Freedom In Friendship



The Catholic Beer Club, a name containing three things I love the most, the Church, Beer, and Community… all kidding aside, I am so happy to be writing here for the first time! It is my sincere wish that in these few words you find some inspiration, encouragement, and maybe a few laughs. Each of our lives is full of many experiences, some humorous, others tragic, some even glorious or of deep sorrow, yet each and every experience is intertwined with the lives and experiences of other men. I realize this is an obvious statement, but it’s one that bears reflecting upon. Who is accompanying me through life? Who am I accompanying? It is only when we take a moment to reflect that we realize what we need.

I think that you would agree that life is so much richer when lived in friendship; when laughter can be shared and sorrows borne together! A few months before I was married, a good friend and I went backcountry camping.  One experience in particular stands out to me from that trip. We woke early in the morning and sat on the edge of the mountain watching the sun spread its warm, orange and red glow across the sky. We prayed and talked for an hour before breakfast sharing in the beauty of the moment. It was an impactful moment of heart to heart conversation and openness where I realized the incredible blessing of true, deep friendship. Deep in each of our souls is the burning desire to be loved and to give love.  However, it is so easy for us to stay on a surface level in our relationships. It is more expedient to send a quick text message or to browse Twitter or Instagram to see how ‘so and so’ is doing rather than to give them a call or get together. Surface level interaction comfortable as it is, is not sufficient and cannot fill the deep desire of our hearts. We often follow the example of Adam and Eve doing our best to find ‘love’ wherever we are able except where we were meant to find it! So where do we go from here? How do we find and live those rich, choice friendships that bring such great vibrancy and joy to this life?

The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote about three types of friends, those of utility, pleasure, and of virtue or excellence. I think most of the world has experienced friendships of utility and pleasure, neither of which is inherently bad. In brief, a friendship of utility is one where one or both parties benefit from the relationship with the other. For example, this sort of friendship could exist between businessmen who benefit from each other’s services. In a friendship of pleasure, one or both parties experience fun or pleasure from interacting with the other. Book club members, kayaking buddies, or jogging partners could be an example of such a friendship. Both of these friendships are good and while they can certainly play a role, neither will be sufficient in assisting one to achieve excellence. The excellent life or the good life is the most esteemed and fulfilling life according to Aristotle. This life is only possible with the help of virtuous or ‘perfect’ friendships. Aristotle writes,

“Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other… and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends;” (Nichomachean Ethics, Book VIII, #3)

It is safe to say that all of us, whether we realize it or not, desire to have friends who are good and wish well to us for our own sake. A friendship where each wishes the other well is one where both friends are open and honest with each other. This type of friendship is difficult because it is humbling to have a ‘truth-teller’ in our life who demands we fight against hypocrisy and keeping our weaknesses hidden. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” (Proverbs 27:17). I think the question we need to ask ourselves is, “Am I willing to be that sort of friend to someone else? Am I willing to sharpen and be sharpened by this relationship? Recall the parable in Scripture when Jesus talks about removing the plank from one’s own eye before removing the speck from your brother’s eye; I am an expert at finding the speck in someone else’s eye and yet a mere novice at removing or even seeing the plank in my own! I have discovered that clinging to such an attitude makes it quite difficult to build virtuous friendships. On the other hand virtuous friendships help me to see my weaknesses and to grow in those areas.

Personally, I have only in the last few years experienced friendships of virtue and they have and are still changing my life. Two friendships I have invested in are with my college roommate and of course with my beloved wife. For years I was more concerned about what others thought about me than anything else. My actions were based upon what I perceived others to think of me. What slavery that was and yet what freedom has come from investing in true friendship! I think we live in an age ripe for an explosion of true, deep friendships, yet most of us live under a shadow of fear that keeps us from experiencing true friendship because such friendships are far from comfortable. They require vulnerability, selflessness, seeking the good of the other, sacrifice, and seeing myself as I truly am. However, because of that such friendships also bring about freedom, confidence, trust, joy, laughter, growth, and seeing whom one can and will be. I have grown more in a year and a half of marriage than my whole life before combined. The fruit of that growth is much more joy and freedom than I have ever experienced!

I hope that you too will experience such friendships, truly seeking the good of the other and growing together into the best versions of yourselves. It can be quite comfortable to stay in our routines, to go to the same places, spend time with the same people, and remain the same person, but there is such adventure and freedom in becoming who we are meant to be, fulfilling our unrealized potential! Are you willing to risk something to have brothers or sisters who will love you for you? Amazing things happen when we step outside of our comfort zones and share our dreams, prayers, and hearts with a friend. Invest time with those who better you. Spend time sitting at the feet of those you admire to learn from them. Grab a beer, or a scotch if that’s your preference, and get to know yourself by getting to know a true friend. Be patient for friendship takes root slowly, like a fine wine takes time to age, but have hope because true friendship is life changing. I’ll leave you with words from the great Aristotle which are still so relevant today.

“But it is natural that such friendships should be infrequent; for such men are rare. Further, such friendship requires time and familiarity; as the proverb says, men cannot know each other till they have 'eaten salt together'; nor can they admit each other to friendship or be friends till each has been found lovable and been trusted by each. Those who quickly show the marks of friendship to each other wish to be friends, but are not friends unless they both are lovable and know the fact; for a wish for friendship may arise quickly, but friendship does not.” (Nichomachean Ethics Book VIII, #3)

I think that is enough to ponder for now, but we’ll revisit this next time and talk about what these friendships can look like and reflect on various aspects of community and friendship including authenticity, humility, conversation, and ‘eating salt together’. Cheers!