“You can’t live the Christian life without a band of Christian friends, without a family of believers in which you find a place.”
About 6 1/2 years ago my heart was ripped open and then abandoned. I was fragmented, splintered and wandering. Where I had once been only nagged at by suspicion and uncertainty, I was now laid low by the truth. This was the very first time addiction had looked me in the eyes, but we stayed there for years, that beast and I, circling each other; never sure who would make the final blow.
I was alone in my marriage. Abandoned. Unloved. Ignored and neglected. I keep beating against the walls of his self-centered prison, but he never glanced up - unless it was to look at anyone else. I was invisible. I was lied to. I was shoved to the side and resented. I was completely alone.
Except for this one thing. I had soul friendship. I had women who listened to me weep and rage; who went deep into my processing and made the ache of abandonment less potent. I had real relationship. It wasn't in my marriage, but for that season, Divine Love provided a way to nourish and sustain me.
These women - they knew the depth of my ugly. They knew my flesh and my sickness. They knew my struggles and my old tendencies towards going dark. They knew what made me whole, what fed my spirit, and how to stand in healthy spaces with me.
I have these memories that stand out from all of the others in that season of my life. Weeping on my mat in a yoga class and being surrounded, held and prayed for. A single phone call and not a second of hesitation before she got in her car and drove over. A call from a pay phone in Belize because she knew I was aching and alone. An air mattress in my son's room where they slept the first time Joe and I separated. Tears and bible studies and yoga classes and singing over my son as he was born into the most painful time of my life. These women entered into my mess. They slipped past any hesitation they may have had and chose to engage in the kind of friendship that is a practice.
Like David and Jonathon.
Like Ruth and Naomi.
Like Elijah and Elisha.
Like Paul and Timothy.
Let me tell you why soul friendship is a discipline.: cause things get messy. When you live life together, to that degree, you are going to brush up against one another. You will hurt each other's feelings. You will disagree with one another. You will be startled to find that your soul sister is not your identical twin, and frankly, sometimes she really pisses you off. And that's when you practice friendship.
When things get hard. When you don't know what to say, or do, to comfort someone in a loss. When you're tired and you'd rather just be left alone. When you're irritated and frustrated and run down. That's when it gets hard. And that's when you realize that you've never needed them more.
Did you know that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien were soul friends? Two of the greatest minds, who wove very different stories overflowing with Divine story, and struggle, and truth. They were the kind of friends who often disagreed, and they were okay with that. Although they both wrote very popular fantasy books, they definitely didn't favor one another's style. Big deal. They were still the kind of friends who sharpened one another. They were the kind of friends who produced so much fruit simply because they pushed each other to MORE. Your deepest friendships will always want more for you. And they won't be afraid to tell you any truth at any time to get you there.
Now here's the thing, friends. Don't assume that everyone you like a whole lot is your current soul sister. Some of us are prone to that, no? After all this time, I can count on one and a half hands the women who I would still call today - even if I haven't seen them in months - if I needed a safe place to land. Your inner circle is not meant to be a hundred strong. What you process in the deepest spaces of your heart is not always meant to be on display. If you run around telling everyone everything, you're bound to get wounded, because that deep space in you is meant for deep relationship.
To engage in the spiritual discipline of soul friendship, you have to first engage in the practice of reflection. You need to spend some honest time with yourself. Consider who your deepest friendships are with. Consider who your "grab a movie" friendships are with. Consider who drains you and who fills you up. Know that there is nothing wrong with having friends who stand just outside of your inner inner circle. Those friends are important. You need them and they need you. But, who do you live life with? Who spurs you on towards health and wholeness? When you're hitting rock bottom, who sits with you and holds on to Jesus, even if you can't? Who brings you truth, even when you want to smack them for it? Who comes for you when you go dark? Who lets you wander when wandering is what you must do?
When you come into your practice of silence this week, bring this in with you. If, in that space, someone comes to mind, maybe feel out what it would look like to intentionally engage in the practice of soul friendship with them. What would that require of you?
And, if the idea of deep relationship is completely foreign and uncomfortable for you, I'd start with Ruth and Naomi. Read up. Meditate. Start somewhere.
*Do you practice soul friendship? What is the greatest struggle? The greatest reward?