My third grade teacher, Ms. Hurdst, helped is to remember the spelling of “friend” with a little saying about frienship:
A friend is a friend to the end.
Even though this was a mnemonic device to help us remember the order of the vowels in a word, it also contained a nugget of truth about the nature of friendship. While friendship can be enhanced by every one of the virtues that Michele and Emily discuss in The Friendship Project, I believe that loyalty is something that doesn’t enhance friendship: it’s what makes it possible in the first place. Emily writes of the long-term loyalty between friends she made at college, and shares the Biblical account of Ruth and Naomi as a beautiful example of loyalty. I’ve always loved the story of these women, especially the beautiful love that Ruth had for her mother-in-law, expressed in her desire to stay alongside Naomi no matter what happened:
“Do not press me to go back and abandon you! Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God.”
What an example of loyal friendship this is! Emily goes on to discuss obstacles and worldly influences that might stand in the way of loyalty, including the idea of “frenemies,” an insidious relationship that can never cultivate a true, spiritually deep friendship. While most of us have had moments when we have been disloyal to a friend, these instances are usually unintentional. Maybe we fail to speak up when someone is speaking badly about a friend. Maybe we start out talking about a problem someone is having, wishing to ask for prayers, and the conversation devolves into gossip. When these things happen, we must ask for forgiveness and work to repair friendships.
But what happens when you are the one wronged by a disloyal friend? What happens when you have been so badly hurt that repair is impossible? This is when you have to work to maintain the next virtue discussed: generosity.
I remember an incident that happened years ago that tested my ability to be generous with friends. I had a disagreement with an online friend, whom I had known for about 10 years. It wasn’t a matter of simply interacting online. We had exchanged Christmas cards and emails, prayed for each other’s families. Then we were discussing a current event, and we were on opposite sides of it. I tried to make my point, and our discussion became a public argument. From there, it gradually devolved until she set me up to shame me. My final words to her in that public forum were, to say the least, un-Christian. I blocked her on all social media and cried. I genuinely felt that she was twisting my words and intentions to be the worst possible thing, taking none of our history and her knowledge of the kind of person I am into account. I felt like she sacrificed our friendship in order to score points in a public forum. I felt truly betrayed by the entire thing.
I wound up at Reconciliation that weekend, confessing my anger and final words to my former friend, and I got the most difficult penance I’ve ever received: email an apology for my behavior, even knowing that I might get nothing in return. I did it, but our friendship ended that week. I still occasionally think of her and pray for her family, but I don’t make any effort to recultivate our friendship. Her lack of loyalty gave me a true reason to leave that friendship behind.
The problem would come if her lack of loyalty prevented me from making other friends in the future. If I allow that terrible moment of hurt to prevent me from being generous with other friends or from making new friends, then I will fail in cultivating generosity in my life and my current friendships.
It’s human nature to want to shy away from being hurt again, but we must work against that tendency and pray for strength to remain generous and open to friendships. Michele’s prayer for generosity at the end of the chapter is perfect for this, as is the beautiful prayer of my own patroness, St. Catherine of Siena:
“Eternal Goodness, You want me to gaze into You and see that You love me – to see that You love me gratuitously, so that I may love everyone with the very same love. You want me, then, to love and serve my neighbors gratuitously, by helping them spiritually and materially as much as I can, without any expectation of selfish profit of pleasure. Nor do You want me to hold back because of their ingratitude or persecution.”
May the prayers of our sisters, the saints, help us grow in loyalty and generosity.
To Ponder, Reflect and Discuss:
- Loyalty is crucial to real friendship. Do you have any friendships that have devolved into “frenemy” territory? What can you do to stop that cycle and cultivate better loyalty between yourself and your friend?
- Have you been hurt in the past by a disloyal friend? What steps can you take (or did you take) to help you maintain a generous spirit with other friends?
- Our culture touts selfishness as a virtue. Do you have friends who help you be generous and less self-centered? What can you do today to develop a better sense of generosity in yourself?
See the video for this week’s chapter, plus download a printable journal and more at The Friendship Project Group Study page.
Next week, we’ll conclude our book club with Chapter 8, Pondering Prayerfulness. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit The Friendship Project Book Club page.
Copyright 2017 Christine Johnson