Our Fragile, Fickle Friendships

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

“Fragile” refers to something that’s easily broken; “fickle” to something that changes frequently. Both adjectives describe adequately the experience of friendship we sometimes have. If you think about it, our friendships, and a variety of other important human relationships, are fragile, fickle little creatures, aren’t they — easily broken and frequently changing?

Have you ever lost a good friend because of a personal falling-out? Yeah, me too, and it’s not a pleasant experience.

Sometimes friendships dissolve because of a misunderstanding, an argument, or an offense, real or perceived. Sometimes a broken relationship is our fault; sometimes it’s the other guy’s. And sometimes both parties are so tense and tired of the drama that the parting of ways is a relief for both.

Friendships are an important and beautiful part of life, a source of comfort and support on our pilgrim way. The Bible in referring to friendship says, “Two are better than one, for if either one of them falls, the other one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Prov 4: 9-10)

Some friendships last a long time, a lifetime even, surviving both good days and bad, and when that happens it’s a treasure. It’s not unusual, however, for friends to come in and out of our lives and when they disappear, regardless of the reason, we should be able to move on and let go; we should be able to say, without anger or regret, “We’re better for having met, but no worse for having parted.”

The fragility of human relationships affects even more serious, solemn commitments too.

I think of a husband who, after many years of marriage, walks out on his wife and kids, betraying his vows, offending God, and leaving in his wake enormous confusion and heartbreak. As Pope Francis points out in his recent letter, “To forgive such an injustice that has been suffered is not easy; but grace makes this journey possible.” (AL #242)

I think of adult kids who neglect their aging and ill parents — never visiting, never checking-in to see how mom and dad are doing — perhaps because they’ve become so burdensome or difficult to deal with, but forgetting how their parents loved, nurtured and sacrificed for them when they were needy, dependent children.

I think of a priest who abandons his sacred ministry to follow other pursuits — perhaps after an excruciating process of prayer and discernment, other times rather cavalierly — leaving behind the Church that trained, ordained and supported him in exchange for a lifetime of service. Here too, members of a family, a spiritual family, know sadness and disillusionment.

In reciting this litany of broken promises and failed commitments, I don’t want to ignore for a moment how many relationships are truly amazing for their fidelity — the married couples, the adult care-givers, the parish priests — who hang in there, work hard and keep their promises, even when the going gets really tough. These modern-day, domestic saints display remarkable strength, and the sacrifices they make are heroic. Jesus could easily have added this to his Beatitudes: “Blessed are they who keep their promises and are faithful friends, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Now lest you think this column has turned into a tawdry personal advice column worthy of the daily newspaper, I want to assure you that there’s a spiritual lesson here, and it’s about friendship with Jesus.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, he said to his disciples, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) Jesus said that he would be with us ALWAYS! Not just when things were going well; and not just in those dark days when we turn to him in desperate prayer; and not just when we please him. He said ALWAYS!

This promise of Christ at his Ascension is especially noteworthy when compared to human relationships, so fragile and fickle. We shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. At his Last Supper, just before his followers abandoned him when he needed them most, Jesus said: “I call you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” (Jn 15:15)

Did you catch that? Jesus “told them everything.” In other words, Jesus entrusted to his disciples the secrets, the mysteries of his Kingdom. That’s what friends do — they trust each other, and can confide in each other without fear of betrayal. And even more, the friendship of Jesus is fulfilled in the sacrifice he made for us and the care he gives us, even today.

Our friendship with Christ, though, like every friendship, has to be a two-way street. One reflection asks these good questions: “Although we know that Jesus is our friend, can we say that we are his friends? Or do we only want him to listen to us? Do we want to know what’s on his heart? Or do we only want to tell him what’s on ours? To be a friend of Jesus, we need to listen to what he wants us to know.” (Our Daily Bread)

Jesus promised that he would never abandon us, and he has certainly kept his promise — to the whole Church and to each of us individually. Human friendships are fragile and fickle. But our friendship with Christ is different. It lasts forever!

Of course, if all else fails and you’re still looking for a friend, you might follow the advice sometimes attributed to Harry Truman: “Get a dog.”