In my previous post, friendship was presented as necessitating, or defined by, two qualities: listening and reciprocity. There were tensions and faults brought up throughout the article as they relate to listening and reciprocity. Each person fails in certain, and with some frequency, habitual ways in friendship with another. The faults and sins may not be the same for each friendship. This is influenced by the kind of friendship one has with another. However, the fact that there are tensions and faults present teaches us that we can be aware of our friendship’s health and we may strive to be better.
Is it okay that there are faults within our friendships and relationship with Jesus Christ? Is it okay that we frequently fail at following through with what we said we would do? What about your lack of patience? What about my lack of charity? Seeking to understand the health of a friendship is good. However, it may seem more like a negative checklist. Doubts may fly to the forefront of the mind, “is this even worth it?” “Why do I even bother trying to be patient, or listen, or …”
These faults should not discourage us from the effort or investment good friendships ask of us. Continue to “know thyself” so that you may be a better person and friend. The friend should not be the purpose of your virtue. Rather, your own life and virtue should inspire that friend and spur him or her on to follow you as you follow Christ. These tensions are signs of hope because they reveal that we want something better and are “not there yet.”
Sand of the Soul
Think about this with an image connecting to a person’s sin. If one is slave to sin or passion, this person is trying to hold on to lust or some other evil. But, the soul is not made for this. The soul is deprived of life when it tries to toil for inferior goods. Imagine the soul as a well that filters… when we put sand in it, for example, it is filtered through but also filthy from the encounter. The passage of that corruptible, created inferior good hurts our capacity and ability to receive, retain, and feed on what our soul’s “well” is made to live on: God’ grace.
The damage done and the filth received is repaired and restored by God’s grace, yes. It takes time, though, and usually withdrawal pains. Our affections are habituated to that corruptible ‘sand.’ Our desires, because of these bad habits, have become used to seeking out very poor means of gratification. Ultimately, these passions and bad habits must die.
There is fear in the potential death of these passions and this sin. Why? It seems to me, at least in my life and those around me: there is a fear to become whole, holy, authentic, masculine (or feminine) and saintly.
The Individual’s Responsibility
Now, think about this in terms of responsibility. When you are addicted to lust and all actions associated with lust, your only responsibility is to be obedient to your passions, to satisfy and act on it, to becomes slaves to sin, like St. Paul says in Romans. The responsibility is limited because the unruly and inordinate passions do most of the work by demanding rule over our body and the obedience of our will. We are enslaved! But it’s okay, we quietly justify, because we’re not doing work, we’re just here for the ride of sin, which leads to death. It’s even possible to go on auto pilot and let lust or or other sin completely drive and dominate our life. This too leads to death, leaves us with minimal responsibility, and leaves us with an unceasing ache and thirst for more.
Now, let us contrast the ‘responsibility’ we have in sin with the responsibility we have in holiness, integrity, and sanctity. “Slaves to righteousness” is one way St. Paul puts it. And what is it righteousness asks of us? Discipline, order, virtue, authentic living. Without explaining what any of these words mean, the heart begins to drop. The heart knows that these things require an active choice and decision. Virtue is not passive but active. Righteousness, in this light, seems to be a stumbling block to becoming a true man or woman, to become whole and holy. Why is it so much?
The responsibility seems daunting. So daunting, one begins to questions himself instead of responding in faith. Questions like, “what if I fail” and “I’m content with failing in sin but not in virtue; what if I am ridiculed,” “what if I’m not good enough?” These and others plague the mind and heart. Fear! Fear begins to suffocate the will. The person becomes anxious and worried, drowning in fear of failure. I can’t answer the question, “what do I do with this fear,” but I can make it known that this fear is real and at times seems to have demonic power or influence.
Ultimately, I think virtue is the worthwhile struggle. I think it is worth failing in virtue, in contrast to “failing” in sin. Can the decrepit will be saved from slavery to sin? Can the heart be strong when virtue and righteousness ‘knock’ at its door? Can the soul endure the purging of sin, the purification of its appetites and sinful desires?
Back to Friendship
Those tensions and faults in friendship should indeed be known and embraced. How else can they be remedied but by first knowing them? Don’t let them deter you from your goal. Don’t let vice sift through your contact with another. It’s not worth it and it only drags you into a lethargic and fearful place. Responsibility to individual virtue may seem possible. Remember, however, that it is fruitful, refined, and nurtured in contact with others, most assuredly in relationship to and with Jesus Christ (hint hint: his Sacraments included).
When any faults or failings are noticed or present, do not ignore them. Can you convince yourself that the reason for your friendship is God? If so, it is possible to move forward. This true and abundant life is worth the struggle. Ephesians 6, Philippians 3-4, 1 Corinthians 9 are a few of the passages that may help soak this in and pray with. Remember that your life is hidden within Christ. Awake from your sleep and rise to that new life… “Rise, let us be on our way!”