Thanks to Christian Friends like Sue

Guest post by Allison 
In many ways, my friend Sue and I are as contrasting can be.The labels we wear? Sue: Sunny Californian. Single. Evangelical Christian. Me: Jersey Girl. Married. Practicing Catholic. Despite our asymmetry, and thanks to my sisterly friendship with Sue, I am becoming a better Catholic.

Sue grew up near me in our fancy New York suburb. Both our dads were surgeons. Her family was Evangelical and mine was Catholic. While we rode the same school bus, I didn’t know Sue and her sisters terribly well. Sue’s family moved away to Southern California in 1978, where her dad opened a plastic-surgery practice. Frankly, I had not thought of Sue or her family until her name popped up on my Facebook page, suggesting we become “friends.”

Over the past year, Sue and I have shared numerous emails about our lives and our faith journeys. As one would expect from two women with different Christian faith traditions, we disagree on some doctrinal issues. But what joins us is much more powerful than what separates us. Through our cyber-relationship (I have yet to talk with her on the phone or see her in person), I now consider Sue a spiritual sister.

Sue is a novelist and painter who works for Jews for Jesus in Westwood Village. She seems to have an unshakable faith in God. Life has handed her some heartaches, yet she always projects hope.

For example, when I had a run-in with someone in my parish and was contemplating leaving that particular ministry, I emailed Sue. I felt betrayed by this person and hurt to the core. How could someone behave this way in a church? “I don’t need this,” I wrote Sue. I was struggling. I knew Jesus told Peter to forgive his brother seventy-seven times. But did this rule really apply here? This person was toxic.

Sue offered a different perspective. “Stay with it,” she said. “I think they were just having a bad day.” Her generous heart and wise counsel enabled me to persevere. I am glad I did; we are all so flawed, aren’t we? I can learn far more as a Christian from bearing with my fellow travelers, and having them bear with me, than from walking away in anger, hurt, and condemnation.

Sue also has helped me in another difficult relationship in my life; someone with whom I once was close and who has done some terrible deeds. She regularly prays for them. She tells me God watches over all of us, even when we stumble and fall. She told me this person still is in God’s loving care.

I don’t yet have as generous a heart as Sue, or as brave and forgiving a spirit. As a Catholic Christian, I appreciate the depth of her Christian experience and the wise counsel of my spiritual sister. We encourage one another in our walk of faith.

And now, let me ask you, what friends who are not Catholic have helped deepen your Catholic faith?

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  • Sue sounds like a wise person.

  • Anonymous

    Great post, Allison!I have a wonderfully inspiring Christian friend who came to me eight years ago through the Holy Spirit. My eighth grade son needed a volunteer commitment for Junior Honor Society eligibility and I turned to our Senior Center. Did any of their patrons need computer tutoring? (no). Dog walking? (no). Snow shoveling? Well… there was this elderly blind woman with a guide dog, who was recently widowed and who might very much appreciate having her sidewalk cleared… would my son be willing to do this? When I ran this by him, he passed on it. He needed so many hours/week. What if it didn't snow? A few hours went by and I just could not stop thinking about this woman, Martha, who was just a few years younger than my mother, also widowed. What an extra burden to be blind! So I called the center back and wondered if I could do her shoveling or become a companion to her. In a week's time, I found myself doing both. It turned out, she had been a weekly volunteer at the center, knitting hats for newborns – but had stopped coming when her husband (and driver) had died. The Holy Spirit was definitely at work in bringing us together, because her blindness required an extra diligence on her part in allowing a stranger into her life. During our first meeting, she mentioned that she had two daughters, one living and one deceased, who left behind three children. The surviving daughter played flute in a local concert band. I myself belonged to a community concert band, and suddenly realized that I was acquainted with her daughter! Martha is a devout Congregationalist, who bakes the communion bread for her church. Blind since childhood, she refuses to see herself as handicapped. She taught Kindergarten and still gets together with her college roommates. She took in Cambodian refugees and taught them English, cared for her ailing mother-in-law for five years, ironed her son-in-law's shirts until his recent death. She lives alone and manages beautifully, despite having a total hip replacement last summer. Each week, she knits at least five hats for newborns, along with sweaters and quilts for family members.When people are with Martha, they forget that she is blind. Often, at the Senior Center, she'll be approached with pictures of a grandchild or new pet. She has the enthusiasm of a first grader with the wisdom of her eighty five years. Everyone she meets is inspired by her. Her faith has definitely deepened mine. She suffers without complaint, she deflects praise of her to praise of her parents, she expects a glorious reunion with her daughter and husband at her death. Her conviction, and her bravery come to mind every time I visit my mother in her nursing home. My mother, a devout Catholic,is increasingly afraid as her life nears its earthly end. This both puzzles and disturbs me, so I am grateful to Martha for her exampleand her gentle suggestions about how I can comfort my mother.It really does pay to listen to the Holy Spirit!

  • Webster Bull

    @Anonymous,What a beautiful testimony!! Thanks so much.

  • I have, over the years, gotten as much or more out of my friendships with non-Christian (not just non-Lutheran, as I am) friends as from my Christian (including Lutheran and Catholic) ones.I personally think of faith as the many pebbled stream — all faiths look a little different and may imagine the divine differently as well, but we're travelling in the same waters.

  • Allison Salerno

    Beautiful metaphor, Elaine.Anonymous: Thanks for sharing your heart-warming story. You told it so vividly and in such great detail that you and your older friend really came alive to me.

  • Anonymous

    I feel compelled to share. I have my friend from college. We're really best friends. She's a Hindu – but I dont think of her in that way. I only think of her as my friend. I was struggling with a choice in my Vocation and everyone – mostly Catholics – were telling me I was crazy. They all scared me, admonished me, put me down and generally tried to make me change my mind. She didnt really understand what I was doing but she stood by me. She said, 'If you think this is what you want to do, I'm sure you've thought about it, so you do that.'And till today, she's still standing by me and loving me as I am. I'm convinced God has sent her to me as a support and blessing. Rose

  • Rose: What a blessing this friend is to you. God does put people into our lives – for a reason. And it is important for me to realize that each and every human is created in the image of our Creator.

  • @Rose and others: Two friends who have been in my life at various times who were most respectful of my Catholic faith were a dear Hindu friend from India and a Muslim friend from Nigeria. Both women had experienced Catholic education in their own countries; one was educated by nuns and the other's children were being educated by Jesuits. They both had seen firsthand the good works of clergy and religious in transforming lives and in lifting people out of crushing poverty. They were tremendously respectful and supportive of my practice of the Catholic faith.

  • Anonymous

    Allison, Then maybe now I can be your Catholic friend from India! :)Rose

  • @Rose:That sounds good. So you live in India? I was unclear from an earlier post whether you have followed a religious vocation.Blessings,Allison

  • Anonymous

    Allison, Yes I'm Indian and live in India. Regarding the vocation decision, it's still a bit personal and I didn't want to 'put it out there' just yet. Maybe in an email sometime later. And thank you for the good work all of you do writing this blog :). Rose

  • Allison Salerno

    Rose:Of course. I will pray for you as you discern your calling. God is good…I am having fun writing posts and am glad you find them to have some value.blessings…