The Sacrament of Friendship

Feb 26 / Terra McDaniel
All life emerges from the womb of relationship. The Trinity is three beings utterly themselves yet inextricably connected. Their bond is one of mutual submission while eternally honoring one another. Everything else is the overflow of that love. We are invited into the holy communion of Parent, Child, and Spirit together. Just before his arrest, Jesus prayed, “…that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23). Rozella Haydee White says the Trinity “models revolutionary relationship in ways that show what life could be like when we fall in love with ourselves and each other.”
For most of my adult life, I’ve valued friendship in theory but struggled to live it well. It wasn’t easy to prioritize when parenting a young child and getting through college. In ministry, friendship felt complicated by the demands of leadership. And I’ve sometimes thought of it as frivolous or indulgent. It’s not. We need trustworthy companions to become our most authentic selves and connect more fully with the Holy. Bono calls friendship a sacrament as holy and transformative as the bread and wine of communion or the waters of baptism. I wonder what might shift for us if we considered friendship as a means of receiving (and offering) divine grace.
Celebration and Everyday Joy
Finding a better normal after the profound isolation of the pandemic hasn’t been easy. But friendship isn’t only holy, it’s healthy. People with close relationships live longer. Research has found the opposite is true: “People with no friends or poor-quality friendships are twice as likely to die prematurely, …a risk factor even greater than the effects of smoking 20 cigarettes per day.”
After a series of losses, Nicole Zasowski realized, “I was missing out on delight in the present moment because I dreaded the pain I imagined the future would bring. I neglected connection in relationships because too often, I chose projects over people.” I’m relearning how vital it is to invest in friendship, too. It’s how we remember who we are, what we’ve lived through, and who we can be. John O’Donohue contended, “Human presence is a creative and turbulent sacrament, a visible sign of invisible grace…Friendship is the sweet grace that liberates us to approach, recognize, and inhabit…” the adventure of a life well lived.
My daughter is a wonderful example of faithful friendship. She says friendship thrives when given its proper priority as non-negotiable. She emphasizes the importance of doing everyday things together instead of feeling pressure for every gathering to include an expensive meal or trip. She has a weekly evening (or as near to that as women with careers, marriages, and young kids can manage) with friends she’s known for years. They navigate work, marriage challenges, birth, death, and new beginnings together and are better for it.
Being Known and Other Consolations
David Zahl believes the most transformative friendships “may include our finest moments, but they are forged in our worst ones.” My best friend and I have shared more than a few hard times, but a defining one was as she walked with me to survey the damage after my housefire was extinguished. As the sun set, one of the emergency vehicles had trouble navigating our steep driveway and overcorrected, nearly backing into us. She cracked a joke about what a bummer it would’ve been if I’d survived the fire only to be hit by a truck. There is no doubt in my mind that our peals of laughter were God’s grace, a first breath on the road of healing.
Another friend teaches me by example about the power of presence by making time for long drives to gather with friends after grueling work weeks and navigating her partner’s chronic illness. She takes pilgrimages with friends who lost one of their midst to cancer to celebrate that woman’s life. She has regular meals with her husband, son, ex-husband, and his partner to embrace the family that they are.
And one of the best things that happened last year was the chance to reconnect with some friends from high school. It sparked in me a renewed attention to the importance of friendship, belonging, and how we become whole together. I noticed how profoundly life-giving it was to pick up where we left off, going from laughter to tears back to laughter. It was wonderful to simply be with people who know each other’s stories—the beautiful, the embarrassing, the tragic, and the hilarious (including that one time we accidentally almost got our youth pastor—a man who was and is a kind and generous soul—fired).
God’s Nature
John O’Donohue believed “Friendship is the nature of God.” Consider this your welcome to reconnect with an old friend in the year ahead and maybe make a new one. Consider it your chance to tell a friend who’s already in your life why you’re grateful they are.
Who knows childhood, teen, or young adult you best? What did they teach you about what matters most? Are you still close? Why or why not? If you were to reconnect with one friend or family member you’ve lost touch with who would it be and why? What kind of friend do you want to be for others?
Terra McDaniel
Terra is a spiritual director, pastor, teacher, and writer who loves making space for people of all ages to tune into their own souls. Terra is convinced that the Spirit is working both within the church and outside it and feels particularly called to host those who feel spiritually homeless. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and at