John Cassian (d. 435), a monk and influential spiritual writer, devoted a great deal of his writing to the meaning and importance of friendship. Cassian wisely wrote:
True friendships . . . have as their first foundation contempt for worldly wealth and a disdain for all the material goods that we possess . . . . The second foundation is each person’s curtailment of his own inclinations, so as not to consider himself wise and skilled. Neither one insists on having his own way but both prefer to do what his neighbor wishes. The third is that each person knows that all things–even those he values as useful and necessary–are to be treated as secondary to the value of love and peace. The fourth is that each person believes from the bottom of his heart that he must never become angry for any cause, whether just or unjust. The fifth is that each one desires to assuage the anger that the other may have toward him–even if for no reason–in the same way as he would his own anger. . . . The last is something not to be doubted with regard to vice in general–namely, a person must believe each day that he is going to depart from this world (Conferences, 16.3.1-2; 16:6.1-2).
Yesterday I wrote that friendships are a treasured part of my life’s journey. This quotation helps me explain what this means to me and might benefit you in reading it, or so I pray. Here is a simple exposition of Cassian’s five points.
Note carefully that Cassian says friendships should not be established on worldly gain or material advance. I have learned this the hard way. I was told when I began ACT3 that I needed wealthy friends to be donors since small gifts would not sustain us. When several became attached to the ministry in my early years I thought I could manage this concern without a great deal of stress. I was dead wrong. This is not to say that you cannot have a deep friendship with a wealthy person but it is a cautionary word. If anything has happened to me I have fled wealthy people in many instances unless the friendship comes quite naturally to my daily work and love.
I have discovered that there are two kinds of wealthy persons in my own journey. First, there is what for me the majority. They seem to want to control everything, appealing to their need to be good stewards in ways that strike me as false and manipulative. I know for a fact that most missions and institutions do their work with one eye carefully focused on how the donor(s) will respond! I determined I could not do this so I have likely overreacted by never pursuing wealthy people intentionally, at least not because they are wealthy. Over the last decade this has solved a myriad of problems and it also frees me to write and speak my conscience.
Second, there is a minority of wealthy people I have known who have become dear friends. These folks are genuinely wealthy but this generally has nothing to do with the friendship we enjoy. In almost every case I got to know the individual before I even knew how wealthy they actually were. Now and then a wealthy friend will treat me to some pleasure that I would likely never know except for their loving generosity. (I’ve seen, for example, my fair share of sports events because of friends who gave me prime seats, etc.) But these friends never expect or demand anything back from me because of their gifts. They certainly do not tell me how to do my ministry because they have donated to me a special personal gift or given a one-time larger gift to ACT3. I have known only two or three men of this caliber and none of them are men that I turn to in order to “bail out” our mission in some time of need. And not one of them is on the ACT3 board because they have wealth. If they give a gift it is because they “desire” to give and thus do so with joy and with no strings attached. In these cases I treat these men, and they treat me, as a peer, as a true friend. They will ask how they might help me sometimes but this is rarely a “money” driven question. More times than not they help me, and vice versa, by loving friendship through sharing in prayer, conversation and social interaction.
Tomorrow: True Friendship (2)