Not too long ago, I went out for supper with a friend. There were couples and families out at the restaurant, but I was struck by the groups of women there. One long table was filled with women who appeared to be out celebrating some event. But there were at least two other booths of women and it made my heart glad to see them there.
Between bites of food and conversation, I would glance over at the booths of women. They were already seated by the time we got there and, after we had a leisurely meal, they were still there when we left. Perhaps it seems strange, but seeing these groups gave me encouragement. What they were doing was simple: it was a handful of women out for food and drinks. I never saw them photograph themselves or their food. Instead, they were talking and listening to one another. I couldn’t hear their conversation and I didn’t want to, yet it was obvious that it wasn’t superficial banter. Different ladies would speak and the rest would listen intently. It was obvious that they were drawn together by bonds of trust and friendship.
Did they speak about work successes or any difficulties involved? Did they discuss dating relationships or family matters? Were they discussing ideas or the state of world affairs? I don’t know, but I am convinced they were discussing matters that they held close to their hearts.
I will never argue that I am the best at maintaining or building friendships, but I know that true, authentic friendships add a richness to life. While I had friends in high school, I think my first experience of deep friendships happened at college. I’m not one to have lots and lots of friends or share deeply with many people, but I found a great joy in entering into intimate friendship with people who pursued the same values I did.
In college, I joined a “household” (a baptized sorority focused on growth in community, virtue, and faith) and took part in a weekly share group. Of the many ways we bonded, this was one of my favorites. We set aside three hours one night each week to eat a meal together and share about our lives. The time maybe seemed excessive to some, but it was necessary for me. I needed to have ample time to share my heart because if I feel like I am being rushed, I am unable to share deeply. And while it was good for me to have time to share, I loved being able to listen to the other women share their hearts, too. It didn’t mean that I became best friends with these women, but it gave me a glimpse into what life has looked like for others and pushed me to be more considerate of where they come from.
Friendship and community are necessary, and beautiful, aspects in life. The Greek philosophers spent a great deal of time examining and praising friendship. Aristotle divided friendship into three categories: utility, pleasure, and goodness. The first two aren’t bad, but the third category is the best. When two people seek the good of the other, a deep and rare friendship is formed. Aristotle would also argue that close friendship between two men (or women, I presume) can be a higher love than the romantic love between a man and a woman. And while I’m uncertain about my opinion on that regard, I can see how that would be true. There is an unguarded honesty that can develop within separate groups of men and women. While that can be found within mixed groups of men and women, I think the purest form is found within single-sex groups.
So that is what I want to encourage us to pursue. Go get lunch or coffee with a friend and share life with them. The world could benefit greatly from men forming deep friendships with other men. And the same is true with women. Our hearts grow and expand by being in relationship with one another. The Lord was not isolated from this experience. Rather, He spent three years traveling, eating, and talking with twelve other men. I am certain close friendships were formed within that group and not simply with Jesus. In fact, I would argue that the Lord demands friendship for His faithful followers. If we are to be one body and if we are all brothers and sisters, then we must enter into relationship with one another. And in encountering each other, we will encounter Him.