One of the most common stories from soldiers in my parish who have returned from deployments is how lonely they were. They had certain kinds of friendships but most of them longed for and lamented the lack of Christian friendships at a time when they were most vulnerable to despair and evil.
Sadly, friendships are easier but fewer for most folks. Sure we have those gazillion Facebook friends and our email address book is filled to the brim but we have less daily interaction with friends than in previous ages. My parents have had lifelong friends to surround them in all of life's circumstances -- sharing their joys, bearing their burdens, and telling them truths they did not want to hear. I grew up thinking that I would have such friendships as well. In reality, my mobility as a Pastor and the nature of my calling has left me wanting more and finding fewer of those good friendships I witnessed growing up. In particular I mean friendships with other men.
There is no substitute for a man for the deep friendship with other men. Don't go there. I am not talking about anything more than platonic but that does not in any way diminish the nature of such friendships. Many of the great movies describe the kind of bonds between friends that enables them to weather together the great storms of life and change, to pursue together what one could not do alone, and to celebrate in common what belongs to both more than it belongs to just one.
Think of Lord of the Rings and the great friendship between Frodo and Samwise. In many respects Frodo, though the main character, is no greater or stronger than the friend who shared his journey, who stood with him before his enemies, who rescued him from despair, and who carried him when his strength was gone. It is really one of the best parts of the whole story -- the story of Frodo and Samwise.
It is one of the best moments and scenes in the whole trilogy. They traveled countless miles in a journey greater than they could have imagined and escaped dangers bigger than their greatest fears. Finally they come to the foot of Mount Doom where ring must be destroyed for good. But Frodo has no strength left, and, despite how far they have come, he cannot finish the job. Standing with him, however, is one whose strength Frodo will borrow again. He is the faithful and steady Samwise and he will not quit so close to the end of this saga. He carries his friend and does what it takes to finish the job. Surely Tolkien meant for this to be one of the great moments in the series and one of the great examples and lessons for the reader.
I write this as one who envies rather than enjoys what is written into the fabric of this movie. Such friendships have been too often been left as unfulfilled desires -- much to my great regret. Faith shared in the context of such friendship is faith strengthened, empowered, and equipped for the long haul. Think of the great stories of David and Jonathon or Moses and Aaron or the small circle within the apostles who were there when others were not (Peter, James, and John).
I wonder if this isn't one reason why may regular conversations with my dad have become so special. We talk about anything, mostly about nothing, and yet hidden within those words are the struggles of faith and life. His support is my strength and, like all friendships, my fear is that I receive from him far more than I give to him. If we can do anything within the Church to support, to encourage, and to nurture such deep friendships among those who share the faith, we have done a good work for those who know them. We have provided them with a deep and abiding gift and an awareness of the difference a good friend can make for the lonely way that is Christian faith and life.