Saturday morning, Chris took the boys in search of the perfect San Francisco donut and dropped me off at a park so I could run for the first time in four weeks.
But first I sat down on a bench and called one of my dearest, a friend I hadn’t caught up in almost the same amount of time I hadn’t been on a run.
Our conversation did not go as expected. She’s in an amazing 9-month intensive academy, studying theology and culture. I couldn’t wait to hear what she was reading and discussing. I couldn’t wait to hear what kind of friendships she’s making there and if it’s hard living in a house with the nine other people she works and studies with.
Instead, her words were heartbroken. Her story was the worst kind of news: her father’s health, the cancer, the emergency surgery, the prognosis. In the past two weeks, while I was across the world tasting wines and seeing art, her life changed.
That collision happens all the time for me lately. The holding pain and heartbreak in one hand and tickling your kid and laughing in your deepest gut in the other. I’m starting to believe that recognizing and living with an awareness of suffering, even in moments of bliss is part of being a grown-up, or at least part of being a Christ-following grown-up.
I sat on the bench staring in the pond while she told me the story. I love her dad. He’s special. I became friends with him seven years ago because of our bonding over Caravaggio paintings. After that, we found we agreed on most every thing, whether it was contemplative prayer or fiction. He’s the type whose blue eyes fill deep when he talks about the gospel.
So, it wasn’t hard to cry on the phone. It would have been hard not to cry, you see? There she is, this dearest friend, thousands of miles from me, facing the biggest kind of fear. It wasn’t hard to cry.
So we did, on the phone. While I looked into the water at the ducks and my husband bought my boys donuts five blocks away and laughed at August’s story about the robot cheetah in his imagination. And somewhere, my nephew played football and scored. And another friend laughed hysterically on a lunch date. Somewhere, someone else I love was vacuuming her house, another was stressed over finances. Somewhere, a friend was praying for a mate and another was praying for the future of her uncertain marriage.
All of it, all at once, I thought later, as I ran. It’s always all at once: the sorrow and the happiness, the hope and the despair. I thanked God that I could cry with my friend and as I ran I felt the words, The Ministry of Friendship, float to my head. I think it was from God.
The Ministry of Friendship. Those words were so hopeful to me. Why had I never thought of it before? Of course friendship is a ministry. Of course God would honor the time I spend caring for friends, even on the phone, in the same way he honors the time I spend with high school or college students or the time we give to the strangers in need around us.
The Ministry of Friendship. The older I get, the more ministry is less a thing to be done and more a way to live. So, of course, the caring for those we love—the laughing and celebrating and grieving and blessing—all of it is ministry. All of it is somehow living out The Beatitudes, isn’t it?
I’m just thinking about that this morning, thousands of miles from some good friends, newly next door to others. What does it mean to be a minister of the gospel here, right here, in this newly acquired Pacific Time Zone? Here in this city that I love and dread all at the same time?
A Minister of Friendship, waking every morning, crossing myself and walking out, two boys in either hand, called to offer blessing all over the faces I encounter. Such a task. Such a glorious calling.