One of the spiritual practices I do every year is select a “word” for the year. Starting in November or December, I asked the Holy Spirit to give me a “word” to help me grow in faith and my relationship with God.
I’ve found this to be a wonderful and fruitful spiritual practice, in addition to my regular prayer life. It’s a opportunity to learn and grow in a fun way. It’s always interesting to see how the “word” selected suddenly seems to appear every where in scripture, things I read, and conversations with friends etc. I research the word, the definition, root meaning in the Greek and Hebrew and keep track of all this in my prayer journal through the year.
I’ve been doing this for about eight or ten years now. It’s interesting to look back, because in so many ways it’s been these words in prayer and reflection that have helped get me right back here to mission in Peru again this summer.
Some of my previous words were; Precious, Joy, Be Bold, Miracles, Mercy, Stillness, Healing, Faith, Mission. So I bet your wondering what my word is this year? It’s “Friendship”.
At first I wrestled with this word and thought it was an odd choice, as it didn’t seem to me to make sense given my previous words. Of course, I am a friend of Jesus, although that’s usually not the first word I’d used to describe my relationship with Him. I typically use words like lover, warrior, bread of life etc. So I wondered why this word and why this year.
Word History: The relationship between Latin amīcus, “friend,” and amō, “I love,” is clearn, as is the relationship between Greek philos, “friend,” and phileō, “I love.”
Yet, friendship is vitally important in the spiritual life. It’s a virtue and the summit of the highest moral good and moral life. True friendship, like love wills the good of the other. Therefore, there is no true friendship among crooks and thieves. You need virtuous friends to live a life of virtue and holiness because virtuous friendships draw us deeply in love with God.
“Friends are like buttons on an elevator, they can take you up or take you down.” – Tom Osborne former football coach of the Nebraska corn huskers.
So when God calls and sends you alone. He knows you won’t survive or better yet thrive as a single woman in the mission field without friends – especially female friends. He knows even though you’re serving with your heart poured out, you too will have emotional needs. So without virtuous friends it’s easy to lose your way and produce no fruit. Even Jesus sent His disciples out by two to ensure they stayed grafted to Him, the one true vine. I love my male friends too, but healthy boundaries are so important for obvious reasons in the mission field and single men here are just like home, another dime a dozen often looking for something other than friendship. So you better know how to form healthy, holy relationships with men and women or you will sink faster than a cement block dropped off the bow of boat you just stepped off. And that’s the truth!
Fran O’Rouke a Professor of Philosophy now retired from UCD said this “We are not a species of solitary beings. We need each other and cannot live in isolation – not only for basic needs of survival, but for the fulfillment of our highest capacities such as thought and language.”
Now, I probably don’t have many friends who’d say, I’m not a good friend. Yet, I’m here to say I’ve failed them all many times, mostly out of my own pride and selfishness if I had to guess. Lord, have mercy on me, I am a sinner. So I’ve prayed a lot this year about what it means to be a friend. I think it’s C.S. Lewis who said this “Love is friendship set on fire”. It’s only in a relationship with Jesus and His teachings do we learn to become good and holy friends and have good and holy friendships that can set the world on fire. Read the lives of the saints and you’ll find out I’m in agreement with them.
Now, I’ve only been here two weeks and already relied on so many virtuous friends to see me through. Here are just a few examples;
Friends you call and message when you’re discouraged. They encourage and remind you to keep your eyes centered on Christ and Him alone. Thank God for modern technology.
Friends who come sit with you here in Peru when you need to share your heart and tears in a safe place as they pray in Spanish, but also have the ability to say in English “Lisa, say Jesus I trust in you, Jesus I trust in you, Jesus I trust in you”. Grateful for the life preserver that particular day.
Friends here in Peru who have your back because there’s some history in them knowing your character. They know your heart and it’s purity and genuineness. God sends them to give hugs, smiles, and invitations to meals inside and outside their homes when it’s needed most. They invite you to their birthday parties and ask you to be the God Mother of their little one because they know and trust you and your faith in God. They love God like you do. In fact, they tell you “I’m not brave like you Lisa. I am not able to go all in like you, I’m afraid, but you inspire me.” Maybe, the Lord’s using me to call them to a higher place, because they have gifts I do not, but would love for them to get in the bunker with me. I will wait with Jesus.
Friends who in their subtle and gentle way tell you what you already know, but need to hear once again. “It’s important to be who God created you to be.”
Friends who look after your mother back home so you never worry about her well being because she’s looked after and covered in prayer. Everything at home is taken care of from the neighbor mowing the lawn to the friend who will come help her pack to journey to Peru soon. They all know Jesus’ teaching and caring for the widow just like you. That brings peace and comfort to your heart in Peru.
Friends who stand in the gap and not afraid to get in the spiritual bunker for you when you share the arrows are flying by day and night. You tell them to get out their spiritual guns and back up ammunition and invoke St. Michael because the battle is bigger than you’d thought it would be. You’re in the battle with them, but you need some back up, and heavy spiritual artillery because the evil one is waking up the giants. Grateful for my intercessory friends back home.
Friends who still decide to be your friend even though you’ve warned them numerous times that if they hang and mission with you, people will talk. Because, just like Jesus, you are sort of scandalous, especially to American missionaries. This one is so interesting because you’ve never caused any type of scandal and now following Jesus and using the gifts and charisms he’s given you to serve is absolutely scandalous. Jesus too was scandalous, so you’re pretty sure your partially on the right path in following Him. As one friend emails you, “I’m sorry to hear, but on the other hand, I thank God for it. The evil one only pushes back against us when we are on the path God wants us to be on. If we’re off on our own – well the devil doesn’t need to do anything because we’re taking care of it ourselves.”
It’s these virtuous friendships that are the glue that hold me together by the grace of God. I run to Jesus often, but I’m no saint. So some days I need a friend in the flesh sitting right next to me. Ultimately, to have good friends. Loving friends. Trusted friends. Friends who have your back and will jump in the bunker with you. You have to be that friend. You have to love who they are and not who you hope they can become or what they can do for you, but still call them to a higher place. You can’t be selfish, you must be selfless. When they share their lives, the depths of their hearts and souls, their secrets and sins it’s for you and God alone, no one else. These are people you trust, who trust you. They love God like you do and more importantly than anything they call you to a higher place and keep you on the path of holiness when you’re tempted to veer. And for this you are grateful because you know you’d never make it without each and every one of them alone here in Peru. Your gratitude for the grace of their prayers can never be paid back, even though you know with certainty it’s what sustains you night and day.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. John 15:13
Aristotle (born 348 BC) wrote about three types of friendship in his most popular work, Nichomachean Ethics and it still applies today so many centuries later.
1) Friendship of Utility: In this kind of friendship the person is not loved for their own sake, but for the sake of some benefit. It’s based on utility and mutual usefulness. We benefit in someway with these people. These relationships can be prudent and appropriate, but usually shallow and easily dissolved. Example, a friend who’s your mechanic that fixes your car. You both benefit from this exchange.
2) Friendship of Pleasure: This one is probably more obvious. It’s a drinking buddy or when women shop or vacation together. These friendships can be both good and bad, but they are solely based on fun and pleasure. We just simply enjoy being around them, but because of the passion and pleasure these too are often shallow relationships.
3) Friendship based on virtues: Friendship in the fullest sense is when friends are engaged in a common pursuit of the virtuous life. These friendships are edifying in that each one draws the other toward virtues. These friendship are enduring and tend to last the longest. They are based on mutual adoration and respect. It’s being happy for the friend who’s getting married, having a baby, or moving away even when you will have less time to spend with them. These types of friendships only happen among the virtuous and they are the most fulfilling. They give life meaning.
We all participate in all three types of friendships, as they all have a purpose in our lives. Sometimes you need your car fixed, someone to help you understand a medical diagnosis, a haircut etc. However, if your someone like me who stepped out the bow of the boat in a foreign land then you absolutely need many virtuous friends because your not here to vacation or to have fun, you were sent. So these friends keep you in line, keep you honest, humble, and on the current path because when the arrows come and they do. You can duck and run, or stand steadfast and fight, because you are no longer a captive to fear. You are a child of God who desires to live in freedom and victory and that only comes through living virtuously.
Ask the Holy Spirit to put a “word” on your heart that will help you to grow in your faith and relationship with Jesus. Then ask God how you can grow in virtue so that the friendships you have are virtuous relationships in Christ Jesus.
Pray Warriors: Pray for strength and comfort for my new friend, Luis who six months ago lost his wife after 46 years of marriage. He’s very lonely without her, but exudes so much joy, as he’s a man of great faith.
For Isabelle, who arrived as I was walking out of the clinic for the day to shower for mass. I heard God say, one more. Her husband abandoned her for another woman. She came in stoic and emotionless. Then after prayer the flood gates opened. My ministry was giving her the space for another to see her tears and pain for the next half hour. There was no shower before mass. The one phrase in Spanish I say often is “Lo siento” – I’m sorry. I know that heartache and it happens a lot here in Peru just like home. Pray the Lord grants her strength and comfort to her very broken heart.