Dr. David G. Benner is an internationally known Canadian psychologist, author, and teacher.
The central motif of his life and work has been to help people live the human journey in a deeply spiritual and human way. In his book, Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction, Brenner shows how modern forms of friendship rarely become the life-giving relationships that our souls need.
“The ancients viewed friendship as the crown of life and as the fulfillment of all that is most distinctively human. Moderns all too often assess its value primarily as for its usefulness for achieving material ends (friends as business contacts) or for minimizing loneliness (killing time with “friends”). Most people spend time with colleagues with whom they work or associate.
“This still falls short of the ideals of friendship. The coin of friendship has been continuously devalued by being applied to these lesser forms of relationship. Relationships between acquaintances and associates involve little intimacy, trust, commitment, and loyalty of real friendships. Friendships may grow out of these more casual relationships but are different. Unfortunately, true friendships are also much more rare.
“Friendship is one of God’s special gifts to humans. It is one term God uses to describe the relationship (God) desires with us. Friendship is therefore no ordinary relationship.”
In contrast for what we often settle for today, the 12th Century Cistercian monk Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167), viewed friendship with other people as a way to deepen our friendship with God in Christ. In his classic work, Spiritual Friendship, he writes:
“How happy, how carefree, how joyful you are if you have a friend with whom you may talk as freely as with yourself, to whom you fear to confess neither any fault nor blush at revealing any spiritual progress, to whom you may entrust all the secrets of your heart and confide all your plans. What is more delightful than to unite spirit to spirit and to make one out of two that there is neither fear of boasting nor dread of suspicion? A friend’s correction does not cause pain, and a friend’s praise is not considered flattery.
“A wise man said, ‘A friend is medicine for life.’ What a striking metaphor! No remedy is more powerful, effective, and distinctive in everything that fills this life than to have someone to share your every loss with compassion and your every gain with congratulation. Therefore shoulder to shoulder, according to Paul, friends carry each other’s burdens (Gal: 6:2).
“One truth surpasses all these: close to perfection is that level of friendship that consists in the love and knowledge of God. When the friend of another becomes the friend of God, the words of our Savior become real, ‘I shall no longer call you servants but friends.’” (John 15:15)
Friendship will go deepest when friends share the same beliefs and want the same things out of life. A real friend will walk with us when times are hard. We can count on real friends to listen well, and to counsel well. A real friend keeps confidences. When we share our struggles and our mess-ups, we know they will not be used against us. We know we are safe.
When a friend is making some bad choices with bad consequences, a true friend will risk saying what needs to be said. A real friend knows that being there is enough. We cannot always fix things, but we can be there. We can listen and love, and we can pray.
A real friend forgives. True Christian friends need to be quick to apologize and quick to forgive. A real friend makes us a better person each time we are together.
Cicero once said: “A friend improves happiness by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.”