Friendship, Listening, and Empathy: A Prayer GuideTwo Hands: Grief and Gratitude in the Christian LifeSabbath Keeping FastingA Renewed SpiritualityNurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationPersonality Type in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Draw near: Praying about friendship and freedom

Lynne Baab • Wednesday April 12 2023

Draw near: Praying about friendship and freedom

A group of people called Proto-Indo-Europeans lived north of the Caspian and Black Seas between 4500 and 2500 B.C. Linguists hypothesize they had a unified language with a verb meaning “to love or please.” Over centuries, those people moved west into what is now Germany, Scandinavia, and England. The word meaning “to love or please” morphed into two different nouns, one meaning “lover, friend” and the other “beloved, not in bondage.” Both words had the same beginning letters, but the former had “nd” at the end. Later, in Old English, these words became “frēond” and “frēo.” In recent centuries these words became “friend” and “free.”

I love pondering the significance of word origins. I am all too aware that I can have so much fun doing it that I go too far, drawing conclusions that aren’t actually accurate. A word used 5000 years ago is just that. We don’t use that word today, and the definitions of our words today are influenced by the way we use them now.

Still, the origins of the word “free” and its connections to friendship are thought provoking. Yes, I don’t want any of my beloved ones to be in bondage. And I have experienced great freedom because friends have loved me. I’ve been pondering how friendship can bring freedom and how we might pray that we would be those kinds of friends.

I have written many times about my exacting mother, for whom nothing I did was ever enough. My childhood best friend, Wendy, loved me just as I was and let me know how much she appreciated me. I am convinced I would have become a much more anxious and addicted adult without the foundation of Wendy’s love. I am blessed that my husband Dave’s love includes a significant friendship component. Dave and other friends got me through my 16 years of depression as a young adult, helping me experience moments of freedom from the blues.

Friendship love has freed me in so many ways. I want my acts of friendship to bring freedom to others. I want to pray that God would give me the perception and diligence to do that.

Let’s ponder some of the kinds of freedom that friendship can bring.

Freedom from self-criticism. A friend can say, “I’m so sad you got criticized at work. I want to tell you that I see how often you express care for your co-workers.” Or, “I see how diligently you try to do a good job.” Or, “I remember so many times when you have described the ways you try to respect your supervisor, even though he is so challenging.” We can pray that God would give us the eyes to see the kind and honorable things our friends do, and we can pray for words to point out what we have seen.

Freedom from fear for the future. A friend can say, “I get worried about that too. You’re not alone in that fear.” Or, “I’ll be praying for you.” Or, “I really see why you are so worried. Let’s pray together right now that God will lift that worry.” Or, “Maybe we could brainstorm the ways we have coped in the past with that kind of anxiety.” We can pray that God would give us the right words and actions to encourage our friends when they experience anxiety.

Freedom from regrets. A friend can say, “I really get why you regret doing that. Tell me more.” Or, “Regrets like that are hard for me, too.” Or, “You’ve mentioned in the past that getting out for a walk helps you to feel calm. Can we go for a walk together?” We can pray that God would give us the willingness to come alongside our friends.

I’m indebted to Scott Brennan for pointing out the etymology of the word “friend.” Scott is an artist, coach, and board member for the Community of Aiden and Hilda (U.K.). One of Scott’s passions is soul friends, those people with whom we have a soul connection and who encourage us to grow in faith as we encourage them. Scott wrote this on Facebook after describing the Old English words “frēond” and “frēo.”: “What does this mean for soul friendship? Is it a practice of setting people free from those habits and mindsets that keep us captive, freeing us to love and forgive?”

Not all of our friends are deep soul friends. Some friends are people with whom we share an interest or a common situation. Still, we can pray to bring freedom into all our conversations with people – soul friends, companions in a hobby or sport, acquaintances – by trying to see our conversation partners as beloved by God. We can pray to accept people as they are, affirm them, and enjoy them.

When I look back on the friends who have conveyed freedom to me, they have in common the ability to communicate that they actually like me as I am. They seem to see me as beloved to them and beloved by God. What a gift. I want to pray for God’s help to bring that gift to others.

(Next week: praying to love our limits. Illustration by Dave Baab: Zoo Cafe, St. Clair Beach, Dunedin, New Zealand. Note the writing on the window: "I love three things in this world. Sun, Moon and you." If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up below under “subscribe.”)

I wrote an earlier series of blog posts called “The friendship skills of asking, giving, thanking.” Here are three of my favorite posts in that series:

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