Friendships are incredible. The deepest ones can be passionate, comforting, painful, heartbreaking, and fulfilling. Yet, we don’t have many words to describe the depth and complexity of friendship. We use words like, “best friend.” While there’s nothing wrong with that label per say, it sounds a little bit like a toddler pointing out his favorite stuffed animal. So, there are two new terms I want you to consider: “covenant” and “soul mate.”
Covenant is a “church-y” word, and if you say something about covenanted human relationships, most Christians will think: marriage. “Soul mate” is more of a secular term, and if you say something about soul mates, most people will think: romance. It’s unfortunate our application of the terms are so limited, and there are all kinds of ramifications of our exclusive usage (which I’ll write about at another time). Right now, however, I just want to tell you about what these words have to do with human relationships, not just married and romantic ones.
For as much as little as you might hear about it, the Bible actually depicts many painfully beautiful friendships. And, as hesitant as I sometimes am to quote the Bible, this is one area where I feel (relatively) confident. I was recently reminded of the Bible’s displays of passionate friendship when my interim pastor preached a sermon on David and Jonathan. The author of 1 Samuel writes, “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul… then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.” Now that is powerful language: knit to the soul… loved him as his own soul… made a covenant (a vow or promise). We don’t usually talk about friendship in those terms.
There are many other Biblical examples of two humans making an incredible commitment to one another. One of the most powerful is that of Ruth, the widow who chooses to leave her homeland to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi. Despite Naomi’s insistence otherwise, Ruth refuses to leave her: “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” Can you imagine someone in our time making that kind of commitment? I can, actually… but we don’t expect it, so we rarely give it the opportunity to happen. Even when we are a witness to it, we don’t often recognize it as such.
If the Biblical examples are turning you off, I promise I’ll get to a secular one next–but here’s just one more. Read most any of Paul’s letters, and notice how often he talks of his love and longing for his Christian brothers and sisters (his friends, his community). He writes to Timothy, “I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy.” His writings emanate a depth of care and relationship to which our current typical language and treatment of friendship just can’t compare.
I’m not sure why we don’t pay much attention to these aspects of the Bible–or, at least, why we pay relatively little attention to these aspects in comparison to others (like the “marriage covenant”). But this lopsided approach doesn’t just happen in Christian circles; it happens in secular circles, too. Which is why I really enjoyed reading this Huffington Post piece, Don’t Marry Your Soul Mate. Not only is it a thoughtful, healthful approach to marriage, I so appreciate when writer Brooke Hampton points out that we meet soul mates in a variety of contexts and relationships. She writes that soul mates are…
“Souls matched perfectly with ours to help us grow. Our soul mate or mates aren’t always meant to be our lovers. I think this is really important for all of us to understand. As a culture we seem to struggle with understanding deep relationships that aren’t sexual or unions that aren’t romantic, but have a greater purpose. Any deep connection sensed between two people is meant to become romantic, right? No. There are all kinds of connections in this wild life. I believe soul mates exist and they will show up in each life when you need them.”
Amen, amen, amen! After I read this article, I saw the friend who had originally sent it to me. I expressed my delight in the article, saying, “I love that she said that there are all kinds of soul mates–because, you know, I think you and I are soul mates.” She nodded knowingly (she sent me the article, after all!). You know it when you’ve met a soul mate. The question is whether you’re willing to buck the norm and explore that relationship and all its potential for joy and pain and growth.
As you contemplate and engage in your closest friendships, challenge yourself to think about them as having a historic Biblical basis and a soul-mated purpose set to them from the beginning of time. Notice how this mindset changes things. Your life will be all the richer and more interesting for it.