Over the weekend of May 29-31, EpiC took its spring retreat at a cabin in the Cascades. The theme for our weekend was “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” We hiked, hot-tubbed, played cards, watched a movie, shared Eucharist, cooked and ate, and shared discussion about friendship.
Together, we identified a number of skills we can develop in order to maintain better friendships:
Curiosity: What don’t I know about this person? What would I like to know?
Encouragement through Listening: Most of the time, friendships are not sustained by advice, or by saying, “It’s going to be OK,” but by a simple understanding of our friend’s feelings, and our ability to reflect and clarify those feelings.
Honesty: We can learn to say, “I disagree,” or, “I think you’re wrong.” This doesn’t need to represent a threat to a friendship. Quite often, in fact, conflict is an invitation to intimacy.
Asking for What You Need: We may resist the growth of a friendship for fear of being a burden to the other. Yet friendships require this kind of honesty, too. We can learn to say, “Here’s what I need from you right now.” We can also learn to ask our friends, “What do you need me to be for you in this moment?”
Pursuit/Effort: We can practice loving attentiveness that sees the other both honestly and with unconditional regard. It may seem strange to say to another person, “I want to be your friend,” but we really can do it.
Risk/Vulnerability: Pursuing a friendship may seem risky, because it involves opening our heart without a guarantee that it won’t be broken. But we can sustain an attitude of abundance as opposed to scarcity, trusting that good friendships grow deeper when we take chances. We also talked about “pseudo-vulnerability,” in which we share our insecurities very selectively, always taking care to keep control of the narrative. This habit can actually be detrimental to friendships instead of helpful.
Thoughtfulness: This is a practice we can develop over time by deciding to do little, individual things for a friend over and over again. Over time, it becomes a true virtue.
Prayer: When we want good for the other, we will bring this hope to God. Sometimes the other’s good must come at the expense of our own desires. Through prayer, God can help us explore the feelings that arise in these situations, and help us discern when it is OK to allow this to happen.
Commitment (over against Convenience): Friendship means holding a space for the other to become what God is calling that person to be. This isn’t always easy or convenient. Maintaining and deepening a friendship takes intentional energy and patience.
Humility: None of us can be all things to all people. Sometimes, friendships fade. While you might lose someone, or the church may lose someone, God will never lose anyone.
Reminiscing: Friendships grow deeper over time, through sharing a history. This led to a discussion of habits that can be helpful to individual friendships but unhelpful in groups: for instance, dwelling on inside jokes without inviting new people in. Also, some friendships become nothing but reminiscing, and this may be a signal that it’s time to decide whether to breathe new life into the friendship, or to let it fade.
Boundaries: We are all individuals. In friendship, we allow ourselves to need and to be needed to a degree, but we must not let our identity be swallowed up in the other. This is a balancing act.
Each of us selected a skill to work on over the summer. We talked about how these skills will be helpful when we are welcoming new students to EpiC in the fall.
Out of this discussion came questions about assumptions we make as Christians who are entering into friendships. We listed a few of these assumptions, which come out of Scripture, tradition, and our baptismal covenant.
- Everyone’s dignity should be respected.
- We have a duty to love people, even those we don’t like very much.
- Humility reminds us that we don’t know everything, and that first impressions of people are always incomplete. It also reminds us that “my faith is not the entire faith.”
- We have a responsibility to a greater whole. In friendship, we develop skills that help us pursue justice on a much grander scale.
- We are all worthy of love. Why? Because we belong to God … and we don’t need any other reason.