By BILL CLARKE, Commentary | Published December 1, 2021
When Jesus was questions by the scribe on the greatest commandment, he replied, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mk 12:30–31
Friendships are something we develop throughout our entire life. Our early life friends tend to be family, neighbors and classmates from school. For instance, all of the bridesmaids and groomsmen at our wedding were high school or college friends.
We develop new friends at work, at church, in the organizations we join, or the activities we engage in. If we marry and have children, we become involved with other parents who are experiencing the same challenges and joys of childhood activities. The soccer Moms and Dads of the world are testimony to these relationships.
As we age and enter the second half of life, our friendships often take on a new dimension, one of support, mutual sharing and dependence. Many of us come to rely upon the companionship and love of friends as a much-needed support for navigating the challenges of senior adult life.
These senior years often accelerate the frequency with which we experience the emotions associated with losing friends due to relocation, illness, incapacity or death. I know from experience that losing a friend can be a sorrowful experience.
Establishing a new perspective on friendship
There is another dimension or perspective on friendship that all seniors ought to consider in the second half of life. As I get closer to the end than the beginning, I’m realizing how important it is to establish a friendship with my creator.
All of the earthly friendships we develop pale in comparison to the first and most important relationship that we must have with Jesus Christ. God desires to be our closest and best friend.
I don’t imply that we abandon our earthly friendships, rather I suggest we must recognize and establish priorities for our friendships, and our love of God should always be our primary focus.
If you attended a Catholic elementary school as a child, you will remember the nuns used the Baltimore Catechism to teach the fundamentals of our Catholic faith. We were required to memorize many of the questions. I want to focus on one question that provides an insight into why we must develop a close and intimate relationship with our creator.
The question is, “Why did God make me?” I’ll bet that many seniors will be able to recall the answer even though it was more than five decades ago. The answer is, “God made me to know him, love him, and serve him in this life, and be happy with him in the next.”
For many of us when we were young, our relationship with God was one of reverence and respect. We prayed the traditional prayers but what we probably did not do is think of God as our best friend. God was an authoritative figurehead and we were in awe of his power and divinity.
I carried this sense of reverence into adulthood. Then two events happened in our family that changed my total perspective on my personal relationship with God.
Six years ago our third son Matthew was killed in an automobile accident. He was married with three sons and a wife who converted to our faith based on Matthew’s example. We were totally devastated. I cried and asked God why. Why did he allow this terrible tragedy to happen?
The second event occurred a year later when our second son Kevin experienced kidney failure and died suddenly. He left behind two sons and a devoted wife.
The loss of a child is one of the most difficult things that can happen in a family but to lose two sons in a short period of time is devastating. My faith was challenged. When I was at a low point, a colleague in the office who was experienced in grief counseling offered to help.
She asked some penetrating questions. One question in particular dealt with my relationship with God. She asked, “Have you yelled at God and told him how upset you are at him?” I was shocked by the question. I had never thought about yelling at God. That is something that a mere human is not supposed to do.
Then she said, “Try it. He is God … He can take it!” She went on to explain that God listens to everything we say. He knows in advance what it on our mind, how we feel and is there to help us, not to add misery in our life.
She told me that I had to develop a new way of communicating with God. I had to learn how to talk to God, to have conversations in which I expressed my inner feelings in the same way that I would talk to one of my closest friends.
She concluded by saying, “After all, God should be your best friend!”
I had never in my prayer life just talked to God. I said prayers. I asked for favors but I never viewed God as a friend.
This experience changed my prayer life dramatically. I still say the traditional prayers but every day I find some quiet time, like driving to and from work, to just talk to God.
God made you and me to know him, to love him and serve him. We are his beloved sons and daughters. His love for us is deep, personal and perfect. God desires our love in return. All we have to do is make God our first and closest friend.
Bill Clarke emerged from his third retirement to serve as the associate director of professional development for the Office of Formation and Discipleship. Contact Bill by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.