“In a perfect Friendship…each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before the rest.
Sometimes he wonders what he is doing there among his betters.
He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company.
Especially when the whole group is together;
each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
We were in a heavy conversation about career frustrations and disappointment and the way life’s planned path sometimes jumps the rails. My son was expressing pent up feelings about his financial situation and its impact on starting a family with his wife. But during the talk, he suddenly pulled out his phone and scrolled through his pictures to show us one of his friends. After finding what he was looking for, he turned the phone in our direction and pointed to a photo depicting his friend standing in a group of about eight young men posing by a couch at someone’s lake home where they had escaped for a guy’s weekend.
“These are my best friends,” he said, referring to the group of millennial guys who do life together, even meeting regularly as a group to process life and faith.
“These are your best friends?” I asked, and he nodded. “You have this many best friends?” He nodded. “Oh, my son, you are so much richer than most people.” Thinking about the angst we were discussing moments ago, I suggested he hang a hard copy of the picture on his refrigerator. “Whenever you look at it, remember you possess a gift many, many lonely people long for in life and never receive.”
Life in a Confessional Community
Psychiatrist Dr. Curt Thompson in his book, The Soul of Desire, writes about the “Confessional Communities” he facilitates in his practice with a colleague. Think “group therapy,” but different. Participants are required to be honest and vulnerable about pain and struggles in their lives for the purpose of creating beauty out of their brokenness with the help of other members. The groups meet for a designated period of weeks, months, or years. Even group members who join feeling hopeless about creating beauty out of their broken marriages, careers, or relationships, begin to see themselves and their lives through fresh eyes when others envision their potential for healing and transformation.
Unbeknownst to them, my son and his friendship group unintentionally formed a version of one of these “confessional communities.” Yes, they are a group of guys who love to hang out. But they take their hanging out to a whole new level by introducing pointed and transparent conversations when they meet each month to talk. In their meetings, one guy per meeting is given the opportunity to share what’s going on within him while the others speak into his life. They are a confessional community.
My husband does a different version of confessional communities. As someone who devoted decades to raising and being present for his sons, he now enjoys a season where he has time to cultivate deep friendships—and he has many. These friendships flourish over coffee or meals, while reading and discussing a book together, or going for walks. One expression comes in the form of a group he calls PPP, which stands for Poetry, Prose, and a Pour. A group of his friends get together on a roughly quarterly basis at our house, often in front of a roaring fire, and share one piece of art that God has used to speak to them in recent months. These artistic sharings include poetry, song lyrics, book excerpts, theology, and visual art. Once, a friend brought a talented cellist to perform because this instrument had moved him lately.
An Easing of Loneliness
I make myself scarce on these evenings, but a friend once asked why I don’t sit in on these gatherings. First, I’m not invited. Second, my presence would disrupt the rare vibe of a gathering of men introducing vulnerability to their conversations where they move beyond left-brained intellectual processing to right-brained processing. (Curt Thompson talks about this in his book at length.) I believe the type of sharing and vulnerability that happens in these groups helps ease loneliness.
While I was searching on Amazon for a link to Susan Mettes’ book, The Loneliness Epidemic, multiple books came up with the same or similar titles. Loneliness around the world truly is an epidemic and warrants multiple books on the topic. As an introvert, I rarely feel lonely. As someone who raised four sons and now lives in an empty nest with my husband, I value the alone time—but I have deep empathy for those who feel lonely because I have felt lonely on occasion. Sadly, sometimes that loneliness appeared even when people filled every crevice of my life. The feeling came, not from a lack of people, but from a lack of people who truly knew me and wanted to see me live out my God-ordained life. People who knew my hurts and joys, holding both with tender respect.
Over the years, I’ve been gifted with faithful, good friends. Most I consider as close as family. And they often come in surprising forms. Some of us come from different backgrounds, different generations, or boast opposite personalities. One day when my sons were young, and I was cooking dinner, a couple of the boys stood on the other side of the counter and made an out-of-the-blue statement. “Mom, some of your friends are a lot older than you.”
I continued scrubbing potatoes while mentally inventorying my closest friendships. “They are,” I agreed. Two of my close friendships enjoy a gap of about 15 years. When they were teenagers, I was a toddler. They appeared on earth into a world celebrating the end of World War II. I would spend my childhood and teen years growing up to the backdrop of Vietnam and only hearing of WWII as a history lesson. One came from a fairly privileged family, one was first-generation American. I follow behind on paths where they have already trodden. I’m also gifted with much younger friends. Age matters little when the relationship involves an intentional practice of respectful caring and concern, and an ability to handle differences with loving curiosity rather than criticism.
Beyond the Superficial
In these relationships, no matter our ages, we have all moved beyond superficial conversations to really know and see each other. Despite our differences, we share common griefs of lost family members and dreams, life’s disappointments, and celebrations. We didn’t need to grow up in the same time period to wear life’s scars and gifts across our shoulders.
Learning to be a good friend, for me, means not disregarding people who are very different from me or from different backgrounds. In my younger years, often I felt most comfortable with people from broken homes because our family had shattered. I liked people who dressed like me and who maybe had a rebellious past.
Today, my friends include a woman who grew up in the city while I grew up in small-town New England. Some were strong students, studying for their classes, while I was skipping school, hanging out at the beach. In college, my roommate for three years included a Jewish woman from Miami while I was from a nominally Protestant family. Her parents wanted her to call home every Sunday to check in. My parents appeared to forget my phone number. We are still close today despite my embrace of Christianity. My present friends attended Ivy league schools, enjoyed the privilege of financial comfort, never witnessed their father wrestle with deep depression that nearly caused his suicide. Our experiences span the vast and varied territory of life’s offerings.
The presence of good friends manifests the goodness of God in our lives with its invitation to journey together, even over turbulent seas—maybe especially over turbulent seas. When we intentionally break down superficial barriers and let other people see our whole selves—the good, bad, and ugly—we live like a smaller version of a confessional community, telling each other the truth, living our combined stories, and envisioning and waiting together for beauty to sprout and transform brokenness in ways that astound.
I would wish this gift for everyone.
Photo by chang-duong on unsplash