As we explored in last week’s post, according to St. Aelred, friendship is being together in Christ. If we take our Lord at his word, then surely Jesus is right there in our midst. But if we recognize Christ’s very presence when we gather with friends, that he is the force drawing us and binding us together, unifying us as his body, then that dramatically changes how we interact with each other. If the pinnacle result of Christ laying his life down for his friends is so we may grow in communion with God and his Church, then the result of when we do the same for our friends is so we may see them grow in communion with God and his Church.
This has profound implications. Friendship is no longer just a pleasant entity that benefits one’s personal desires, as most Americans perceive it. It is far grater than that. According to St. Aelred, spiritual friendship is discipleship.
You cannot miss this.
In spiritual friendship, the greatest thing one could ever possibly want is for her friends to grow in their faith and love in Jesus Christ. If the transformational love of Jesus is the greatest thing anyone could ever experience in this life, then shouldn’t that be the greatest thing friends desire for each other? Spiritual friendship is intentionally acting upon the sacred and sacramental power of the friendship found in their shared faith in Jesus. If this is the case, then friends will jump on every opportunity to disciple one another more into his likeness. Praying together, intently listening to one another, worshiping together, doing ministry together, crying together, laughing together — all of it becomes a means to utilizing the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us and binds us together to form each other into Christ’s likeness.
However, this doesn’t only apply to the obvious disciplines associated with discipleship. If Christ is in our midst whenever we gather, all of a sudden, the theological significance of everything we do just skyrockets. Shooting the breeze with a friend over a rich pour-over Ethiopian coffee is a time to be with God. Getting way too into a game of Super Smash Bros on a Nintendo 64 with your bros from high school is a time to be with God. Waking up at the crack of dawn to attend your cycling class with your ladies is a time to be with God.
Everything we do with our friends becomes a tangible opportunity to be with God, because his Son is right there in our midst. Regardless of how spiritually intense or relaxed our times together may seem, simply being gathered with Christians shapes our attitudes, minds, wills, and hearts more into Christ-likeness than we could ever imagine. If we are designed for community, and we are shaped by the people we surround ourselves with, then befriending the Church—acting upon the sacred power of our friendship—is of severe importance to grow in God’s image.
We become Christ-like when we’re with Christ-like friends. That’s what happens when we recognize Christ in our midst.
Unfortunately, too many of us try to do this Christianity thing alone. And that is definitely not how God intended for his church to function.
More next week.