Yesterday I shared a lengthy quotation from The Conferences of John Cassian (d. 435). This quotation had to do with Christian friendship. (As I wrote on Monday, the subject of friendship means a great deal to me.) In his second of five points about the foundation of friendship John Cassian writes:
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.
If you are to grow into a deep and lasting friendship, the kind of relationship that mutually encourages you and your friend, then you must learn to curtail your own sense of importance and your personal expectations and agenda for the other person.
Negatively this means that you must allow your friend to disagree with you, even rather profoundly at times, and still remain committed to keeping and nurturing the friendship. In fact, in such a time of disagreement the friendship might become more important to you. You will have to work hard to make this happen but when it does happen the joy is priceless. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and kinsfolk are born to share adversity.”
Love is not agreement but a mutual respect and unspoken agreement to seek what is best for both persons. Love listens, grows and changes. If the other person in this relationship treats you as their project then the relationship will surely fail. No friend can turn a true friendship into a project, a relationship in which this other person is there to change you and make you more like what they think you should be. St. Paul says: “Love does not insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The greatest killer of friendships, at least in my journey, has been a change in affection and expectation that led to the sense that I cannot live up to what this person expects of me. (This creates a sense of hopelessness, which is never a good thing in a friendship.) This person may deeply care for me but they have not learned that they cannot “insist on [their] own way” or they will drive me away. They must agree to humbly accept me as I am or not accept me at all. This does not mean a friend does not correct their friend, or seek to protect a friend from what they see as danger. It does mean they know when and how to do this and they do it with great care and deep affection. This takes great wisdom, joined with deep, growing love if it is to be done well. In my marriage, as well as in all my long-term friendships (which are, mercifully, more numerous than what I have seen in most men my age), I am not a project for my truest friends but rather a person dearly loved for who I am, weaknesses and all.
Finally, Cassian says that genuine friendship means you will “prefer to do what [your] neighbor wishes.” The apostle says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Love, the key to lasting friendship, is always “other” centered. I have to work hard at this because by nature I talk too much. I can dominate and I tend to think first of myself in speech because this is how my mind works. This is a huge problem and I lived this way until I reached my 40s in age. I have to continually learn to quiet my mind and then ask the other person (my friend), “How are you doing?” Then I need to really listen. This is extremely hard for me. But because this has been my weakness it also reminds me daily that I must “put on love” for my friends or I will have no friends at the end of the day. My wife, who is my best friend, has helped me immensely to think of others first. She has urged me to always ask, “How are you doing?” before I launch into my own words.
Tomorrow: True Friendship (3)