By Vir Christi
“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)
This verse is perhaps one of the most oft-quoted verses when it comes to forming friendships in the Christian life. It’s true that friendship is sacrificial: we do a lot for our friends. But simply throwing that verse out there is an abstraction. How do we identify friends that will help us in the spiritual life?
The most concrete example of friendship in the Scriptures is the interaction between Jesus and the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). Everyone rightfully pays attention to what Jesus does when the paralytic comes down through the roof. Less frequently discussed are the friends who brought the paralytic to Jesus. Their conduct is a clear example of what authentic friendship for the sake of a relationship with Jesus ought to look like. Let’s take a closer look.
First of all, Jesus is teaching and the place is packed. Think of major concerts you’ve been to, or a family party where dozens of people are crammed into just a few rooms. This is a standing-room-only kind of event where you’re lucky if you have any personal space, let alone have any room to maneuver.
The friends of the paralytic have heard of Jesus and the miracles that He’s performed, and they’re determined to get their friend to Jesus. They see hordes of people, and realize that there’s no easy way to get to Jesus through the front door. Crowds are a deterrent; I know that when I go to an amusement park and I see a giant throng of people waiting around for one of the rides, my inclination is to turn and walk away to another ride. Trying to get through the crowd must have been intimidating for the friends carrying the paralytic on the stretcher. They’ve got a ridiculously hard task on their hands, but they know in their hearts that if they can get their friend to Jesus, Jesus can take care of him. Are your friends thinking that way about you, or acting that way towards you, in your life?
The Miracle of Friendship
Undaunted, the friends work their way through the crowd, and then proceed to go up onto the roof to let their friend down through the roof. We’ve heard this story so many times, I think the enormity of that gets lost on us, so let’s break it down.
They most likely didn’t have a pulley system or anything handy, because surely they didn’t go to see Jesus expecting to have to get through the roof. That means that they had to lift a grown man (who, even if he was emaciated and only weighed 80-90 pounds would’ve still felt like a bag of bricks) up onto the roof of a building with no equipment, with a crowd of people watching. Can you imagine how hard that must’ve been?
Exhausted and sweaty, the men have to dig through the layers of the roof to make a hole large enough for a grown man, and then have to laboriously lower their friend through the hole to put him next to Jesus. They have no idea if Jesus “has time” for their friend, or if Jesus will do what they think He will do. All they know is that there’s something about Him. We all know how the story ends: Jesus first pardons the man’s sins, and then commands him to rise and walk.
What’s the Point?
This story is stirring, because it shows us what real friendship looks like. People want to know how to form authentic friendships in the spiritual life that will cultivate a deepening of their faith life. There’s a reason why this narrative shows up in all three of the synoptic Gospels: it sends a powerful message from God to His creatures, whom He did not form to be alone.
If you’re going to have friends, surround yourself with people who will get you to Jesus no matter what it takes. Find friends who will bring you to Jesus no matter how laborious the task may be. Recognize the kind of friends who, even if you turned into a hardcore atheist overnight and refused to come back to the Faith, will never stop believing in your reversion and conducting themselves accordingly.
Good Things to Look for in a Friendship
A good rule of thumb is that if a person leads you away from the Faith and Jesus, they’re not someone you should be spending any significant amount of time around if it can be helped. However, good influences don’t necessarily always have to come from people of faith. I used to have a friend who was an atheist, but she always taught me—though she never fully realized it—a number of lessons about my own faith through the interactions she had with me. You want someone whose presence in your life is going to facilitate deep self-reflection in the Faith and growth in holiness.
Another characteristic of a good friend is that they are selfless. They don’t count the cost, they don’t quit when the going gets tough, and they certainly don’t minimize your burdens or problems. They’ll love you enough to tell you the truth, but not in a way that tears you down or makes you feel like you’re worthless. They’ll give freely of themselves to you whenever you’re in need, as their time and talents permit, and will never hold it over your head that they helped you.
Lastly, if it really seems like someone is actively trying to get out of your life, let them go. That doesn’t make the person a bad person. It just means that God doesn’t have them in your next chapter. Pray for them, take a deep breath, and let them go.
Friendship in the spiritual life is so important. You want people who are going to draw you closer to the Lord. Jesus Himself had Martha, Mary, and Lazarus; if Our Lord had friends, surely He will bless you with them if you keep your heart open!
Vir’s heart has been on fire for the Church from day one, and he dreams of the day when Constantinople will be a city again. He has a competitive drive satiated by sports and board games, but is also just as happy to sit down and read a good book for hours on end.