For many years I thought of friendships, and indeed all interpersonal relationships among human beings, as more or less extrinsic to religion and spiritual growth. Though I never thought of friendships as sinful or somehow harmful, I did not think of them as central to taking the Christian life seriously. I think there was a time when I thought of friendships as something of a distraction, certainly not as essential to religion. Now I see close, intimate friendships as very much connected to our relationship to God.
My thinking about friendships has been greatly influenced by my friends, who have been marvelous blessings, graces and gifts in my life. I often ask myself “What did I do to deserve such friends?” Of course the answer is that I did not do anything. My friends and all friends are gifts. We can act in such a way that our friendships deepen but basic to every friendship is a gift that is not forced or compelled or the product of manipulation. Friends are self-gifts. This is true that at the human level, but a more profound truly amazing self-gift is offered to us by God through inviting us into relationship. No matter how often we reflect on this or how deep our appreciation of this is, I think it should always appear awesome to us that God, the Creator of the entire universe, has reached out to us in love.
In his “Person and Being” (Milwaukee: Marquette University, 1993) Jesuit Father W. Norris Clarke emphasizes that it is essential to our personal growth that we reveal ourselves to others. Our actions reveal who we are. By acting we “speak ourselves.” I often tell my students at St. John’s University that I cannot really hide from them. The way I dress, the way I walk, my manner of speaking, my excitement and enthusiasm or lack of excitement and enthusiasm, all these reveal me. While I may successfully not reveal the depth of my self, I think the students will know that I am trying to conceal myself, that I am not whom I appear to be.
Father Clarke writes: “It is connatural for us, giving full expression to the dynamism of existence flowing through us at its most intense as personalized, to reveal, manifest, express ourselves to other persons, to make manifest who we are, what we believe in, stand for etc., in a word, ‘our story.’ Only when we express ourselves to others – including God, of course, who is infinitely self-expressive in his Word, the Son, and the Holy Spirit — can we come to know our own selves fully. … we do not start off in luminous self-understanding but must go out to the world and other persons first, then return to know ourselves by reflecting on our actions, whether and how they express who and what we really are or would like to be.” (p. 91)
How much I come to know myself depends to some extent on how much I allow others to know me. This insight of Father Clarke’s fascinates me. If I am going to conceal myself from others I will not come to know myself as deeply as I would if I allowed others to know me deeply. In God’s providential plan we really are tied together. One way of expressing this truth is “I cannot know myself as deeply as possible without you and you cannot know yourself as deeply as possible without me.” How we relate to others is not some unimportant aspect of our existence. Rather it is extremely important.
Father Clarke argues, I think persuasively, that a person should be totally open and honest at least with one other person. Of course it is important that we be completely honest with God but I agree with Father Clarke that for personal development it is very valuable to be able to reveal the deepest level of personality to another human person. I hope this could happen between spouses, best friends and with a spiritual director. Perhaps it is not as necessary concerning negative aspects of our personalities as it is concerning what might be called the positive riches of our personalities. I am not imagining bragging or boasting but rather sharing what we take to be our most cherished, most intimate and deepest dreams, desires and hopes. Sharing these with another may be one way of preserving them and might eventually lead to acting on them so they leave the world of dreams and become incarnated in reality.