Spiritual friendship? What does that even mean? The book description of Becoming Gertrude: How Our Friendships Shape Our Faith by Janice Peterson said the author “uses the term spiritual friendship to capture this idea of journeying with others through life, sharing experiences and wisdom and seeking God together.” Curious, I read the book and found lots to inspire me.
For starters, the author explains the difference between mentoring and spiritual friendship. While we have spiritual mentors, heroes or just plain ordinary folks we look up to, spiritual friendship is something we can all share with others. With this type of friendship, we needn’t consider ourselves the student or the teacher; we can both give and receive.
Janice explains, “Spiritual friendship is learning to see the worth God has placed in each person and appreciating the gifts individuals have to offer. It’s being willing to share when you need to share and learn when you need to learn.”
Writing this book in her senior years, Janice has a lot of collective wisdom and experience to share. Many books today are written by younger people, and that’s not to say they aren’t wonderful in their own right, but I do love reading books written by older folks. Perhaps, in part, because they are a minority, but also because older authors typically distill decades’ worth of wisdom into their stories. They share time-tested advice that works.
In Becoming Gertrude, the author explores five aspects of spiritual friendship: caring, acceptance, service, hospitality and encouragement. Sharing personal anecdotes and wisdom gleaned from the years, she scatters inspiration and encouragement throughout this short read.
How do I become a caring person? Janice shares one tip: practice. She goes on to say, “Observing the caring people around me and what they were paying attention to […] helped me choose to pay attention to the struggles in the world around me.”
Reminding myself that some folks have it worse than I do is another way to open my eyes to the needs around me. Perhaps I can volunteer at a hospital, food bank or women’s shelter or find another way to look beyond my own comfort zone. Caring for those right in our own homes, churches and communities is also an important and often more sacrificial way to practice caring for others.
What role does acceptance play in spiritual friendship? Unlike the camaraderie we share with friends in our day-to-day friendships, the scope of spiritual friendship is broader. Spiritual friendships are not exclusive or confined to mutually fulfilling relationships. They include people whose lives differ markedly from ours, folks who may hurt us or cause us “extra weariness.”
Janice points out that although we do need to be careful of some, there is still spiritual value in befriending someone who is hard to love. “God uses those people to develop our strength and character. He helps us learn patience and unselfish caring.” How many times didn’t Jesus love the unlovable? Friendships such as these give us the opportunity to practice love as Jesus did.
Some of us may be intimidated in the area of service. We may feel that others possess greater talent than we do and can serve better. Janice reminds us, “We are all called to be servants, whatever our gifts are. No one’s gift is more significant than anyone else’s!”
I particularly appreciate her encouragements that we are never too old to learn, to try something new and to grow in our gifts and talents. I also find comfort in the following words, “As we open up our hearts to the Lord, I believe he ‘grows’ us in our gifts and how we should serve. He knows our hearts and our desires and is true to us.”
Of course, we know hospitality is another important aspect of friendship. Hospitality, however, can be another intimidating form of service if we compare ourselves and our abilities to others. We may allow our inadequacies to keep us from reaching out in hospitality.
In Becoming Gertrude, however, the author wisely notes, “Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt the lifestyle of the host.” Rather, “guests bring who they are with them and enlarge our lives in their offerings.” She cautions us against waiting to practice hospitality until the time is just right or until we feel like going to the effort.
I love her refreshing approach to hospitality versus the world’s ‘entertaining,’ placing the emphasis on providing a listening ear and heart rather than showing guests a good time. Many people today are hungry for that, whether they realize it or not.
The fifth aspect of spiritual friendship – encouragement – is an essential quality, sorely needed in our world today. There are many instances, such as everyday hurts and bigger disappointments, when each of us could use a word of encouragement.
Sadly, as Janice notes, “Christians can be unkind, and that’s even more hurtful because they are the people you should be able to rely on.” Spiritual friends shine in these moments; they remind us what is good and right and build us up when we stumble. Spiritual friends point out God’s faithfulness in our lives and remind us of His love and grace, buoying up our strength and courage.
Becoming Gertrude has inspired me to become a better spiritual friend to all those whose paths I cross. There is much we can do to lighten the load of our fellow friends as well as those we meet only casually.
While I may not know when I touch someone’s heart, it is certain that I will be a richer person for allowing their lives to touch mine, however briefly or however inconveniently. Choosing to show others true friendship in these ways is an act of obedience to God. It’s the least I can do for Him.
Note: I received a copy of the book Becoming Gertrude from the Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for an honest review.