Friends forever.

“To be useful,” theologian Carolyn Jane Bohler writes, “a metaphor for God needs to evoke two reactions at the same time: ‘Oh, yes, God is like that,’ and ‘Well, no, God is not quite like that.’”

The metaphor of a divine friend has never really done it for me. Well, that’s not entirely true. When my mother told me I had a friend in Jesus, I felt like I’d struck “key influencer” gold, like becoming besties with the principal or Prince. But as I aged into evangelicalism, the relationship felt too chummy. Who were we to think we knew intimately what Jesus would do, let alone what he wanted for 1990’s pre-teens at any given moment?

And so I swung. From having lots to say about God to being able to say very little. Sure, there are love notes from time to time. But I imagine they have more to do with me than God. Most days, our communication is a simple, “Hi, God” followed by “Hey, Erin” as I go to bed and rise again. Resurrection grows unremarkable.

My pastor preached God’s friendship recently. And I realized it had been a long time since I allowed myself to consider how God “is like that.” More parts available than distant. Equal parts coffee shop and dance floor. Very much a fan of me.

It’s friendship that saves us, she proclaimed. In fact, in what’s called his Farewell Discourse, Jesus lifts it up as the greatest of all loves. When practiced for good, “it bears fruit that will last.” A revelation in plain sight.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been spending my days writing for women who aren’t feeling motherhood that I could finally feel the weight of these words.

Friendship is how we leave a legacy.

Friendship is how we multiply divine purpose.

Friendship is a democratic love that we can know and grow whether we ever partner, parent, or procreate.

No one is excluded from knowing “a love like this.”

Friendship is undervalued in a country who spouts “family first.” And yet spending time with friends ranks high on our pleasure scale. In fact, in one study cited in Jennifer Senior’s book, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenting, the company of friends ranked highest in enjoyment, above spouses, relatives, acquaintances, and one’s own parents. Spending time with one’s children came in a distant place, along with strangers. I guffawed underlining this bit of research, glad to know that someone other than I might find dinner time conversation with kids as thrilling as a trip to the dry cleaner.

What would it feel like if friend was the role we prized most? What would it look like if we struggled to fend off Tiger Friends and Helicopter Pals who cared so fiercely for us as to become a caricature? What if we threw big parties for bestie anniversaries? The year my single mother posed with a friend for her annual Christmas card gave me a grin fatter than Santa.

Rekindling a focus on friendship, with others, with God, with ourselves even, won’t be easy. I want to be a better friend, in theory. I’m nothing if not hyper-intentional. But the truth is I can be an opportunistic friend. Present when I need something. Happily underground when I don’t. The same could be said about my friendship with God.

Th good news is friend love is better celebrated than chased. “Friendship is not to be sought, not to be dreamed, not to be desired; it is to be exercised (it is a virtue)” wrote Simone Weil. Friendship, like belonging, is not a privilege but a practice. It’s what Weil called a “gratuitous art.” We accept it as gift and offer it as gift, no strings attached.

So, today, maybe a text to say, You’re killing it.

And, tomorrow, maybe a meal to say, You feed me.

Some distant day, maybe a party that says, We belong together, and includes glow sticks, jelly shoes, and Zack Attack’s Friends Forever on repeat.

Unless your friend, like God, “is not quite like that.”


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