It can seem to be a strange twist or a heroic endeavor, like the shape-shifting contortions of Elastigirl in the cartoon movie “The Incredibles,” imagining extending your heart out and back toward your self. Yet here is the essential first step in a life filled with friendship:
I. Be A Friend to Yourself
Friendship starts with cultivating a rich, welcoming home in your own heart, a place where:
- You are kind, forgiving and patient with yourself,
- You look for, affirm, and cherish your strengths, and
- You accept what you can’t change, including your past.
How can you possibly touch others if you are not in touch with yourself?
II. Be a Friend in Marriage
Although love can get rocky, a marriage or union built on friendship will be rock solid. Couples that have built a bond of friendship have something to lean into during times of conflict, disappointment, or the inevitable ups and downs of passion. It’s the ground of friendship that holds you together and keeps your primary relationship steady.
As Nietzsche said (and current relational research confirms) “It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
III. Be a Friend in Community
We have reached the limits of our cultural push toward autonomy and self- sufficiency. We feel it in the longing to belong, in the recognition and acceptance of our interdependence, and in the vulnerability of aging.
Having, creating, or investing in community not only meets your need for belonging it keeps you from growing old inside. In the words of Robert McAfee Brown “The only way to make friends with time is to stay friends with people.”
IV. Be A Soul-Friend
One of the most beautiful descriptions of a soul-friend is found in Nobelist
Elie Wiesel’s story of the bond of a Holocaust survivor and a man who helps him liberate his life from thoughts of the camps. “What is a friend? More than a father [or mother] more than a brother [or sister]: a traveling companion [with whom] you can conquer the impossible, even if you must lose it later. Friendship marks a life even more deeply than love. Love risks degenerating into obsession, friendship is never anything but sharing. It is to a friend that you communicate the awaking of a desire, the birth of a vision or a terror, the anguish of seeing the sun disappear or of finding that order and justice are no more…. What is a friend? Someone who for the first time makes you aware of your loneliness and his and helps you to escape so you in turn can help him…. No one can fight the night alone and conquer it. Victory would be meaningless even if won. For two persons together victory is possible” (Gates of the Forest).
This kind of relationship is healing. It is inspiring. A soul-friend is a rare and precious gift. It is unguarded and transparent, bearing the qualities of utmost candor, love, grace, balance, perspective, and truth telling. Your life is exquisitely blessed if there are one or two such soul-friendships and for them to prevail and sustain they require a certain devotion of time and effort.
In the end, there is nothing richer than a joy shared or a deep emotion held by a soul-friend. We need soul-friends beyond a primary relationship with spouse, sibling, or offspring, but it is a rare and wonderful blessing if your mate is also a soul-friend.