand some of the attacks I must endure and persevere through now. There will be weeks when I feel like I am low crawling across the battlefield with very little energy left.

It is only in the Sacraments and time of rest where my reserves are repleted. On those weeks, I will go to Mass as much as possible, even two times for the Sunday obligation. This past week required my dual attendance as well as a nearly four-hour kayak paddle on my favorite lake in the area. I needed to be able to sit on the water, watching the sunrise, and the fog slowly lifting over the Appalachian Mountains. I needed to leisurely paddle across the lake with one of my closest friends. I needed timelessness. No rush. No stress. I had a graduation party for myself to plan, but I didn’t think about it or worry about it while I was on the lake. I took the time I needed to recoup. I knew that I had just taken an intense beating and the glory of God’s creation would help bring me strength.

We all need that quiet time on the mountain with Our Lord. That quiet time happens in prayer anywhere, but most frequently for me that time is before the Blessed Sacrament or in God’s creation. There are times I quite literally need to be warmed by the sun and I will close my eyes and soak in as much light as possible because I know all of it comes from God. It is through this rest that I am then able to discern how to make a show of strength–which is essential in times like these–to respond to the attacks I am enduring. These periods of rest bring stillness, peace, clarity, and proper ordering back into the soul.

These are dark days for the Church. We are being asked to engage in spiritual combat with “powers and principalities” and if by God’s grace we are making progress or helping in the fight, the Enemy may take notice of our successes and come for us in a more personal way. We always battle temptations, some of which we never expect until we are faced with them and must seek God’s grace to overcome them. The spiritual life is not easy, nor is it a constant straight line. It is up and down and comes with many falls, failures, and disappointments. In the end, what matters is that we get back up. We look to Christ in hope and let Him help us to rise again and continue in the battle. We seek rest and peace in Him. He will bind our wounds and strengthen us for the next round because there will be another round and another and another, but with each new barrage we will find ourselves growing stronger and our trust and strength in Christ greater still.

Living Communion in the Church.

We also must come to rely on one another, to truly learn to love one another as Christ loves. Fraternal/sororal love between us and our brothers and sisters in Christ is a great gift and it is one of the great blessings we are given in this life. We are meant to lean on one another, to seek the face of Christ in others, and to draw strength from good and holy friendships within our communities. One of the most striking features of the Epistles of St. Paul is this deep love within the community. It is spoken of freely. It is something that is sorely lacking in our own communities.

This love is one of the many ways we enter into even deeper communion with God and one another. We must be willing to do battle in those relationships as we overcome our own selfish and sinful ways in order to make those friendships holy and pleasing to God. Holy relationships require more of us as we learn to die to self in them. These are friendships that are ordered towards Heaven and must constantly be re-oriented as we fulfill the requirements of our vocations and the demands of our daily lives. They require vulnerability and an openness to God’s working in our lives that may be different from our other relationships.

Love is demanding, which is why holy relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ require more of us than a friendship of utility. They also require courage in an age when true friendship is largely misunderstood and our culture calls us repeatedly to rugged individualism. We cannot possibly wage the spiritual battles required of us in this time of great moral and spiritual turmoil without deep bonds with one another that are grounded in Christ. We need one another. We are brothers and sisters in arms who are engaged in battle for the sake of Christ’s Church and for souls. Battles forge deep and lasting bonds between brothers and sisters. Let’s remember this truth as we find new ways to confront the great evil within the Church. Let’s look for good and holy relationships that allow us to see Christ in others and to walk confidently into battle arm-in-arm. By God’s grace, our reward will be great in the end.

Holiness: What Really Helped Me Leave Facebook, Again

I will admit that after I wrote about leaving Facebook again, I struggled to deactivate. That is until God knocked me upside the head. This is the “letter” I wrote to my Facebook friends, many of whom have been very important to me at various times in my life.

To My Dear Facebook Friends,
 
I just had one of those jaw dropping (to me) moments of clear prodding from God. They don’t happen often, so He’s clearly trying to get my attention. During Mass I was contemplating all of the distractions in my life and how I had allowed Facebook to really distract me again. I was thinking about the things I need to do to help Michaela, my husband, and me on the path to holiness, especially in light of this Sunday’s Gospel reading which focuses on eschatology. I then thought about how I wanted to do prayers and read to Michaela this evening (yes my mind wandered a bit…I am a work in progress. 😉 when we got home. The book that came to mind is a children’s book called The Weight of One Mass. I bought it at a Catholic bookstore in MT when I was visiting this past summer. I really enjoy it, but it is not one Michaela usually picks. We haven’t read it in months and I chose it every time we’ve read it. We got home and after dinner I told her to go pick a book for us to read together. I kid you not, she walked out with The Weight of One Mass. Okay, Lord. I hear you. It’s time to pull the plug on Facebook and other distractions in order to focus on holiness.
 
There’s a lot of turmoil and anger in social media right now. The world is Fallen and full of suffering. It has always been this way and will continue to be so until the Parousia (Second Coming). The only way we transform the temporal order and fulfill our ontological and eschatological end is holiness. We can argue, battle it out, demonize one another, scream, rant, rave, plot our vengeance, and stomp our feet, but it accomplishes nothing. People are so charged, angry, and blinded right now that reasoned pleas for civil discussion are ignored and vilified. People have quite literally lost their minds.
 
Evangelization in the post-modern era poses unique difficulties. As I pointed out earlier today, we are no longer evangelizing peoples who worship gods outside of themselves, such as elements of nature. Today’s gods are ourselves. We are in a battle against billions of people who think they themselves are god. That truth is set by the individual; dependent entirely on their feelings and emotions, not reason and rational thinking. This leaves us to the whims of our neighbors beholden to their desire to be worshiped no matter what they do. This is dangerous and destructive. Remember this years from now when this thinking fails in tremendous and tragic ways. This is the dictatorship of relativism and the impacts of nihilism on our culture. We are seeing it on full display now.
 
How do we reach people who worship themselves? Something Christians all need to ponder very seriously. The mission is the same no matter who is in power or what happens in the future. We are called to be saints, even if our family, friends, neighbors, etc. give us over to be fed to the lions. We live our faith in truth, charity, and hope. Holiness is infectious. If we fulfill our mission and work to become holy saints, then others will be attracted to the joy, peace, and love of God within us. Once we encounter the Living God, truly encounter Him, the moral issues fall into place because we see as God sees rather than how *we* want to see. It makes little sense to many now, but the Cross is hope. Sacrifice is freedom. I had to walk in tremendous darkness before I could fully see it and I am still only beginning to get the paradox. In reality we can only grasp in faith at paradox, but we still have a deep understanding through the eyes of faith.
 
I write about holiness and the call to sainthood a lot, even though I fail daily. But our parish priest’s Homily was exactly on this topic tonight. Too many “coincidences” not to be the Holy Spirit prodding me to relinquish my grip on my distractions. I need to focus on personal holiness and my family. I will check in again at some point, but sparingly. I will continue to pray for all of you. Good-bye for the present. Take good care of yourselves. Pax Christi.
 
Love,
Constance

Catholic Exchange: Reaching Out to the Suffering

One of the dangers of our weakness in the face of suffering, is the propensity to cave in on ourselves. We can turn inward and isolate ourselves from the people around us and the world. This is a natural response to pain. We want to lick our wounds and deal with the pain on our own. The problem with this tendency is that it cuts us off from others and our loved ones. Suffering and grief are not experienced in a vacuum. Oftentimes we overlook the people grieving beside us. We also can forget that suffering is not a unique experience. We are not the only ones who suffer, far from it. This is not to limit, deny, or ignore our own personal sufferings. Suffering is universal, but the experience of suffering is as varied as there are evils and pain in the world. There are people who are starving, victims of violence and war, cancer patients, those battling natural disasters, and yes, people like me who are grieving the loss of a child in miscarriage. It is important that we not isolate ourselves or the notion of suffering when grief and pain come our way. We must suffer, but it is important for us to avoid self-pity.

Suffering is often a missed opportunity. We live in a world that runs from suffering. This is of course logical, since suffering is to endure immense pain. The reality is, however, that we live in a Fallen world where suffering and sorrow are an everyday occurrence for somebody. Oftentimes that suffering is a shared experience, like miscarriage. There are many, even millions of people, who know the profound pain of loss. The opportunity in the face of this type of suffering, or any type of suffering, is to learn to minister to one another. In giving of ourselves, our pain is lessened. In giving away love, we are filled up. It is one of the great paradoxes of Christianity.

I thank all of you who took the time to write to me or post a comment on my recent piece on miscarriage, both here at Catholic Exchange and on my personal blog. Your comments were appreciated, but they also revealed to me that the suffering brought on through the loss of a child in miscarriage is widespread and often ignored. It showed me that by sharing my own pain, I am able to share in the burdens of others. This is one of the great lessons of suffering. If we turn inward and ignore others while resting in the delusion that we are alone, then our pain intensifies. We become cut off from others and from God. In suffering we are called to give of ourselves in order to lessen the pain of those around us. Grief cannot be taken away. It must be endured by the individual who has lost a loved one, but we can reach out to others and simply remind them that they are not alone. We make helping others too complex. We can’t take away another’s pain, but we can recognize it. All we can tell the grieving is, “I am so sorry for your loss” and continue to be a presence walking with them on their journey.

Read the rest over at Catholic Exchange.

The Peace in Leaving Facebook Behind

I have written multiple blog posts about my increased understanding that I needed to give up Facebook. I only rarely used Twitter and saw it as an overwhelming amount of information with absolutely no real human connection. It is a place to vent political ideology in 140 characters, and that largely includes Catholic writers too. Facebook was another animal. I deactivated my account and gave the password controls to my husband 2.5 months ago. I had given it up for months at a time, but always ended up getting sucked back in for some reason, so I told my husband to change the password and that I was done. I was addicted to Facebook. My overly empathetic personality pulled me too close to the train-wreck and I had to walk away.

A lot of people will say to use it in moderation, but I am not one of those people who can use it in moderation. In the beginning I would do pretty well, but before long I was sucked into conversations I didn’t need to be involved in like telling Pope bashers to knock it off and got to Confession. I am a stay-at-home mom, so I am pretty isolated for most of the week. I saw Facebook as adult interaction, but in reality it wasn’t any deep connection and it was not making me a better person. Facebook was an impediment for me on the path to holiness. My husband didn’t like me on Facebook, my daughter didn’t like me on Facebook, and I didn’t like me on Facebook.

Facebook in itself is a good. There are great gifts in technology and the material world which are goods; that does not mean they are good for everyone. Some of us have inclinations towards addictions with certain things whether it be food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, or social media. If we cannot control that addiction then we need to cut it out. If something is not helping us on the path to holiness, then we need to cut it out. It is not a condemnation of Facebook, instead it is an acknowledgement of my own personal weaknesses.

Here are somethings that have happened since I have freed myself from the clutches of Facebook.

  1. I enjoy the moment.
    Yep, that’s right. I am more present in each moment throughout the day. I am more available when for my daughter and my husband. I no longer spend hours on my phone. I don’t think of clever status updates through out the day to garner as many likes as possible. I only take photographs I truly want to save as opposed to those I would put up throughout the day on FB. Once again, I am more present in my own life. True story!
  2. I no longer worship myself on Facebook.
    Now this does not mean that I no longer battle pride, I do, daily. Facebook has the real risk of sinful pride. We post pictures of our families, our articles, or things of interest and can run into the tendency of either knowing better than everyone else or thinking we are better than everyone else. “Likes” are an homage to pride. The more likes the better we think of our pictures or updates. It’s gotten so bad that we post pictures of our meals and way too many pictures of ourselves. Vanity is rearing its ugly head in multiple generations right now through social media! If we are really honest with ourselves, we will see how pride is infecting us through our use of social media. This does not mean that there aren’t people who use social media in humility, but for most of us sinful beings, pride is a real battle and danger in social media, that is, social media centered around ourselves.
  3. I am a lot less stressed out about the state of the world.
    Let’s face it, social media is a train-wreck we cannot seem to look away from. I have been watching the news since I was 8 years old. Yes, 8. I have always been in the know and up-to-date on current affairs. It was wreaking havoc on me, but I didn’t want to admit it. I am a very empathetic person. I get sucked into the evil of the world and it is compounded by own experiences as a relief worker during the 9-11 aftermath. Certain personalities cannot handle an onslaught of the evils of the world. My leaving social media does not mean I think we should put our heads in the sand. We should be aware of current affairs, but social media is obsessed and addicted to it. We should know about it and then get on with the business of evangelizing the world and serving others in charity and truth. Obsessing and talking about current events incessantly is not evangelizing or living the Christian mission. We have to get up from our computers and serve. I think for people who struggle with anxiety and depression massive social media use is very bad and exacerbates symptoms. I say this as a fellow depressive and anxiety sufferer.
  4. I have time for important things in my day.
    We are obsessed with our smartphones! Our smartphones are a major impediment and distraction in our day. As an experiment I suggest you write down every time you go on your phone to check social media. The number and amount of time you are on your phone, tablet, or computer will be stifling. That is time we could be spending with our kids, spouses, reading books to help us in the spiritual life or even just great books, we could be writing a novel, helping people in need, focusing on a hobby we enjoy, going for a walk to enjoy God’s creation, and praying more. There are so many better things we could be doing with our time. I do those things now that I am off of Facebook for good. We have to decide which good is greater and chances are social media is not the greater good in our lives.
  5. My life is quieter.
    I know this probably terrifies some people. It terrified me when I was contemplating the final deactivation. For the first few days it’s difficult. You might feel disconnected at first, but then you come to enjoy the quiet and lack of needless distraction. You will find more peace and focus. Is it the solution to all of your problems or mine? No, but it’s a step towards peace and real connection with God and other people.
  6. I can focus on the real relationships in my life.
    If we are truly honest with ourselves we will admit that social media is not authentic connection with other people. It is the illusion of real connection. In reality it does not require any of us to step into the real lives of our Facebook “friends”. We might pray for them and interact occasionally, but we are not sitting by hospital beds, bringing needed food, money, or items to them. We are not there to hug them or have a real conversation. We do not have to truly step into the Crosses of those friends. As Christians, this is an essential element of authentic friendship. There are countless people in our lives today who need our love and support. We meet people and have them in our lives for a while, but then we move on whether physically or developmentally. I am not the person I was in high school and I barely remember most people I went to high school with, or even served with in the Navy. I wish them well, but a superficial Facebook connection does little towards our real call to charity.

There are people who use social media in moderation. I applaud those people, but I think we should truly examine our consciences in light of our social media use. How often do pride, anger, envy, lust, etc. boil up inside of us as we use Facebook? Are we truly using it to connect with other people on a real level or using it as a distraction from our own pains, monotony, or loneliness? Is it helping us grow in holiness? Are we addicted to Facebook, honestly? How are the relationships in our lives, our spouse, children, etc.? Does Facebook impact those relationships in a negative way? Do we spend our evenings on our phone or tablet while our family members sit in the same room with us doing the same thing?

We are made for happiness, greatness, and holiness. If Facebook is not leading us to sainthood we need to decide if we can cut back or cut it out. I can honestly say that I don’t miss it at all and I can see the world around me much more clearly. I pray for the people I have known and those I connected with on Facebook through Catholic circles, but my vocation calls me to people placed right in front of me.  Remember the issue isn’t that Facebook is evil, it is about whether or not it is a greater good in our lives. Pax Christi.

I am not the only crazy Catholic writer to abandon Facebook. Check out Matthew Warner’s “radical” piece on leaving FB.

 

Authentic Friendship

 

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Lately I have been contemplating the nature of friendship: authentic friendship. I have lived all over. Being a Veteran, I have meet a lot of different people from all over, including from my time in England. I have discovered over the years that the majority of friendships are tied to circumstances. Those friendships seem to be a necessity. It is a, “We are all in this together”, type of situation. That is very true in the military.

I can honestly say that I have only had a handful of real and long lasting friendships. As I thought about this topic, one thing struck me about those friendships: They all encompassed the Cross. Those friendships that have had the greatest depth were when the two of us went head long into the depths of pain and suffering. There was no fear, worry, or pride. We may not have even been able to understand fully the other person’s pain, but we walked together no matter what.

I think the first time I realized this was about 9 years ago when I was living in England. I had been diagnosed with delayed-onset PTSD from my 9-11 relief work and ended up checking myself into a hospital for inpatient treatment. My friend, Nicky (who I hope reads this. Your birthday pressie is in the mail!!!), took over my affairs and she would drive down to London, nearly a 6 hour drive once or twice a week to visit me. She came after work, she came on weekends, it did not matter. In the month that I was there, she was always there for me. She is a British civilian. She did not know exactly what I was going through. That scared a lot of people, but not her. She loved me and stayed with me through the whole thing.

Real friendship requires vulnerability. A willingness to let go of the masks we wear out of pride, and let others see us as we are: works in progress by the grace of Christ. Friendship, just like any other loving relationship, requires great courage. Pain causes fear. In our sin, our natural inclination is to run from pain, but friendship means running head long into it. It means spending the day with someone whose anxiety is off the charts after successive miscarriages. Or hugging someone who is crying in agony. It means listening to another person’s heart as they bear all that they carry. It means forgiving and moving forward, when disagreements occur.

Friendship is a great gift that God gives us along the journey. How wonderful it is to meet someone and say, “Me too!”. It is a chance to move past the mundane and superficiality of our daily lives. There is a deep longing in our hearts to know people as they are, but sin cuts us off from each other. Friendship is a foretaste of Heaven, where superficiality is left behind and we see people transfigured in the brilliance of Christ, where we are made whole.

With all of this in mind, I would challenge all of us, to go deeper into friendship. To conquer fear and misunderstanding. Friendship does not always require empathy; sympathy is enough. It does require summoning our courage as we go deeper into Love. It means serving, even when we are busy with everything else. Just like family, friendship means prioritizing. Are there friendships in your life that may have grown stagnant? Do you keep people at arms length at times, like I do? How can we better serve the people in our lives, as Christ calls us? Do you desire deeper friendships? Friendship is a great blessing. Let’s let those people bless our lives fully. God bless.