Many of my dearest friends aren’t Christian and we can find ourselves on opposing sides of many hot button issues. Despite that, we have meaningful, respectful, riotously fun, and loving friendships. It’s not difficult.
By Noelle Mering
When I was a young betrothed lady, I did something appalling to a lifelong friend. In middle school she’d been my nighttime-bare-feet-on-summer-streets friend. In high school we had code words, secret roads, and bad poetry for boys who had yet to recognize our magnificence. Despite all that, as a newly engaged woman I told my friend she’d not be in my wedding party as I’d become closer to my new Catholic friends. I was 22 and foolish. (Is that redundant?)
There’s a zeal to youth that’s compounded by any type of awakening, and I was, ahem, ‘woke’ so to speak. Having been a rebellious and wayward teen, I’d a newfound passion for the truth of the Catholic Church.
Instinctively, I wanted to retreat to a Catholic world, to follow this new pull of my heart and mind and be immersed in the faith. Armed with just enough truth to be insufferable, I failed to love the person in front of me. Without charity and humility, truth feels like a weapon.
Growing older, we become acutely aware of our inadequacies. In trying to conquer them we become acutely aware of our weakness of will. This pattern can feel discouraging until we realize that even our discouragement is just our pride having placed our confidence in ourselves. Instead of discouragement we can let our failures chip away at our hungry egos so that we might feel content in our dependence on grace.
One of the paradoxes of Christianity is we have to discipline ourselves and work hard at something that isn’t to be of any merit of our own. It’s painful and freeing. A friend recently said humility is the slipperiest virtue; the moment you think you have it you can be assured you do not.
Being a woman in her forties, I see things so differently than my 22-year-old self, and what I did that day to my friend seems incomprehensible to me now. Years later we reconnected and she brought up how it had wounded her. Her goodness in admitting this allowed me to beg her forgiveness which she graciously gave.
I don’t live in any type of bubble now, nor do I desire to live in one. Many of my dearest friends (old and new) aren’t Christian and we can find ourselves on opposing sides of many hot button issues. Despite that, we have meaningful, respectful, riotously fun, and loving friendships. It’s not difficult.
So to redeem the many mistakes I’ve made in this regard, I’ll submit my lessons for nurturing quality friendships despite deeply divergent world views:
- Don’t set out to convert each other. People sense that and it feels manipulative. Our job is to love each other and build a foundation of trust. Deeper topics will come up naturally, but never force them.
- Support each other however you can. My girlfriends and I are always looking to affirm the good that we see in the other. Because we’re looking for it we find it more easily and often. When we need to challenge one another it’s done reluctantly and with a desire to cause no amount of embarrassment.
- Be open about your failures. Nobody loves you because you portray perfection.
- Don’t be defensive. Our faith doesn’t depend on anyone else’s affirmation of it and you can and should assume your friend is not setting out to attack it.
- Look to learn from each other. There are all sorts of virtues, strengths, knowledge that your friends have that you lack. Ask questions and let them teach you.
- Be humble. Really understand that we’re all seeking the good in our own limited ways. I came across this Peter Kreeft quote that perfectly captures what our attitude should be: “(I’m just) one poor bum telling another where there is free food.”
We know where there is free food, the food that will make us free. But we’re still just bums stumbling our way toward it.