When Friendship Isn’t a “Solution”

Paul Wadell, author of some of the few contemporary treatments of friendship in the Christian tradition (that draw on St. Aelred, among others), has an article in an old issue of the Christian Century on a complicated friendship of his. Going through some of my old files today, I ran across Wadell’s essay and found myself thinking about it again. (The piece is behind the paywall, sadly. But for the few of you who may subscribe, here’s the link. It’s worth reading.)

Wadell tells the story of an especially rich friendship from his high school days that later became painful and led to heartache and a “parting of the ways.” He and his friend started traveling different roads and lost the ability to understand and sympathize with one another. But neither of them, it seems, gave up on the friendship entirely. Wadell only tells snippets of the story, but it seems to me from what he wrote that the relationship remained pretty touch and go until the friend’s death. There was genuine love, even reconciliation and forgiveness, but never a return to that joy that sparked the friendship in the first place. And this got me reflecting on a paradox at the heart of friendship.

As I think back on the friendships that have meant the most to me — that still mean the most to me — I’m aware of all the ways that all of them have led to a sort of heightening of pain. Not just the pain at having to stretch and yield and change in order to love my friends, but also the pain of feeling unloved by the friends and having to figure out what to do with that sense of rejection and woundedness. My most treasured friendships have lessened my loneliness, without question, but they’ve also created more capacity for loneliness — capacity I wouldn’t have had otherwise — precisely by being so rich in love. The cavern wouldn’t seem so big and dark if the flame illuminating it didn’t burn so brightly.

This seems important to keep in mind as I continue talking to Christians about how I want the church to be a place of hospitality and community for queer Christians. In a sense, that hospitality should go a long way toward dampening the burn of loneliness. But in another very real sense, it may only make it burn more painfully — because that’s just the way human love works in a world where we’re finite, fallen creatures. There are risks and costs involved in any authentic self-giving. It’s part of the deal.


20 thoughts on “When Friendship Isn’t a “Solution”

  1. Pingback: When Friendship Isn’t a “Solution” – Site Title

  2. Good post. This article also demonstrates to me why it can be difficult for LGBT strugglers to find a church home. When marriage is not in your life plan it can be difficult to fit into churches centered around marriage (or getting singles married). If friendship is the main relational goal of your life as a celibate LGBT person I have found the Church a difficult place to fit in. But maybe it is my own insecurities at play?

    • Perhaps you are assuming that marriage immunizes us (married men, in my case) from the desire for other friendships? I wish “LGBT strugglers” (as you define yourself) would be more accessible and willing to be invited into relationship with married men (as I am) because I value such friendships. They give me opportunities to relate in ways my marriage doesn’t. My marriage is stable and happy, but it doesn’t provide everything I need from human society, nor should it. Have you identified the “insecurities at play” that may be keeping you from befriending other same-sex non-singles?

      • The insecurity for me is that I started as an exgay at 17 and expected to be married with kids in a great church and have a great career by now. I failed at all of that, and I don’t know what a middle aged, celibate, same sex attracted guy has to offer in church or in a men’s group or a friendship -it would be very awkward for me and very awkward for them. But I do have some straight fellow veteran friends I value and they value me. Thank God for them.

      • I am wondering the same thing as mandctessman – did you make it to church, mojavemike?
        (and the additional question “what’s something people there got to sing?”)

        And if you didn’t make it to church like you’d planned, don’t hide in shame, okay?
        These things are HARD.
        (I have friends who I know love the Lord, are willing to sacrifice for their brothers and sisters, want to see good come to their neighbor… and I know this because I remember how things were when we were neighbors, or in the same church or fellowship… but then when they get uprooted, and end up in a new city, they do. not. make. it. to. a. church.)

        Speaking of shame, back when you first mentioned of self-pity, (in another comment) that got my attention.
        (I was like, “Hey, now there’s something I know!” Oh, wait.. it’s not a competition. Doh.)

      • Mike, how are you feeling these days, with everything that’s going on? I’m sorry not to have checked in earlier, but now that I’m fully retired, have much more time and would be glad to hear more from you, share our journeys, and give support through prayer, chats, etc. No worries if you’re not able or interested.
        All blessings,

      • How did it go Mike? I grew up among Wisconsin Synod Lutherans, so I get what you’re talking about!!! When I was 17, I came out and was active “in the life” through college. My Godmother – a devout Wisc. Synod member – never stopped loving me! When she died at 94, I wasn’t allowed to speak in the church at her funeral (I’m an Episcopal priest) but the Pastor consented to my speaking at the graveside. I witnessed to her unconditional love – the Pastor quietly (and privately) thanked me, but I think his were the only dry eyes! God bless you, Mike, and count on my prayers going forward!

    • I was thinking something a little similar to mandctessman – that there’s tons of people in churches who are craving close friends! I can’t go a week where I’m only in communication with my immediate family – I need significant conversations with multiple good friends each week or I …I just don’t do so great!
      (People.. don’t necessarily let on how badly they want friendships. Because it involves admitting, “I want friends.”)

      “…if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you…” then what do you have to offer the church?
      Much! Nothing less than incarnating Christ!
      Like the old hymn says, “the Spirit and the gifts are ours.”
      And even our weakness can – at times – bless our brothers and sisters in Christ.

      Even in the churches, we don’t always view each-other from that point of view.
      (But yay for those friends you spoke of!)

      • Thanks. This post and my struggle with self-pity the last few weeks have led me to confront my fear. This Sunday I will attend a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (Conservative Lutherans that believe homosexuality is sin) and have the courage to try again to fit in to a church where I agree with the theology but fear rejection.

      • Well said Vikki. It behooves us to remember that Jesus called his disciples “friends” and in that context, expressed confidence/trust. Far too many people are wary of those aspects of friendship; FBfriends (how many?) is an example of how diminished the meaning of friend has become. Within the faith community, one would hope for a higher standard, and that we would be less uptight about “keeping up appearances!” True friends do not have to expend energy on that!

      • I went to an Anglican Church in North America (basically conservative Episcopalian), I ran into my old exgay counselor and had a panic attack that lasted the whole service.

      • So sorry to hear that, mojavemike.

        a panic attack that lasts the whole service sounds.. so. painful.
        anxiety is the pits, and it’s so frustrating that’s what happened when you tried to do what you felt you ought to, (by the way, you did it!) and were there for church.

        That was sort of like what you feared, (but also sort of not) wasn’t it?

    • Almost one year later… how are you doin’, mojavemike?
      (whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent)

      I can see a lot happened for me in this year… what about you?

      (logged on to WP for first time in a long time, and like the last convo I was having was this one.)

  3. Thank you for this post! It resonated with me. It’s so true that the closer the friend, the more potential to be deeply hurt by him or her due to this broken world we live in. Your words were an encouragement to me not to give up on seeking close relationships, working through the pain when it will inevitably come, and looking forward to the day when all the things that can separate people and cause division are defeated.

  4. Very true what you state in your article. What lessens the burden of loneliness also creates great capacity for loneliness. I appreciate that thought.

    I also came across a quote today that I saved. Not sure where I got it, but it also speaks to the finite beings we are unable to really meet another’s needs fully.

    “Times change and people change.”

    And that is when I realised we were no longer friends. We are two people who have memories of who the other used to be. You see as a child I always thought friendships ended because the other person was mean to you and you decide that you hate them; but the truth is friendships end because the person you once knew becomes someone you simply can’t relate to, and the bond you once shared becomes cold.”

    Surprisingly – the friendship I am speaking about is a long-time spouse where our marriage ended in divorce after 24 years.

  5. This post is SO spot-on. Believe it or not, I never had a roommate in college (aside with a brief time of living with my brother). After graduating, I lived either alone or with my parents. Then after about a year of living alone, I got the first housemate I had ever had. We became close really quickly and it was such a happy time in my life.

    When he had to move away several months later for his first full-time job after grad school, it was very hard emotionally. I felt a sense of loss and loneliness that I didn’t know I was capable of before having a roommate. Since then, I’ve reflected on my friendship with him and I’ve realized that it became an idol in my life. Probably if the friendship had been healthier in a variety of ways, losing him as a housemate wouldn’t have been so difficult. But probably even if I had not fallen into the trap of idolatry and other unhealthy things, I’m sure it would have still been hard.

    With all that said, I don’t regret having been housemates with him. He and I are still friends. And not only that, but I’ve learned more about God, friendship, and myself through the process. And I trust if another similarly close friendship comes my way, I might be more prepared and mature this time.

    • Daniel2233

      I assume you didn’t keep a shrine to him in your closet or make dolls out of his hair so what do you mean when you say he became an idol? Was he someone you wanted emulate and aspire to be like? Because, if so, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I have a friend who is a hard and studious worker who I emulate because those are good traits to have, for example.

      • So glad you posted; idolatry is an extreme that doesn’t apply to what’s described with this housemate. You may even have loved him; raising the concern that much too often, men don’t tell other men they love one another for fear of implying “sexual attraction!” Even if/when there is an erotic attraction, it needs to be more relaxed and understood that this is very common.

        CS Lewis’ book, The Four Loves, is most brilliant on this, affirming Eros as a dimension of the greater Agape love we aspire to. I’m glad to share more with you if you’re interested.

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