Extra Virgin :: What Friendship Isn't
We’ve been talking about intimacy lately—the fact that God has given us many different avenues to experience intimacy, all of which are meant to point to the joy that can be found in intimacy with God himself. A few weeks ago I wrote about true friendship, and that it’s often about discovering a deep connection with another person, a person who gets you as no one else does.
Today I want to discuss what true friendship isn’t. Obviously, it’s not easy to find true friendship in the first place, but often friendship is either ruined or misunderstood on a fundamental level. When you find someone you understand and who understands you, it can be tempting to become enamored with that friend, concentrating more on the fact that you have a friend than on the friendship itself. But C.S. Lewis writes that this isn’t actually what friendship is about ::
If, at the outset, we had attended more to [her] and less to the thing our friendship is “about”, we should not have come to know or love her so well. You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in her eyes as if she were your mistress: better fight beside her, read with her, argue with her, pray with her.
I think what he’s saying is that Friendship isn’t like Romance…it won’t be any good if you focus all your attention on that person. It’s better to focus your attention on the thing that connected you in the first place: the conversation, the hobbies, the ideas that you love to participate in together. It’s a very special kind of love in a friendship because you don’t need each other.
This reminds me of something I read in the remarkable book Families Where Grace Is In Place. It presents the idea that relationships should be grounded in the knowledge that we don’t need each other. We only need God. I don’t need my friend in order to be happy or holy. And my friend doesn’t need me in order to be happy and holy. Once either of us works from that assumption, the friendship will descend into disfunction.
Friendship is one of the few places where we approach each other with no strings attached. Parents have enormous responsibility to their children. Wives have enormous responsibility to their husbands (and vice versa). But friends aren’t obligated to each other…at least they shouldn’t be. You don’t need each other, but you like spending time with each other, and from that can spring an incredibly rich and satisfying intimacy. (Incidentally, isn’t it amazing that Jesus calls us friends?)
Anyway, I think there are a number of counterpoints to this argument and I’m interested in starting a conversation on what friendship is and isn’t. What makes a good friendship? Do you need it to be about something or can it stand on mutual admiration alone? Should friends need each other or is neediness the poison of friendship? I’d love to hear what you’re thinking!