By Paul Cizek, Youth Minister
This past Sunday evening, Jr. EYC waded into the topic of friendships and forgiveness.
Have you ever been offended by a friend? Had a fight with a friend? Been hurt by a friend? What happens then? Is it over? Does gossip erupt? Do wounds silently fester? And if it happens at church, how awkward to see this person week after week in our narrow halls. Or, perhaps, maybe one of you just stops coming altogether. Does this really happen? Jr. EYCers could point to some concrete instances.
But what if instead of wounding, these moments became healing? What if these moments of disillusionment were really illusion-clearing moments? What if these moments helped us see our friend as a sinner forgiven by Christ, and ourselves as sinners forgiven by Christ? Might we then really mean, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”? What if we really believed the words we prayed? Who would we have to forgive? Who would we have to apologize to? Forgiving and apologizing – both really hard, our Jr. EYCers say. Hard, no doubt, but the alternative is the end of our friendships. Hard, no doubt, but this is the type of real friendship we’re invited to pursue in the church.
Sr. EYC then chewed on a few hearty words about friendship:
We had grown up together as boys, gone to school together, and played together. Yet ours was not the friendship which should be between true friends, either when we were boys or at this later time. For though they cling together, no friends are true friends unless you, my God, bind them fast to one another through that love which is sown in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us. Yet there was a sweetness in our friendship, mellowed by the interests we shared.
– St. Augustine, Confessions
I’m delighted to hear that your patient has made some very desirable new acquaintances – rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly skeptical about everything in the world… No doubt he must soon realize that his own faith is in direct opposition to the assumptions on which all the conversation of his new friends is based. I don’t think that matters much provided that you can persuade him to postpone any open acknowledgement of the fact… He will be silent when he ought to speak, and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and skeptical attitudes which are not really his. But if you play him well, they may become his. All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be. This is elementary.
– Your Affectionate Uncle, Screwtape
(C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters)
Did St. Augustine mean we couldn’t be friends with non-Christians? We admitted he seemed to think some sort of friendship could exist with non-Christians (thank goodness!), but perhaps not “true friendship.” Did Augustine have different types of friendships in mind? Or, it was suggested, perhaps God must bind two people together but neither might be conscious that is God binding them together? Possible, for sure, given the quote. But now, what did “true friendship” really look like?
A few Mentors weighed-in: there are friends we’re honest with – about our lives and about theirs; there are friends whose life orientation towards God is similar to ours, so we can pray together and share our struggles and joys of living as Christians; there are friends who’s words and actions teach us to love God and love our neighbors better. Is this what Augustine meant by “true friends”? Do we have such friends?
And the Lewis quote seemed like the opposite: is it possible that our friendships change us in ways which are imperceptible to us and harmful? Can friendships draw us away from the love of God and neighbor, without us noticing? The thought struck a chord with the group. As one youth noted, it’s like boiling a frog: toss a frog into boiling water and it jumps out, but put a frog in cold water, slowly turn up the heat, and the frog’s a goner. “That’s horrible,” said another youth! But that’s exactly what’s at stake! True friends nudge us along towards life (sometimes unaware); other friends draw us away from God (sometimes unaware). “Life and death” is no overstatement of what’s at stake in our friendships.
And this is why EYC’s tagline is “real life, real friends.” It’s not just a succinct, clever, or hip phrase. It’s descriptive of what we’re up to at EYC. Not just “community” for the sake of “community,” or friends for the sake friends. But friendships which orient us to God – that teach us to love God and our neighbor.
So, pray for us, pray with us, and perhaps even join us in this common pursuit of “real life, real friends.”