Half-way through my fifth grade year my family moved to a new town. As if middle school isn’t difficult enough, if you add to the mixture a father who is the school superintendent, an introverted personality, and a fear of rejection and betrayal, you get a sense of the perfect storm I faced when trying to make friends.
Authentic friendships growing up were always challenging for me, and I often found myself feeling lonely and rejected.
I wish I could say that as time has passed my difficulties establishing friendships have abated. However, having moved three times to new cities in my adulthood, I continue to experience those lingering fears regarding friendships every time my family finds itself in a new community. In each new setting I am again invited to open my heart in vulnerability and authenticity. As I have grown into adulthood, motherhood, and marriage my one constant petition has been that the Lord provide solid, holy friendships for me. The Lord has not disappointed, and I am forever grateful for those with whom I have the privilege and blessing of sharing friendship.
S. Lewis once wrote that “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
A perfect encapsulation of my own desires for friendship, Lewis points to the fact that shared vision and mutual experience form the basis of authentic, life-giving friendship. If I were to ponder what attributes should construct the foundations of friendship, I would first say that it is necessary for my relationships to be rooted in the common desire for sainthood. The shared aspiration for sainthood creates a fertile environment for virtue to form and be nurtured. Often, growing in virtue is a painful process in which the weeds of vice must be plucked.
Friendship should provide a safety net for this to occur.
This safety allows friends to be mutually encouraged, supported, and loved while simultaneously challenged to become better persons. In this garden of friendship, correction can be freely given and lovingly received, with trust that the intent of the other is sanctification. In my best friendships, flaws are met with love, understanding, and mercy, not judgment, criticism, and contempt. Only when we are mutually focused on sainthood can we guide each other towards this growth as friends.
With holiness as our goal, we can proceed confidently in developing authenticity and vulnerability in friendship. These characteristics are essential if we are to truly understand the mutual experience of the other. As C.S. Lewis so eloquently stated, it is in this realization that genuine friendship is formed and sustained. Often we understandably hide our authentic self as many of us have likely felt the sting of rejection and betrayal in a friendship.
In veiling ourselves, we block true connection and often feel loneliness.
None of us truly desires to be alone or to feel the loneliness of not being able to share our stories, hopes, dreams, struggles, and joys with another person. Yet practicing authenticity and vulnerability demands courage. Boldness is needed to step out in faith not knowing how we will be received. Nonetheless, it is in that leap that we provide the space for friendship to be born. When we do, we often find we are not so alone in our experiences, and we are surprised to learn that others share a similar background.
Inspired by Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, I pray that all of our friendships lead us “to the Heights.” I hope we can aim to lead one another to our heavenly home while still savoring the fruits of blessed friendship here on Earth. While this type of friendship may come at a cost, I do not doubt the luscious fruit that will be born of authentic friendship with shared vision and experience.