Making room for mercy in friendships

As Catholic Christians, we are familiar with the Lord’s command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. While it might not be easy, we can easily understand the call to imitate Christ’s sacrificial love. But what about our experience in friendships?

When I left college over a decade ago, I couldn’t have imagined that some of the ways I would most experience pain and disappointment as an adult would be through my closest friendships. The world encourages us to look out for number one and to “girl boss” our way through most things, but what does our faith have to offer us when it comes to our sisters in Christ? How do we make room for mercy in our friendships?

A prayer for friendships: Jesus, make this friendship new

“Ask Jesus to make your friendship new.” I received this piece of advice from a priest in confession while confiding (yet again) about continued struggles with people in my life — not enemies but dear friends. Rather than telling me that it was my problem things weren’t going back to the way they were or that I simply needed to forgive them, the priest shared a foundational truth with me: Christ wants to make all things new in him. This takes into account all of our humanity — our weakness, our failures and our struggles.

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Unlike friendships that are only of the world, Christians have great hope when it comes to our communities. This hope comes not from some idea of perfection based on our own merits but the promise of sanctification we receive from living a life united to Christ. We might not be able to understand each other perfectly, but we have hope that in Christ all things will be made new.

Becoming gracious

With friends we let our guards down. We share intimately and often experience a sense of great understanding. C.S. Lewis explains this well: “A friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’”

Our friends are much closer to us than any person we recognize as “an enemy,” and because of this, our friends are the ones who can give us our deepest wounds. Despite the truth of this, our friendships ought to remain places of honesty, integrity and vulnerability.

When hurts or disappointments enter into a friendship, it is easy to feel like understanding and being understood are essential to the friendship. We are called to communicate honestly and openly with others, but we are not “required” to understand or be understood in order to maintain a friendship. In fact, it is moments like this in friendship when we have a unique opportunity to imitate God’s graciousness.

While forgiveness is a regular part of Christian living, striving to become gracious in friendships means seeking to embody goodness toward others in our thoughts, words and actions. Doing so roots the friendship in God’s love for us, rather than making it dependent on understanding each other (or feeling understood!).

Placing friendship in the context of community

Lastly, many of our deep friendships begin in the context of a limited environment like an internship, college or living together as roommates for a period of time. These times are life-giving in their opportunities for connection, but they cannot replace the context of community.

As Christians, we belong to church communities. As citizens of particular states or cities, we belong to neighborhoods and regions. When our focus becomes crafting (or maintaining) only friendships amongst peers or like-minded individuals, there is a vital aspect of community living that can be lost. We aren’t made just to interact with people our age or in our mindset. Our elders stretch our patience and give us wisdom. The young make demands on our generosity. Each of us has particular needs and dependencies — inconveniences, if you will — and in the context of community our sense of friendship is expanded.

Making an effort to widen our understanding of community also deepens our friendships. When we make the effort to connect with those who vary from our “ideal” neighbor or friend, we experience firsthand how varied the Body of Christ truly is. This only makes our dear friends dearer and hopefully provides us with added perspective.

Our friendships are some of the most treasured gifts we receive in this life. As Christians, may we take comfort that our friends are worth the work and remember they are meant to help refine our capacity to love.

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