Several years ago I decided to train for the Dead Sea Marathon. I’d been running regularly for some time and decided it would be fun to push myself to do something I had never really thought was possible. I chose a training program to follow and got started. The program led me through five runs a week over the course of about four months. Each week the total number of miles I ran went up and on Fridays I would do a longer run.
The race was scheduled for April, so I began training in December. Though Amman is a more temperate climate, we do have winter. There were mornings I woke up and it was rainy and/or cold. More than once I thought maybe I’d rather just stay in bed. But I never did. I had a friend, Curt, who was waiting to run with me. I looked forward to spending time with him, but more than that, I’d made a commitment to train with him. We were in it together.
Curt and I finished the marathon. I don’t think either of us was thrilled with our times…but we did it! When I think back, I might have been able to do all the training alone, but it would have been a lot harder. Having a friend who understood what I was going through, didn’t mind when I complained, and who encouraged me when I needed it made a huge difference.
Unfortunately Curt doesn’t live in Amman any more. His friendship went beyond just being a running partner – he was a spiritual friend; a soul friend. He was someone who walked with me in the journey of faith as well. He accepted me as I was (the trials and the triumphs; faithful or faltering); he prayed with me and for me; he opened his life to me and shared his deepest self with me (and invited me to do the same with him); he was a true friend.
Thankfully, God has blessed me with several soul friends like Curt along the way. Their lives inspire me to seek for more in my relationship with Christ. Their friendships help me pay attention to God’s work in and around me. Their friendships makes it safe for me to grow into my “true self” in Christ – safe because sometimes it feels like I take two steps forward and three back and because as a pastor I don’t always have a place I can admit the questions and challenges I’m struggling with.
David Benner has written, “If you are making significant progress on the transformational journey of Christian spirituality, you have one of more friendships that support that journey. If you do not, you are not. It is that simple.” Over the past fifteen years, I have come to understand how true that statement is. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are on a journey not to a place; our destination is personal transformation into the image of Jesus. We are being made like him. Life-giving, intimate, mutual friendships help us recognize God’s will and leading in our lives. They help us pay attention to God all around us. They help us to press on in seeking more and more of Him.
What is the most challenging thing you are walking through these days? Do you have a spiritual friend walking alongside you in your journey? We need friends who will love and accept us as we are; who will pray for and with us; and who will encourage us, who hears our confessions, or who will just “be with us” in the midst of life in a way that helps us stay open to God. We not only need friends like that, we need to be those kinds of friends to others. The transformational journey of Christian spirituality is a marathon, not a sprint. May you become a soul friend to others and find those who will be that friend to you!