Question Ten: “Can I be a friend?”
Introduction to the series
Much of the last year was thread through with considerable loss. My brother, Dave, battled a fatal brain cancer for nearly eight years and he died this last January as the result of a fall that was due in large part to his disease. He would have been 58 years old in October.
In reaction to Dave’s quest to find a durable faith and supportive friends, I wrote a book called The Dave Test, which was just released by Abingdon Press. The book distills Dave’s quest into ten questions that any of us can ask ourselves, when we are in one of life’s hard places or when we are trying to support those we love. Whether that hard place revolves around divorce, death, unemployment, abuse, illness, or some other misfortune, I hope that the questions I ask and the answers the book offers will help us all sit a bit more easily with life’s ragged edges.
Over ten weeks I plan to apply the questions in The Dave Test to our preparation for the holidays. At this time of year for many there is — as the expression goes — “no cause for celebration.” But I am convinced that there is reason for hope and I don’t believe that we need to navigate the holidays alone. I hope that the book and this application of The Dave Test’s principles to the holidays will help ease the sense of isolation that is so much a part of life for many of us at this time of year.
This week’s Dave Test question: “Can I be a friend?”
Not long ago, one reviewer of The Dave Test had this to say at Amazon:
I guess I am getting to the age that many of my friends are going through “stuff”. I bought this book thinking I would read & review it then recommend it to a friend, but found that it was more appropriate in helping me to help him. Having passed through a traumatic loss myself, I found that I related to a lot of the observations recorded here. Even though I never use the word, and I don’t like the word, the author’s statement that “Life sucks” has a ring of truth and summarizes in a nutshell how you feel when you are in the midst of suffering. I chose not to recommend this book to my suffering friend, but instead, I used it to help me learn how to be more effective and compassionate dealing with him.
When I read the review, I thought, “You really can’t ask for more by way of a reaction from a reader.” But, of course, in another way we all need far more. We not only need the courage, strength, and wisdom to care for our friends, we need our friends to care for us — if not now, at some point in the future. We need friends who are capable of companionship — friends who are capable of reaching across their own vulnerability and fears. In turn these are gifts that God uses to remind us of God’s own love for us when life is hard — of a love that transcends and finally heals the broken places of life. Friends of that kind remind us that life’s losses need not define us.
Friendships of that kind are also completely different from the ones we often cultivate. Friends whose company we enjoy or who share some of the same interests or life history may, or may not be companions in life’s hard places. The prospect of walking with someone in pain poses deep challenges. Only spiritual friendships possess the quality to endure the ragged edges of life.
Aelred, Abbot of the monastery in Rievaulx in the Twelfth Century described friendships of that kind as “‘guardian(s) of love’ or ‘guardian(s) of the spirit itself.’” Significantly, he also believed that the enduring nature of those relationships was rooted in a relationship with God: It was God’s love that exemplified the love that characterizes the best of spiritual friendships. It was God’s presence that sustained them.
Keep Aelred’s wisdom in mind and when you choose a community to celebrate life’s special moments, ask yourself deeper questions:
- Is this a community that can reach across its own needs to shoulder the needs of others?
- Is this a community that can risk itself in the name of caring for others?
- Is this a community where spiritual friendships are forged?
- And ask yourself: Is this a community that will nurture the same capacity for friendship in me?
With or without a cause of celebration, a life lived with spiritual friends is marked by deep joy that life’s hard places cannot destroy. Find a community where you can answer “yes” to the questions listed above. Then, as one of Dave’s friends observed, “Love, let yourself be loved.”
For more on taking The Dave Test during the holidays:
Question One: “Can I say life sucks?”
Question Two: “Can I give up my broken gods?”
Question Three: “Can I avoid using stained-glass language?”
Question Four: “Can I admit that some things will never get better?”
Question Five: “Can I give up trading in magic and superstition?”
Question Six: “Can I stop blowing smoke?”
Question Seven: “Can I say something that helps?”
Question Eight: “Can I grieve with others?”
Question Nine: “Can I walk wounded?”
To read more about The Dave Test, or to order a copy:
(Click on the book to order)