"No one person can fulfill all your needs. But the community can truly hold you. The community can let you experience the fact that, beyond your anguish, there are human hands that hold you and show you God's faithful love." - Henri Nouwen (Source)
Back in 2016, I joined three men in a covenant friendship that has changed my life. Over five years, we've held each other up and let each other down. We've helped each other and at times been too busy for each other. We've cried tears of joy and tears of pain.
In all the highs and lows of friendship, our commitment remains steady, and for that, I thank God. These life-long companions become a constant in an ever-changing world and act as an anchor to hold us upright in the storms of life.
Most people I talk to are puzzled by how to start this type of friendship — Isn't asking someone to be a friend for life awkward? And isn't asking this as an adult even more uncomfortable?
With some thoughtfulness, you can do it (and not feel too uncomfortable in the process).
Know who you're asking. I straight up asked my friend, Rob, if he wanted to commit to a lifetime friendship because I knew he'd thrive with that type of question. Others won't, and that's okay. If you're unsure how others will take a "till death do us part" commitment, then...
Set a trial run together. Most folks I know fear committing to something a month from now — let alone a lifetime! Nothing is stopping you from kicking the wheels before you take her off the lot indefinitely. Commit to 6 months together, and then decide as a group to continue or disband. You can also invite more people into your group if the Holy Spirit leads you all in that direction.
Work toward a lifetime commitment. Don't let your fear of commitment divert you from the main goal — covenant friendships that weather the years together. After several rounds of smaller commitments, discuss if you want to commit to longer stretches. Build up your commitment muscles slow and steady like a bodybuilder. As Adele Calhoun puts it, "Because the trust and safety needed for this kind of friendship takes time, covenant groups tend to be long-term and closed to people dropping in to try it out." (Source)
Clarify the Commitment. Some covenant groups write out vows while others verbalize their commitment. What matters most is that you work together to build the type of friendship you need and want. Types of questions to discuss: - How will we pray for one another? - How often will we meet face-to-face? - What will the content of our time together be? - What does connecting look like between meetings? - How will we treat one another? - Do we want to do anything besides this? Yearly trips? Serve together? Etc. If your group is high or low structured, the point is to define and buy into the friendship. Example - In our monthly Zoom call, we each share the good, the bad, and the fill-in-the-blank (The F.I.B. is anything that doesn't necessarily fit into the first two categories that we want to share).
Keep it simple; keep it life-giving. View the specificity of your commitment as laying railroad tracks. We put down tracks to take us somewhere. However, while riding a train through the beautiful countryside, you don't fixate on the rails. You look out to where you are and are going. Covenant friendships are like that. We place some purposeful tracks and enjoy the ride.
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