This article was originally published in The Lutheran Ambassador and also reprinted with permission in The Lutheran Digest.
The book of Proverbs tells us:
A friend loves at all times.”
It’s hard to imagine who wouldn’t want that kind of acceptance, isn’t it? Yet recent studies reveal that 25 percent of Americans have no close friends at all; another 19 percent have only one confidante (usually their spouse); and that these unfortunate trends have been increasing over the past 20 years.
A good friend can be an important element in our spiritual life and development. Now, by good friend I don’t mean the kind of friendly acquaintance with whom we share some common interests or activities. A true soul friend knows us and accepts us as we really are. We are honest and vulnerable with them. We trust them to hear our confessions and keep our confidences. They love us no matter what, and they always point us toward Jesus.
David found such a friend in Jonathan, who “helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16). One author says, these are the friends who make us “run hard after God.”
I have been blessed by a number of spiritual friendships, including a long-lasting relationship with my college roommate, Nancy. We don’t see each other very often because we are busy people who no longer share a room or go to classes together. We stay in touch by writing letters and sending emails. Once or twice a year, we meet at a church about midway between our homes.
We bring our lunch and eat together. We pray. We share our experiences. We talk openly about our families, our problems, our joys and our struggles. Nancy rarely tells me what she thinks I should do, Instead she asks me to consider what God would have me do.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
Nancy sharpens my awareness of God. Meeting with her and writing to her becomes a spiritual practice, a life-giving activity that helps me notice how God is working in my life.
Some spiritual friendships, like my friendship with Nancy, just seem to evolve and deepen over time. When this happens, it’s a bit of God’s grace. Give thanks if you already have this blessing! However, we can also be intentional in our pursuit of sould friends.
If you do not have such a friend, pray about it and see who God brings across your path. You might start by asking someone you know and trust to become a prayer partner. Meet regularly, share concerns, pray with each other and for each other. You will be amazed to find your friendship drawing you closer to your true self, closer to other Christians, and closer to God.