My best friend was married two years ago, and I had the honor of delivering the homily.
When it came time to the rehearsal dinner speech, I spoke “off the cuff,” ending my speech by saying, “I thought that when one grew up, a best friend was no longer part of your life. However, you have taught me that a best friend continues to be one of the most important elements of your life by being mine.”
A man walked over after dinner and asked if I was a preacher. When I said, “yes,” he took my arm and said, “I hope you preach the toast you made tonight. People need to know about friendship today; people don’t have best friends, and that is a real problem in our world.”
I thought about his comment and began to see how true his words were. Although we have more ways to connect than ever before, we have built islands of isolation and many people are very lonely.
I started asking members in my congregation about their best friends. Many said something like, “I have not talked to my high school best friend in years now.”
The consensus was that there are a lot of adults walking around in our world who don’t have a best friend.
I eventually preached a sermon on friendship and focused on how my best friend offered me continual salvation.
It was not a great sermon, but it was honest and it generated more feedback than any sermon I have preached this year.
Leaving church that morning, one of my oldest members stopped me with tears rolling down his checks and said, “I buried my friend a few days ago, and it’s been really hard to grieve losing a best friend in a world that does not understand that. Thanks for creating that space and giving those words to me.”
A young mother walked by with tears in her eyes and said, “That is what is missing in my life. I need a friend like that.”
How can one journey through life without a friend? How can ministers preach sermons trying to get communities of faith to follow Christ if they are on a solo journey? How is life even possible without the community of close and intimate friendships?
Close friendship provides us a place to be authentically ourselves as well as a space to practice hospitality and inclusion.
Friendship allows us to be honest about our doubts, gives us light in our darkest hours, provides foundations for ministry, and models what true, authentic and good lives looks like.
A mentor once told me that on the ministry journey I was choosing, I was going to need a best friend and I needed to name that and work on it.
I took his words to heart, and I think this advice is true for us all, no matter what our vocation might be.
Establishing and strengthening friendships take time and effort, as in any relationship. Yet, we work on the things that are most important in our lives.
So I make it a point to have regular conversations with my best friend. We arrange our schedules so that even though we live in different states, we see one another on a regular basis and are able to share all of life that we can with one another.
I am as blessed by this friendship as any other sacrament in my life. And that should not be surprising. History and theology prove how important friendship is.
Historical examples, such as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, Harper and Alice Lee, and St. Francis and St. Claire, come to mind. In the Bible, we find David and Jonathan, James and John, and Paul and Timothy, to name a few.
It’s time for Christians to reclaim the importance of friendship, and not the kind that we form through Facebook or other social media platforms.
To see the importance of friendship is to acknowledge one of the deepest and most sacred places in our lives. To work to create friendships is to find expressions of salvation and grace.
Hopefully, Christians can begin to bring an end to a world where it seems an odd confession for someone beyond grade school to stand up and say, “I have a best friend.” But instead to create a world where friendship is the norm.
True salvation and Christ-following demand no less.
Griff Martin is co-pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.