An old Irish proverb says friendship is like a four-leaf clover — hard to find yet lucky to have. St. Thomas Aquinas says true friendship is considered to be a prize. The Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church even considers friendship (with God) necessary for eternal salvation.
But what really goes into being a true friend? A true friend is there, even in the most difficult moments. But how, in challenging times, can we be a true friend, especially if we see our friend on the wrong path? How can we walk in authentic charity while speaking the truth to help friend to redirect her course?
Recently, I was complaining about regular ol’ vocational struggles with a friend. I knew I was being rotten, and apparently, so did my faithful friend, who was getting an earful of my toxic talk. As this friend empathetically listened, she also crafted and delivered some pointed questions. She never imposed her opinion on me nor did she make harsh accusations. She simply asked me questions.
The last question of the conversation peacefully stopped me in my tracks. I had to admit I wasn’t ready to reveal what those words had unearthed in me. Each question slicing closer to the core of my sour apple. I was rejecting a part of my vocation and was not choosing to serve another over myself. I never answered her on that final question, nor did she expect me to. It was time to turn to the Lord with humility and repentance and request his mercy and grace.
If love means “to will the good of another person,” friends should challenge one another in their vocations and daily lifestyle choices. These four simple questions can help start productive dialogue with a friend.
- Does this action glorify God or serve yourself?
- Are you seeking the good of another over yourself?
- Does this choice support your vocation, or distract you from it?
- Are you putting yourself into a near occasion of sin, or even mortal sin?
Scripture tells us to approach correction and truth in many different ways, but leading with love is absolutely the necessary driver. We are not to be angry or let evil speech come from our mouths. Rather, we are called to edify with our words to impart grace on the other, and to be kind and tenderhearted. We are to put away bitterness, malice, slander, wrath and clamor. And we are to forgive as Christ has forgiven us.
Most people love to be affirmed, which is good on the many occasions that call for encouragement. We are called to build each other up and not tear each other down. Correction, on the other hand, can sometimes be hard a hard pill to swallow — yet it’s still a necessary remedy. The sting of correction — well, it stings. Just like the fires of purgatory purify, the pains of charitable correction profit the soul.
It can be hard to strike the balance of truthfulness and charity but an authentic friendship requires both. I am thankful my friend chose to be more like the prize of a four leaf clover that morning, because I was able to redirect my focus and hop back on the path of holiness and happiness. As the beloved Mother Angelica says, “Those who tell you the truth, love you. Those who tell you what you want to hear, love themselves.”