By Dr. James H. Furr, President and Professor of Church and Culture, Houston Graduate School of Theology Perhaps it’s because I received my Medicare Card this month, but in recent days I’ve been especially aware of the presence and value of old Christian friends. I enjoyed a day with colleagues who share ties to a graduate school as we celebrated the legacy of a pioneering minister whose life had blessed many of us. A close friend since the ‘70s wrote in his church newsletter about a reunion with mutual family friends and how they have remained connected through the years. My wife extended a cross-country drive to visit a seminary classmate and confidant of three decades. We became aware of the possibility of spending time with other dear family friends this fall, but when the plans did not materialize, we knew with confidence that a visit would certainly happen sooner or later. No doubt you have people in your life that you may see infrequently but remain intimately connected over time and space. “Catching up” happens naturally and quickly.
Christian friends are surely one of God’s most enriching gifts. In her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun says the discipline of “spiritual friendship involves cultivating a covenant friendship where I can naturally share about my life with God. It is grounded in relationship to God and a commitment to support, encourage, and pray for one another” (p. 151). The specific practices are familiar to those of us with these relationships: they endure over time with a mutual covenant to help one another grow in faithfulness; they include intercessory prayer; they celebrate the pleasure of play together; they reflect ever-deepening knowledge about one another that informs sensitive encouragement and the ability to speak the truth in love; they foster a healthy interdependence that builds on strengths and shares life’s burdens.
When so many relationships are designed around using and being used by others to achieve egocentric desires, or to “echo” laments and prejudices, or merely to fill time with banal conversation or destructive gossip, Calhoun’s description reminds us of the life-giving delight of friends who can be the voice of God when we need to hear an insight, the arms of God when we need support in the midst of overwhelming challenges, or the laughter of God when we overflow with joy.