As The Deer Longs…

(My apologies – if the infrequency of my posts hasn’t driven all readers away! – for not posting so long. I’m resolving to post every Friday henceforth: it gives me a structure, and it gives anyone following my blog to check in regularly.)

I was thinking today about friendship, and what a precious gift it is. In the best friendships – which are rare indeed, but all the more precious for being so rare – the friends form a mutual admiration society. Each feels about the other: “How graced I am to have you in my life! What (good thing) did I do to deserve someone like you as a friend?” In those friendships, that God is deeply involved is obvious: how you met (or reconnected, if you lost touch); how you made it through difficult periods in the friendships; how the other was there for you at a crucial time; how s/he brings out the best in you, and you in him/her; how (most deeply, in the particular friendship that marriage entails, but to a great degree, in any deep friendship) God truly made you for each other.

A little poem runs,

What made us friends in the long ago
When we first met?
Well, I think I know.
The best in you and the best in me
Hailed each other because we could see
That always and ever
Since time began,
Our being friends was part of God’s plan.

~ George Webster Douglas ~

And Sirach 6:14-17 speaks of the rarity and grace of a faithful friend (after outlining what a faithful friend does not look like, in 6:8-13).

14 A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
    he that has found one has found a treasure.
15 There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
    and no scales can measure his excellence.
16 A faithful friend is an elixir of life;
    and those who fear the Lord will find him.
17 Whoever fears the Lord directs his friendship aright,
    for as he is, so is his neighbor also.

In my work as a psychologist, I’ve been saddened to find it not unusual – especially among men – for people to have no close friends outside of their spouses or families. For many men, our last experience of a really close male friend was in high school or college, although we may have many acquaintances. It rubs me the wrong way, a bit, when a man tells me, “My wife is my best friend.” Mind you, I love my wife to pieces, but I associate “best friend” with peers of the same sex – David and Jonathan, Jesus and John, Paul and Barnabas, Naomi and Ruth, Mary and Elizabeth. (I realize as I write that the Bible doesn’t mention non-related female best friends; doubtless because, due to its cultural context, not many women are prominent, well-fleshed-out figures in the biblical narrative.) I don’t think close friendships are an “extra” in the Christian life: if Jesus needed them, as He did in His humanity, so do we.

So a good friendship, including that particular friendship, marriage, is a real treasure. But just as even the best marriage points beyond itself to the fullness of intimacy we will experience in the wedding feast of the Lamb (i.e., Heaven) no friendship or combo of friendships, however deep, comes close to meeting the needs of the human heart. It points beyond itself to friendship with Jesus.

Existentialist psychology, as typified in the writings of Irvin D. Yalom, an atheist, notes the four “givens” of human existence: that death is unavoidable; that we have the burden of freedom, that we are essentially isolated, and that existence is meaningless. That is, no matter how we live, we all die the same way; we can run but not hide from the responsibility of deciding what to make of our lives; because no one else can know what our lives are like from the inside, or possibly be emotionally or physically present to us at all times, we are essentially alone; and – given that even the most enjoyable, dedicated, relationally full life ends in the annihilation of consciousness and relationships – our lives are meaningless.

While disagreeing wholeheartedly with its atheism, I admire existentialist psychology for at least facing head-on the implications of an atheistic worldview. Most secular psychology sidesteps the problems, offering a gospel of self-fulfillment while ignoring the basic futility of a “fulfilling” life that nevertheless ends in annihilation. Existentialist psychology, in its atheism, admits that the human heart, faced with a Godless existence, finds itself entirely dissatisfied and frustrated. Yalom asks all the right questions, than (stoically? resignedly?) throws up his hands and says, “There are no answers.” Given his insights, I do find it mystifying that he doesn’t ask, “Why would humans, of all creatures, 1) be designed for (evolve to – pick your phrase) a meaningless, inherently dissatisfying existence; and 2) be designed (evolve) to be AWARE of this futility?”

Back to us as Christians: while friendships are wonderful and good, the “not-enoughness” of even our best relationships touches on each of the issues that existentialist psychology raises. BUT, thanks be to God on every possible level, Jesus truly is the Answer. Yes, our deepest needs are vast. We need to be known completely, loved completely, and give ourselves completely to Someone Else. We need Someone who’s available 24/7; Who knows exactly what we’re going through because He’s gone through it Himself, in His Passion, and lives within us as baptized Christians; Who never tires of listening to us or being with us; Who finds our tiniest concerns worthy of attention; Whose friendship with us will never end. And we have such a Someone.

The closer we grow to Him, the more He clears out of us what is not Him. As we realize the Everything that He has for us, our realization that nothing else satisfies grows correspondingly. “For who have I in heaven but you? And when I am with you, the Earth delights me not,” says the psalmist. “As the deer longs for running streams, so my heart longs for you, my God.” As He enlarges our hearts, our awareness and emptiness apart from Him grows. We don’t love our friends, spouses, and families less: quite the reverse. But we know where and in Whom our treasure lies. No person this side of Heaven is ultimate, nor are we ultimate for any other person. It’s actually a relief – very freeing: I don’t have to demand that you (spouse, friend, child, parent, sibling) be God for me; I cannot be God for you either. But we can love and long for Him together. And with Him, in Heaven, we will also experience a friendship with one another – boundless, eternal – beyond our wildest hopes. Nothing, NOTHING is lost. Praise be to God!



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About admin

I am a Catholic clinical psychologist with a solo practice in Omaha, NE. In the Franciscan seminary, I completed about 2/3rd of an M.Div./MA in Scripture. In my 3rd year of temporary vows, I discerned a call to the married life. My lovely wife Mary and I have a son, Michael, as well as a number of children preceding us to Heaven through miscarriages. We are delighted to be in the Omaha archdiocese and love the Heartland.
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