The Joy of True Friendship

I’m a Girl Dad to three little girls: 6, 3, and 1. And right now, as we drive to Hilton Head for vacation and to visit our old church family, the oldest two are singing– you guessed it– Frozen. I’m sure that, if she could, the youngest would be “harmonizing” right along with them. 

“Let it go, let it go, can’t hold me back anymore!” “No right, no wrong, no rules for me, I’m free!” As far as Disney songs go, it’s certainly one of the catchier tunes. And as far as the spirit of the age goes, at least in the global West, you’d be hard pressed to find a song that more accurately portrays our postmodern quest for authenticity, self-rule, and radical freedom. 

But there’s something really tragic about “Let it Go.” All the passion of the song, Idina Menzel’s soaring vocals, and the triumphant refrains of “it’s time to see what I can do” are heard by… no one. Elsa is alone. “You’ll never see me cry?” Of course they won’t: they’ll never see you. “I don’t care what they’re going to say?” Why would you? You can’t hear them anyway. Her moment of self-actualization and radical freedom is also the moment in which she is utterly alone. 

It reminds me of what CS Lewis says in his wonderful book, The Four Loves: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” Or, perhaps, frozen. The road to self-discovery, it seems, is a lonely one.

One of the reasons I’m so thankful for my time in RUF as a student is that it connected me with others who became life-long friends. As I think back over our time together as undergrads, and even more the now 12 years of friendship beyond graduation, I can’t help but notice there’s a lot of “freedom” that has been given up in these friendships. I paid for a suit to be in their weddings, I give up multiple weekends a year to visit or host, we talk on the phone, and we have a text thread that goes back literally more than a decade, on which, if we are silent for too long, the others pull us back into community. When I lived with them, there was even more freedom given up: any time you’re in community, you have to set aside some of your preferences and opinions on the “right” way to do something for the sake of another. 

But it would be ridiculous to say that I have somehow been “burdened” by these friendships. Later in The Four Loves, Lewis reflects on the death of one of his friends. As he did so, he mourned not just the loss of “Charles,” but also the part of his other friends that Charles uniquely drew out. In Lewis’ estimation, he was more himself, not less, because of his friends. And they were more themselves, not less, because of him. 

I can say, without reservation, that this is true of my friends. They have shaped me in ways I can see, and certainly in even more ways I can’t. They have challenged me to continue to grow and learn, to serve and love my family, and so much more. They have given me opportunities to die to myself, and I’ve given them plenty right back! They have manifested the love of God, modeled the patience of Christ, and embodied the faithfulness and presence of the Spirit. I am the person I am today, in large part, because of God’s gift to me of these dear friends.

Perhaps most of all, I am thankful for these friends because I know that, as I move out into the world, as I minister and work, whatever I do, they are for me. They are on my side. They are my 2 AM phone call, and if I asked, they would be here before the sun came up. They would still give up their freedom for me! Who cares what someone else thinks about me? These men know me, and call me friend. 

How much sweeter, then, is the friendship of God? Jesus himself calls the disciples (with us eavesdropping in their place) His friends. He knows me better than any friend here will. He knows not just what I choose to share, but what I so desperately want to keep hidden. He has known me not just since our freshmen dorm days, but from before I was born. He considered me more valuable than His own freedom. He knows me, and He calls me “friend.” What have I to fear? 

It seems we’ve been sold a false dilemma: the path to true freedom, to truly growing into the person God has called us to be, is not one that we must walk alone, but one that we are blessed to walk with friends by our side. And where we two or three are gathered, Christ is right there with us. Lewis one more time: “Life—natural life—has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?”