Friends That Form You

“You and I are different because ____________  lived among us.” I liked to include this sentence in the opening statement of a funeral or memorial service.

Andy, my first long-term friend died last week. Suddenly that sentence became intensely personal.

It’s true. Without Andy I would not be me. I am different because he lived. But how? How has our friendship of 46 years formed me?

I have begun the pleasure of living that question. I mark his disciplined naivete, leading with curious questions; his gift of listening others into being; his relational understanding of reality; his discovery of dying as birthing; his authority/authenticity that authored hope in others. There is more, much more to be harvested from my grief. But this awareness startles me: these are not primarily ideas. These are embodiments that, to some extent, are being embodied in me. I see him in me. These, and other revelations to come, hint at the difference in me because Andy and I were friends.

I confess. I am an “idea” junkie. I relish, like the bite into a fresh peach, new “insights” or fresh perspectives.  Over the years I have fallen in love with theories, and only with stubborn reluctance have I been able to acknowledge the limits of each one. I’ve assumed that it was ideas that formed me.

More to the point, I am suggesting to you, we are being formed by friendships. Maybe the ideas and theories that stick to our bones, those that become transformative, are the ones embodied in relationships. Maybe our friends create us. Or better said, they provide containers in which God’s on-going creation and creativity occur. Friends are “believing mirrors,” to use Julia Cameron’s phrase. They mirror back to us our competency, craziness, possibilities, limits, options, and encouragement — all marinated in laughter and wonder.

Intuitively I have known this. From the first “cell group” in university days, I have always been a part of a circle of peers that met regularly to befriend our lives and work. And now in retirement, I am still at it, fostering clergy collegial communities — yes, named AnamCara (soul friend). In addition, there are the less structured friendships along the way, nurtured by an occasional e-mail, coffee or vacation together, or telephone call. It’s clear to me now  — friends, including familial friends, are our truest social security.

We are trained to think of the lonely artist or lonely pastor. It is their name we see on the book, or portrait, or sermon. But if you look closer and inquire, any artist or pastor “worth their salt” will talk about the circle of friends who make their work possible.

Not surprising, this reflection has been formed with friends.

5 Responses to Friends That Form You

  1. Guy Sayles says:

    Thanks, Mahan, for these reflections on Andy’s gifts to your life. I knew him as a teacher during my seminary days and have, ever since, admired and learned from him. Thank you, too, for your current vocation of articulating why collegiality and friendship matter so much and of nudging us no to “go it alone.”


  2. Derrill Smith says:

    Mahan, as I say goodbye to a good,dear friend, once again you have given words to my search. Thanks for reminding us that family, friends, and colleagues are indeed our truest social security. Anam Cara.


  3. Greg Cochran says:

    At a time when I was on the truly on “the edge”, Andy in his “Human Crisis” class, his “Anger & Aggression” class, and through his writing were healing balm for my soul. I thank God for this artist who had a hand in molding who I am…


  4. Mahan Siler says:

    Thanks, Guy, Greg and Derrill for taking time to write a response. We help each other linger over the wonder of friendships.


  5. Joyce Hollyday says:

    Mahan, I didn’t know Andy, but I feel like I’m getting to know him through your witness to his life. In that way, he lives on. As a single person who works mostly alone, I’m forever indebted to my friends, who mirror God’s love, keep me connected to the world, and help reflect myself back to me. I count you and our AnamCara group among that cherished number. Thanks for this reflection.


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