What is Spiritual friendship?

Spiritual friendship exists at the connection between our deepest longings for experiencing God and our desire to become fully mature humans. In our highly driven, cognitive oriented culture - our inner beings long for friendship and connection, with God and with others who share our longing.

A true spiritual friend engages us as an equal, desires our best interests, as we desire theirs. Spiritual friends cultivate an inner stillness of soul and body that enables us to be aware of the moves of the Spirit in our own lives and equally sensitive to those same moves in another.

True spiritual friendship is a response to the attractive loving power of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are responding to Jesus’ invitation to be his friends and in the process laying down our own lives for one another.

The practice of spiritual friendship is a lifelong growth in listening and conversation. Through regular personal, contemplative and imaginative prayer we nurture our friendship with Jesus and develop sensitivity and awareness of the presence and move of God in our life.

We share this journey in regular conversation with a spiritual friend(s) and listen with transparency to our shared journey with Jesus.

As we learn and grow together in our experience of Jesus others may be drawn to us, for us to listen to them in the same way you’ve experienced together with your friend(s).

Spiritual friendship invites us to exercise personal responsibility and initiative:

  • For prayer and reflection using whatever practices work for us.
  • For developing and nurturing a regular spiritual friend(s) for the growth and integrity of our spiritual journey.
  • Being available in time and stillness for those who come for nurture and counsel.
  • Learning new ways to pray, listen and engage with souls of those who come across our path.

A rewarding and sustained spiritual friendship requires that these moments become more than mere transactions. They can instead be reference points on the journey of life. They mark the way, so that the next time we are together we may return to these ideas as the starting point for ongoing conversation. An ongoing friendship that nurtures the soul – true spiritual friendship – will eventually include our broken places, the places where we discover we need help from God and a few friends, no matter how powerful and in control we are accustomed to being. The friendship may even begin right from that brokenness. In either case, it is here we also discover the power of receiving and not just giving.

That receiving and giving points to another important characteristic of spiritual friendship: mutuality rather than dominance and submission.

This mutuality runs counter to the common belief that our identity and worth depends on our performance. For many of us, this belief about identity is what creates the inner pressure to produce and perform, but it also leads us to fear that our friends will think less of us if we fail. Worst of all, it usually leads us to think and feel that God will respond in the same way.

Friendships that nourish our soul must look to a different energy source than performance. They begin with our own reflective life in times of quiet thought and prayer. They require a commitment to the time and energy necessary to truly be present to one another – for no reason other than listening to the rhythms of God’s work in our lives.

For many years I’ve had the privilege of walking with men and women, clergy and laity alike, who have a deep desire to experience the God who comes to us in Jesus, often in quiet and restful moments of listening. In retreats and small gatherings they listen deeply to one another – the pain and the joy, the success and the failure – but always with the gentle grace of God evident.

Perhaps the most important truth we reaffirm in such moments is that we are the beloved daughters and sons of God. That love is what can create an atmosphere of trust, based on confidentiality and confidence, that we have one another’s best interests at heart.

In that freedom we can share the darkest struggles and deepest fears – and find grace in the presence of God fleshed out in the skin and bone of our friends. Jesus expressed his love for us the same way – in skin and bone.