In some circles, commitment and friendship is a contradiction in terms. There are particular beliefs out in the popular culture that friendship is a chosen relationship--a personal relationship of one's own choosing--and therefore "ought" in friendship is problematic.
To talk about obligation or commitment in a freely chosen friendship sounds like an oxymoron. Authentic friendship cannot be coerced or manipulated. Friendship requires respecting the freedom of the individual. We perhaps know of friends who, even though they were well-meaning in their love for us became people who became demanding and all absorbing in their relating to us. Authentic friendship love cannot survive such a need to control.
Friendship cannot be coerced. Beauty cannot be coerced.
Friendship beckons all of us to taste love and beauty in the presence of a particular person who is becoming our friend.
But that taste we experience in a friend in the attraction stage points to a journey we are all headed to: the fullness of love, unbreakable, satisfying intimacy, robust shalom, and communion--the beauty of God who is Love.
Love over the course of time between friends entails something from us: personal commitment toward our friend. Friends devote more attention, time, and energy toward each other and their friendship. "In every deep friendship," writes Catholic spiritual director Carmen Caltagirone, "there is commitment, often unspoken, but nonetheless real."
Experiencing deep and abiding intimacy in a lasting friendship is not like taking a cab ride where you can opt to get out of the ride anytime you like. Certainly we are free to choose any friendship at any time. Yet, so many treat friendship--the freedom of friendship like in one month you can experience deep intimacy and then next month you can choose walk away. Intimacy in friendship doesn't mean you are going to feel good at every moment in the relationship.
It is important when speaking of personal commitment in friendship, to stress both friends must be committed to the safety and health of the other. This is not an appeal to stay stuck in ongoing manipulative, unhealthy or unsafe relationships.
In popular culture, intimacy and commitment are somewhat elusive to us. Emotional commitment is fragile. In marriage or in friendship--two people who have poured themselves into one another in deep bonds over a course of time can choose to walk out of the closeness. You're not going to hear any formulaic answers from me. That's way too much for one post.
But friends can choose to dig deeper in beauty choosing to work through issues rather than withdraw or remain stuck where they are. Beauty beckons the possibilities of the friendship rising above the stuckness of the relational ceiling over the friends. It requires in some tests of friendships, that both friends "hunt for beauty" of "something more" (I love that phrase, thank you, Jonalyn Fincher).
Beauty, in David Bentley Hart's words, "does not always immediately commend itself to every taste." But beauty can be learned and enjoyed as something pleasing and healthy.
Yes, it is realistic that we give up any notion of idealism in friendship.
Friendships are messy!
Even among well-meaning friends who are Christians there are going to be friendships which crash and burn. There will be friendships which will require a hiatus. Well-meaning friends can fail each other; either one or both sabotage the friendship. This is friendship realism.
Friendships may experience many tests over time. These tests may end up strengthening and nourishing the friendship.
Carmen Caltagirone reflects on the healthy wholesomeness of entering into suffering and pain involving friendship:
"The risk involved in friendship requires that we be open to whatever the relationship brings, that we relinquish control...true love is piercing and tough and requires all that we have and the best of who we are...Part of the pain of friendship is the conflict that often exists between two persons. This can be very healthy....Without glorifying conflict, it is important to note that conflict in a relationship can point to a much deeper reality." (Friendship as Sacrament)
All good theologies of friendship expound upon personal commitment in deep friendship. There is an enduring beauty to committed friendships for the friends to experience, taste, and enjoy--and for the world to see.
"We imagine that there are friends who are so attuned to each other that they do not experience conflict. They are lucky and rare...We are often disappointed because we implicitly expect perfection from a friend--a perfection that we are not ourselves equipped to offer in return.
A committed friendship also possesses a certain robustness, an ability to endure those things that go wrong between us...Belief in the primacy of relationship also fosters the resolve to refrain from unilateral decisions....Commitment to friendship entails resisting the temptation to cut the other person off...It is where we learn about ourselves and each other."
John Galindo & Owen Cummings (Spirituality, Intimacy, and Sexuality).
This is not the last word on personal commitment in friendship. But in an ongoing deep friendship, friends reveal the hunger for intimacy--abiding and satisfying intimacy within their friendship. "When we experience a true sense of deep and genuine fidelity in a relationship, we experience something of God" (Carmen Caltagirone).
As my friend Paul Wadell observes,
"We need to work at intimacy. We need to nurture the friendships of our lives...We need to risk generosity, risk vulnerability, and risk forgiveness again and again because, no matter how hard it can be to persevere in love, we touch life only when we love."
He gets this right when he sees that friendship over time requires work--personal commitment:
"At the beginning of any friendship there is nothing we want more than to be with our friends and to do good for them. But extending care over time--both 'in season and out of season"--is what true friendship demands, and none of us finds that kind of faithful love easy"
(Happiness and the Christian Moral Life).