Gospel Friendship

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by Nick Galieti

Hahn Shaking HandsPresident Gordon B. Hinckley said that every convert needs three things: a friend in the Church, an assignment, and to be nourished by the good word of God. While this is inspired advice, some assume that this advice has a time clock, or that this is a temporary standard, such that when a member is no longer considered new these three things are no longer needed.

We live in a time and society that is constantly distracting us from achieving this mission. Everyone is busy; everyone has multiple ways to be entertained, educated, and otherwise engaged. I come across few people nowadays, especially those with kids and family responsibilities, that are bored or at a loss of what to do with their time. Yet, the counsel from a Prophet still remains in force. One could argue that due to this societal condition, these three things are all the more important for all membership, not just new members. Of the three, friendship is the most interpersonal, and probably the biggest challenge, given all the factors and influences that can distract from that purpose.

What is gospel friendship?

Jesus Christ taught the following in John 15:13, “Greater love hath no man that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” One reading of this verse implies that friendship requires sacrifice born of love, universal love, up to and including the sacrifice of one’s own life. The life and example of Jesus Christ would certainly prove this to be the case. Charity, also referred to as the pure love of Christ, is something that does not seek its own goals and desires, but strives to find ways to help others.

What is love?

1 John 4:8 states, “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” Again we can look to the example of God for what it means to love and what it means to be a friend. To me, God creates and supports in creation; God forgives; God imparts knowledge and support in times of need; and God also knows everyone. While this is not an exhaustive list of godlike attributes, the latter characteristic is a fundamental principle to being a loving friend. We need to know the members of our wards and branches, our neighbors and co-workers, what they like, and what makes them unique. Sometimes we look at auxiliary leaders as the people that are required by their callings to know people so they can handle that part of gospel responsibility. To some, meeting new people (whether they are new members or new to the ward or not) appears to be a chore performed begrudgingly or through guilty compulsion.

Love cannot be forced; love cannot truly be love unless it is something that is chosen. Friendship is on purpose, love can only be achieved on purpose. The difficulty with this concept is that friendship requires sacrifice. The challenge inherit in friendship isn’t that individuals are uninterested or unwilling to love, but we sometimes are unwilling to make the sacrifice necessary to qualify our efforts as love.

Love is not always easy. The atonement, the greatest act of love, where Jesus Christ literally laid down his life for all of God’s creations, could hardly be characterized as easy. If “the natural man is an enemy to God” it would seem congruent to assume that the natural man is not predisposed to sacrifice or love in the way God has defined or modeled. For many the sacrifice of friendship starts with a simple choice to put off that discomfort or fear that acts as an intangible restraint, simply being willing to sit with someone in church, or saying hello and connecting with an individual in a real and substantive way.

Gospel friendship has always been important. Since the dawn of creation “It was not good that the man should be alone.” While solitariness may be seen as a sign of strength, or a position of familiarity and therefore preferential to some, friendship is a highly favorable endeavor with rich rewards. Gospel friendship should not be viewed as an entitlement for those with citizenship in the Kingdom of God; gospel friendship is one of the splendid benefits of membership that comes to those who engage in the gospel plan more fully. Like entrance into the temple, or partaking of the sacrament, membership alone does not guarantee the blessings we may desire. Effort and patience in following Christ’s example develops in each individual the light of friendship that will simultaneously guide us when we are lost, and provide direction to those we offer the hand of friendship and fellowship.

With no timeframe limitation to the counsel of being a friend, we are left with the eternal choice: Support the cause of friendship, to be a friend and to facilitate friendship with others, or surrender to the opposition. In many ways friendship is “being a savior on mount Zion” and therefore a part of the greatest work in all the world. No more noble and worthy work can be performed than to extend the love of friendship.

photo by: ericrichardson

8 Responses to Gospel Friendship

  1. Julia says:

    As someone who is currently housebound, I can see this even more clearly. I want to be a good friend, and I have learned that being willing to lay down your life may be easier than living your life in a dedicated to love and friendship. Superficial relationships are the “easy” way to say you have a lot of friends, when in reality they are merely people you know, who have not yet done something that offends you, or you offend them. Facebook uses the word “friend” in such a loose way, that it has made us devalue true friendship. No one has several hundred friends that they would lay down their lives for. No single person has that much time to create a deep and lasting friendship.

  2. Bonnie says:

    I think this is why God sent his children to be in families, because we love people in our families and we serve them and we help them and we learn to be interdependent with them and we sacrifice for their welfare and we’re led toward godliness as we live with them. I often talk about “Enos circles” as the concentric circles of concern that Enos experienced as he understood his prophetic calling. He began with a concern about his own welfare, then his family’s, then his people’s, then his enemies’. Our love grows to encompass all God’s children, not in paternalistic Great White Provider fashion, where we want in detached condescension to ensure that others are cared for without touching them or getting to know them, but because we have learned to love people. Enos teaches that there’s a process to that, moving in circles away from our sense of self. We may not accomplish this growth in a night, but we follow that pattern. We can’t succeed in our church work if we don’t make friends of those who serve us, those we serve, and those we serve with. Christ called his disciples his friends. People don’t respond to “help” unless it is wrapped in friendship.

  3. ji says:

    Thanks, Nick, for the reminder — now, do I write a long comment here about how everyone else should be doing more friendshipping, or do I step away from my computer and do some of it myself?

  4. Ray says:

    Almost three years ago, I wrote a post on my personal blog about the concept of laying down one’s life. Here is the link, if anyone wants to read it:

    “Seeking Not Her Own” & “Laying Down One’s Life” http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2010/05/seeking-not-her-own-laying-down-ones.html

    I believe we misinterpret John 15:13 when we limit Jesus’ fulfillment of it to the Garden and the Cross. We forget that Jesus of Nazareth had a life prior to the beginning of his ministry – and that he laid down his life for his friends in a very real, literal and powerful way prior to the Garden and the Cross. I believe the most powerful manifestation of love possible that manifests itself in the laying down of one’s life does not happen when one person dies for someone else; I beliveve it occurs when one person sets aside her own life and lives for someone else.

    Mother Theresa comes to mind immediately and obviously – as does Thomas S. Monson, in a way and to a degree that relatively few members and non-members understand.

  5. Deborah says:

    Eternity is all about relationships ! That simple and clear. Great post!

  6. Paul says:

    Ray, as usual, you and I agree.

    I have often said that it’s much harder to sacrifice our lives while we’re alive than to die for someone else, and Nick, this seems to be where you are headed.

    We have had some choice friendships in the church. In the end, we seem to be divided by distance as we move from one place to another, but some of those ties continue over the miles and years. (Just this week, on this very blog a very old and dear friend reached out to me quite unexpectedly!) But those are not always easy relationships to build or maintain. And they are the exception, not the norm.

    Our shorter term associations seem to be with those with whom we serve in one way another, and mostly for the period of service together. After that, we are church acquaintances again.

  7. jendoop says:

    I agree with this, but.
    There are healthy borders to self sacrifice for friendship. Bonnie’s comment points to one aspect. We only have so much time and we have to prioritize our time in some way, and that usually means family comes first. In the LDS church, and especially in Utah where families are large and geographically concentrated, family often takes so much time that there is little left to sacrifice for friendship outside the family. This makes it difficult for wards to develop the friendships which make it strong. Although this could be seen as a problem, I think it could in fact be pointing to a more celestial pattern where the church as an organizing body is done away with and family is the structure of the kingdom of God.

    Another aspect of sacrificing for friendship is healthy interdependence. Interdependence is “not so independent or self-sufficient that we fail to recognize or appreciate our dependency towards another individual, but not so dependent we lose the sense of ourselves.” It is an understatement to say that this is a difficult balance to maintain. To go too far to one side or the other of this balance creates a friendship that is not as beneficial as it could be. In the church I think this is especially difficult because we want to emulate the Savior who gave his life for us. Literally giving our entire lives to another person is not what God asks. He asks that we give our lives to Him. He then directs us how to serve others, to maintain relationships (including marriage and friendships), build the kingdom of God, and etc.

    On the flip side of this as a people who believe in self-reliance we can take emotional self reliance too far. We may not be willing to show others our weakness, or rely on someone else in times of trouble. In doing this we deprive ourselves of meaningful friendships that can make life much more bearable and pleasant. This is one way that pride harms us and weakens our ward families.

    It would be wonderful if as part of our gospel study we focused a bit more on relationship skills. We seem to think that these skills are intuitive or naturally flow from love and testimony, but they don’t. Ideally we learn these skills in our families of origin, easily enough that we aren’t conscious of learning them, they are habits of love and care integrated into each day of our lives. But in today’s world where so many families struggle or are flat out dysfunctional, these skills are becoming less well known. This can lead many people to question why their relationships/friendships falter, without realizing that as a society we are increasingly missing critical components of human interaction. This website has some good information about interdependence, healthy relationships and emotional bank accounts (from Covey’s 7 habits for families): http://eqi.org/eba.htm

  8. Nick, what a beautiful treatise on love. You exemplify love in your work. Doing a podcast with you was a pleasure. Thanks for your kindness.

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