We possess each friend not less but more as the number of those with whom we share him increases. In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God. For every soul, seeing him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest.
—C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
Have friends. Live life in communion. Don’t live life alone. (A very bold statement coming from a COVID-19-quarantined 30-year-old celibate living by himself in a rectory, sitting alone in his room.)
We believe God is a radiant communion of three persons in one nature. God is the opposite of alone; he is the antithesis of isolation. The very names “Father” and “Son” imply an “other.” God is the perfection of and the ground for true, authentic friendship. Then why do we, who are made in his image and likeness, sometimes prefer the darkness of isolation? The post-COVID “new normal” encourages us to stay in our rooms and interact exclusively through screens and social media.
But this can’t be the new normal, and in my opinion, it never should be. During quarantine, a deep truth was revealed about the human person and our desire to live a fulfilled life. Many of us remained home, isolated, and alone, and we indulged our lower appetites—movie marathons, a Youtube vortex, and Netflix benders—but they left us unsatisfied and lifeless. Many of us discovered that we don’t actually desire to be alone, mindlessly doing whatever we want. Our hearts cry out for more! The immediate temptation of self-indulgence is attractive and comfortable, but the fruit it bears is undeniably fleeting and empty. We were not made to be comfortably alone; we were made for communion in friendship.
True friendship occurs when people share life and commune together. A life shared between friends illuminates a path in the heart of the other; it proposes a new way to live. Friendship kindles a fire in the heart, which leads to deep, abiding communion. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus reveals a deep desire to share his heart with his friends so that he may set the world on fire. And we, his friends, infinitely desire deep friendship with Christ so that our yearning hearts may be consumed by this fire.
All authentic friendships flow from and share in this primordial relationship. God, who is rejected by man, unflinchingly faces us at our worst and reveals the power and glory of friendship: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. . . . I no longer call you servants any longer . . . but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:13, 15–16; emphasis added). What more can Jesus give us? He has given us everything, even the very word spoken to him by the Father. This gift, his friendship, empties the darkest dungeons and introduces intimacy to the human heart.
J.K. Rowling created one of the great villains of our time, Lord Voldemort. He is a powerful, unstoppable wizard that was terribly dangerous, known by all, seen by none, and bad to the bone. Professor Dumbledore provides an important insight into the character Tom Riddle (aka Lord Voldemort): “I trust that you also noticed that Tom Riddle was already highly self-sufficient, secretive, and apparently, friendless? . . . He preferred to operate alone. . . You will hear many of his Death Eaters claiming that they are in his confidence, that they alone are close to him, even understand him. They are deluded. Lord Voldemort has never had a friend, nor do I believe that he has ever wanted one.” Voldemort had it all: education, mentors, peers, power, and unlimited potential. Yet his decision to reject the other led to a life of wretchedness and ultimately death. Even in a splendid castle, gifted with magical abilities, life without friendship is a labyrinth of darkness.
On the other hand, we have Josephine Bakhita. A nineteenth-century Sudanese-Italian saint who endured years of brutal and inhumane treatment as a slave. St. Josephine encountered the absolute worst of humanity, which literally left its mark—144 distinct lashes permanently branded onto her body! After twenty years of forced suffering, she was eventually led to freedom with Christ in Italy. Although Josephine was born into a life of darkness and misery, it was friendship with Christ that generated her true identity. And that relationship changed everything. When St. Bakhita was asked later in life how she could believe in a loving God who would allow her to experience such horrible evils, she simply responded: “Because my Master has the same scars I do.” God’s friendship with St. Josephine, in essence, re-created her entirely. Relationship redeemed her pain and transformed her life. Her circumstances did not dominate her story; Christ the Lord, and friendship with him, made all things new! Even in the deepest sufferings, the other can resurrect our lives and restore our broken hearts. Friendships can properly translate suffering into grace and provide hope when all else seems lost. While Voldemort was given the world but ultimately fell into darkness, St. Josephine soared from darkness into light through the glorious gift of friendship.
Many years back, my father and three of my brothers completed an event called the “Tough Mudder.” For those unfamiliar, this is a grueling, thirteen-mile obstacle course that includes walls to jump over, ledges to jump off, monkey bars to climb, and electrically-charged wires of doom to run through. Needless to say, it’s tough. But an essential part of the challenge is that you participate with others and complete the course as a team. All run, jump, attack walls, swim, stand on each other, cheer, hoist teammates up by the arm, yell, laugh, suffer, and finish together as a team. It would be hellish—not to mention impossible—alone.
It seems to me that friendship is an absolute essential in life. So many times in life, I’ve encountered an overwhelming hardship, an intellectual wall, an emotional swamp, or a physical test that has stopped me dead in my tracks. Alone, I’m done. I’ve had to climb on shoulders, lean on support, run together, and process things through conversation—all with the help of friends. If you have great friends, rejoice! It’s a taste of heaven. Delight in this goodness! God always provides what and who we need in our lives. And if you’re lacking in the friend category, maybe it’s a good time to reach out to an old acquaintance, or ask the Lord to send someone into your life. With the other, suffering is turned into joy, mourning turned into laughter, and death turned into victory.
What I need—and what I hope this essay communicates—are reminders about the joy of life lived in community. I want to relish the friendships and faces that God has given me. I need reminders about the fulfillment and support I find in family and friends. Sure, in its brilliance, the light of relationship can initially blind us, but the vision it affords later is heavenly.
Summer is quickly coming to a close. If you haven’t done it yet, live in communion and have some friends to bring into autumn and winter.