Friendship and the Willingness to Suffer

Those who claim that their lives should be such as to console no one and to be a burden or the occasion of grief to no one, who derive no joy from others’ success and inflict no bitterness on others with their own perversity, I would call not human beings but beasts. They have only one goal: neither to love nor to be loved by anyone.

Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship (Cistercian Fathers) II.52

Sometimes I fall into thinking that friendship should be without stress or strain; that it should be easy. But as Aelred of Rievaulx points out, the only way to avoid suffering because of another person’s actions or situation is to refuse to love at all. Likewise, and more sobering, the only way I can avoid being the cause of sorrow in another, is to refuse to (as Aelred says) either to love anybody “or be loved by anybody.”

While the fear of suffering shouldn’t cause to refuse friendship, it should make me cautious to start a friendship. The question I must ask is this. Am I able to bear the suffering friendship will bring without becoming indifferent, jaded or bitter? If not, then I’m not ready for the intimacy of friendship.

It doesn’t reflect poorly on me if I not ready to be a true friend. It just means that I need to mature emotionally and/or spiritually.

The real shame, is not that I’m not ready to be a friend but when I enter into an intimacy I can’t (yet) bear up under. Friendship is work, it makes its own kinds of ascetical demands and I need to be willing and able to meet them.

After all the only thing a friend can reasonable ask of me is that I am willing to be a true friend in return.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory