Christian Friendship - Practice in Selfless Love (Which Makes You a Better Person)
Saint Pope John Paul II called the family the first "school of love." As children, the family is the first place that we learn about love for each other and for God. Beyond the family, there are many other "schools" of love that nourish the seedlings that grow in our childhood. Our vocation is the main school of love that God gives to each of us. As a married man and a father, I am constantly being challenged to love more completely, to respond less selfishly to the demands my family makes of me. And I don't mind telling you it's a hard lesson - as much as I love my family.
Friendship is one of the great gifts that God gives us. While there are difficult lessons in every school of love, most of the time friendship is the balm for the wounds of life. Most of our experiences with friends are enjoyable and life-giving. But the ease of these relationships doesn't undermine their value as honing stones for selfless love.
Most of us don't consider that friendship is a form of love. We tend to think of love in two ways - romantic love or a general sense of well-being about humanity. But to the ancient Greeks, the highest form of human love was philios. Philios means brotherly love (it's the root of Philadelphia, the "City of Brotherly Love"). But the ancient Greeks didn't mean the love between natural brothers. They meant friendship - when we "adopt" someone by choice to become our brother or our sister. So the highest form of human love in the ancient Greek world - right up to the time of Jesus - was friendship. Jesus himself equated friendship with love. But he then called his disciples to a higher level of love. "No man has greater love than this - to lay down his life for a friend." This was more than the traditional understanding of love for a friend required. But this is the kind of love that God wants friendship to draw us toward - complete self-sacrifice for the good of the other person. This is the kind of love that ancient Greeks called agapé.
So for all of the goodness that friendship brings into our lives, it is not an end in itself. The true gift of friendship is that it leads us to a deeper love. It trains us to see with the heart not just with the eyes. It trains us to love the soul for its beauty and grace and truth despite the stains left by sin and ignorance. And this training helps us to see the beauty and grace and truth in everyone else as well, so we may begin to love them as Christ loved us. It also trains us to see beauty and grace and truth wherever God has placed it within his wonderful creation.
More importantly - though a bit less poetic - is that friendship trains us in selflessness. The secret of a great relationship is that the way to get is to give. Selfish people find friendship very difficult, and even bitter. Their friends never seem to do enough for them. Selfish people come to see their friends as selfish. People with hard hearts see hard hearts everywhere. The closed-hearted close themselves off to many of the benefits of friendship. Friendship then becomes a burden.
Unfortunately, because of our fallen human nature, selfishness quickly becomes our natural tendency. We have to work on selflessness, even in our friendships. Like G.K. Chesterton says in his book Everlasting Man, "A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it." And in friendship, deliberate selflessness is most often expressed as acts of service. So look for ways to serve your friends. Cultivate love within your relationship. Let friendship be the school of love that God intended it to be.
Fortunately for us, the love of friendship is a skill that we can learn - and learning that skill opens us to the grace of Charity that in turn empowers us to love even more completely.
Bonus Tip: The easiest way to learn skills like this is to follow a proven behavioral template.
So to make things easier on you, I created a set of behavioral templates that can help you grow in an important habit in five key areas of Catholic spirituality.
You'll get an easy-to-follow diagram that leads you step-by-step through the formation of the habit.
Click this link to go to www.fromtheabbey.com to find the templates. Just click on the icon for the template you want, fill out the pop-up form, download the template and get started transforming your faith life!