Over the last decade of my life, I’ve realized more fully the importance and true meaning of friendship. As a celibate Christian without the likelihood of future marriage, and for others like me, friendship within community is one of the main ways our sanctification works itself out. Friends point out our strengths and weaknesses, and challenge us to move forward; we need this in order to grow and mature in the faith as we struggle to believe along side of one another.
In the past few years, my friendships have taken a variety of forms. My friends and I have sung karaoke together. We’ve laughed and cried together. We’ve sat in silence pondering the world’s problems. We’ve savored beauty within nature and in the amazing taste of a mocha. We’ve gone on vacations and stayed up late playing board games.
There is immense joy to be had through sharing these moments with friends. That joy is good and should be celebrated. But the exhortation of friends calling me forward is even more important. The friends who most challenge and encourage me serve me to the highest degree, because they call me to walk more closely with God.
Living in this world as a celibate can be difficult to say the least. My body, culture, and many churches tell me that I’m denying myself an essential part of who I am when I remain celibate. The last thing that I need is friends who urge me to find Mr. Right and ride off in the sunset together. I need friends, both gay and straight, who challenge me in my desires, to remain committed to the historic church teaching on sexual ethics. Despite the difficulty and sacrifice, I need friends who will call me back when I don’t or don’t want to submit to said teaching. I especially need those who lovingly and patiently spur me on when I’m striving to pursue celibacy, even if not always perfectly. They are often allies in a fight that I don’t want to be in, but one in which I need reminded of the immensity of its importance.
In these friendships, I especially appreciate the example of those who are sacrificing for the gospel in a myriad of ways. I need to see how straight people in marriages are sacrificing their desires for the goodness of the gospel in their lives. As husbands. As wives. As divorcees. As singles who are straight. And I need to see other gay people sacrifice as I am, to pursue celibacy and the goodness of God in singleness or in the goodness of mixed orientation marriages. Isn’t this why it hurts so deeply when someone that we have been on this journey with, decides to move in a different direction?
There is a camaraderie built up from the experiential understanding of suffering due to the gospel in this particular way, one that we share together when we have a common mission and path. When those paths diverge, the difficulty shared in the foxholes of life can seem to be, well, pointless? It can make me question my own path. And even when you decide to keep going on the same path, it’s sad and heartbreaking knowing that others have abandoned you in those moments. As Tolkien said: “faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.”
We need faithful friends who through thick and thin, continue to press us with the reminder and warning, that Jesus is worth it. To not give up. To not give in. And to continue to seek after the One to whom and for whom we were created. We need those, like Sam in Tolkien’s great saga, who will continue with us from beginning to end and won’t leave us to our own devices. Instead, they will track us down to make sure that we run the race before us. To the end.
In Lewis’ masterpiece, The Weight of Glory, he states,
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations.”
Christian friendship isn’t just about grabbing a drink or dinner or vacationing together. Those are good things, even great things even that need to be celebrated. And all of which can look like things we do together as being these kinds of friends to one another. But, Christian friendship is also about the fact that we are friends and family because we have been united around a common Father and a common Older Brother. It is about keeping and encouraging each other in the faith, and fighting for one another’s souls. Friendship no longer simply exists for the goodness of the friendship in and of itself, it exists to remind one another of the glory of God who created us in his image.
At the end of the old allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, it reads:
“There also you shall serve Him continually with praise, with shouting, and thanksgiving, Whom you desired to serve in the world, though with much difficulty, because of the infirmity of your flesh. There your eyes shall be delighted with seeing, and your ears with hearing the pleasant voice of the Mighty One. There you shall enjoy your friends again that are gone thither before you; and there you shall with joy receive, even every one that follows into the holy place after you.”
With that in mind, treasure your friendships that challenge and encourage you to further pursue Jesus. Do the same for them. And for those friendships where this doesn’t exist, live in such a way that calls them to the joy of serving a God who was so kind as to lay His life down for his sheep, and to give us each other to walk next to on the journey to the renewed world at the end of all things, and in all the glory of the land to come.
Tolkein once said of Sam,
“One tiny Hobbit against all the evil the world could muster. A sane being would have given up, but Samwise burned with a magnificent madness, a glowing obsession to surmount every obstacle, to find Frodo, destroy the Ring, and cleanse Middle Earth of its festering malignancy. He knew he would try again. Fail, perhaps. And try once more. A thousand, thousand times if need be, but he would not give up the quest.”
Now then, let us travail together brothers and sisters, let us burn with a magnificent madness, and regardless of how many times we fail, let us not give up the quest of our own souls and those of our friend’s.
Image of Sam and Frodo Copyright © 2016 by Soni Alcorn-Hender.