Two men stop in front of where I sit, hidden by the low wall of our church’s “tech booth,” where I serve every Sunday morning. They hug, laugh, and launch into conversation. Before long, two others join them, bringing even more laughter and joy to the scene.
I hide my smile, delighted by their unlikely camaraderie (after all, few would peg these men of such different ages and stages, socioeconomic backgrounds as friends.). But inside I silently cheer because I know the “secret” of how these men crossed boundaries, bulldozed stereotypes, and forged friendships based on a shared passion for prayer and an unmistakable call to pray together. As they rose early and lifted their voices to God, they came to know and love one another. They discovered the unique joy and power of making friends based on a common calling.
Outside of church communities, this kind of friendship might not make much sense. Certainly, even inside of churches, we tend to think we’ll bond best with those of a similar age, gender, and social status. But I’ve experienced what happens when we gather to encourage one another both in and through our callings. Frederick Buechner wrote, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This is as good a definition as I’ve seen. And yet, these lifelong missions aren’t always easily discerned.
When I first named writing as mine, I didn’t know how true Buechner’s words were. Back then, when I said yes to an invitation to start a writers group, I thought it would be nothing more than a monthly gathering of local Christian women who critiqued each other’s manuscripts and offered support. I had no idea that it would birth not only creative ideas and essential feedback, but also fortify my calling and forge friendships unlike any I’d never known.
I’ve been blessed with close friends at most turns in my life, but something was different with these ladies. Though we were at times hard-pressed to come up with the basic details that women are supposed to know about one another (How old are her kids? What does her husband do again?), we were privy to the essential stuff of life (the fears, the insecurities, the private pain, and the intimacy of putting oneself on the page).
Of course, it’s easy to say that gathering to pray and share writing—two open and vulnerable acts—open doors to friendship. But I’ve seen this at work with other callings as well. Certainly, with pastors who gather. With musicians. With doctors and accountants. I’ve seen bonds form among those seeking a newfound call to sobriety or those seeking relief from depression. Because when we open ourselves up to one another in humility, look to one another to learn from mistakes and successes, and welcome God into the mess, the same ingredients that form calling—gifting and vocation and movement of the Spirit—begin to create friendship. What may start as practical or professional in nature gives way to something greater.
This is what Jesus knew when he gathered His unlikely disciples. He called these men off fishing boats and from behind tax-collecting kiosks and asked them to leave everything behind and follow Him. He drew them close even as He prepared to send them out. In the midst of their years of learning from the Rabbi, asking questions and getting rebuked, breaking bread and witnessing miracles, bonds were forged and devotion grew among the 12. It compelled those men to risk their reputations and lives to spread the good news of the One who called and befriended them.
While I’d never suggest we limit our friendships only to those with whom we share callings, I believe we all need a circle of friends who understand the unique joys and sufferings of what God has called us to do in this world. It’s essential to have people to not only bolster and encourage us, but who also share the essence—the very heart, mind and soul—of our calling.
But these friendships don’t come easy. They require us to reach out and move beyond the usual boundaries. Finding friends who share a calling may mean “friending” the unlikely or the unusual, reaching out to those with whom we have little else in common. And yet, what’s better to share than an interest in living fully—leaning into our God given tasks?