The Ministry of Friendship

Photo courtesy of State Library and Archives of Florida

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.

  • Mattie Chatham

    Oh, yes. This has been my life and it is so sweet. Grace is real.

  • http://Formerlyknownasazine.blogspot.com Elissa

    I’m so glad, feel so so lucky, to be part of your ministry of friendship, my dear!

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    Yes, yes, yes. Such a simple way to reframe friendship but what a mighty change in perspective!

  • Mark Allman

    Hi Micha,

    I came over here from Addie’s blog. In terms of friendship I think at times that is all the ministry that I have. To be ready to step in a gap at a moments notice when I see a friend needs something, to stay in touch when not is easier, to offer nothing but presence at times when words would be hollow, to act without being called, to follow up when time has past but pain has not, to not let differences matter between us, to notice when they are not present, to check on them when something seems amiss, to love them with my actions and not my words, to stab them in the front(Oscar Wilde) and not the back, to walk beside when walking is damn hard for them and to suffer when they suffer, and to laugh when they laugh, and to rejoice when they rejoice.

    May God allow that I be such that my friends would cherish our relationship.

    • http://drgtjustwondering.blogspot.com Diana Trautwein

      This comment is as lovely as Micha’s wonderful post. Thank you both for putting such gracious words around one of the dearest truths in life. I truly believe that offering real friendship is the highest and most effective form of evangelism on the planet. That may sound like a non-sequiter, but I don’t think so. When we ‘love one another’ as Jesus commanded, the gospel is lived, not just preached. And when we love our neighbors, we are living as Jesus lived – and lives. I cannot think of a more valuable and important ministry than this ministry of friendship you have described so eloquently. Thank you.

      • Mark Allman

        Thank you!

    • Jeannie

      Wonderful comment on a wonderful post. Thanks.

  • http://www.livingpalm.blogspot.com Tamara @ This Sacramental life

    Yes.

  • http://piejesu.org/ Emmie

    I have been thinking a good deal lately about holding the tension between joy and suffering…and all that it means for us as Christians..you are so right, it is part of being a grown up and it is okay to be experiencing both simultaneously. The ministry of friendship (or love) is really what it is about. Father Herbert Alphonso said that our vocations boiled down to loving and being loved. Thanks as always for the thoughtful post.

  • Fred Harrell

    Lovely post Micha. If you haven’t started reading Richard Rohr (you probably already have) you must start. He describes in so many vivid ways the necessary suffering we must embrace as part of our existence and even calling. Living with the paradox, contradictions, pain…and beauty, glory, and joy at the same time. I love the phrase Ministry of Friendship… such a good post. Thanks. AND I’M SO GLAD YOU ARE BACK IN THIS CITY! :)

  • http://fionalynne.com/blog/ fiona lynne

    That co-existence of pain and joy? You put into (oh so eloquent) words what I’ve been feeling these last months. I looked back on the summer and thought how good it had been and then how terrible it had been. How can it both be true? And yet it just is, that’s how it’s always been.

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