I have been finding ants in the kitchen. This was surprising to me because we never had an ant problem before. It’s still early in the spring, and I couldn’t figure it why I’ve been finding these little pests all over the white tile. Now I know: my four year old is feeding them. I found her crouched over one, peering at it through a magnifying glass as she crumbles bread before it. “Watch!” she directed me recently, “When I feed him, he dances, mama!” Since I have informed her that ants in the kitchen are not good and that they do not make very good pets, she has been chasing them with a broom. “Get over here! You’re not getting away from ME!” I hear her shout. And then a menacing, “Where’s your QUEEN? We’re going to get her!”
I am often like my four year old, “feeding” undesirable things and wondering why they continue to bother me in life. I’ll grow an unkind thought, or nourish a bad habit, then wonder why I’m not making spiritual progress or gaining control over an area in my life. If only I would be aware of the spiritual pests I am unintentionally feeding, I could grow spiritually and in holiness.
This is where, I’m discovering, good friends can come in. Friendships are more than just pleasant associations that can make life more enjoyable or provide relaxing conversation and an opportunity for sharing ideas and ideals. True friends can tell us things we need to know about ourselves and our actions. They can help us grow wiser and assist us in becoming better people. They can challenge us to holiness.
In his classic Introduction to the Devout Life, Saint Francis de Sales states, “A faithful friend is a strong defense, and those who find one have found a treasure. A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality…” Further in the book he offers this advice, “Love everyone with a deep love based on charity, but form friendships only with those who can share virtuous things with you. The higher the virtues you share and exchange with others, the more perfect your friendship will be.”
True friends will not only tell us if there’s spinach in our teeth, but often tell us the “tough stuff” too—like if there’s an attitude in our hearts we need to eliminate. A good friend says, “Let’s go to Mass tomorrow morning. We can take the kids for a donut afterwards.” If we resist she may challenge us gently, “Oh come on. What’s more important than that?” A true friend encourages us to mend our differences with another who has rubbed us the wrong way, instead of wallowing in self-pity. She makes us better, by holding us to higher standards than we may want to hold ourselves, and by challenging us to live Catholically, heroically.
True friends will walk with us on the path towards our journey to become closer to Christ in this world. As Mary D. Ford writes in the article, “What are Friends For?”, “Friends are for our growth in health, happiness and holiness on this earth in order to share together the gift of eternal life in heaven.” These true friends can be our spouses, our siblings, or previous strangers who have somehow been dropped conveniently in to our lives. We may meet such a friend at church, at our child’s school, through a mutual acquaintance. We may have known them for two years, or twenty. We should always recognize these people for who they are—God’s gifts and evidence of his providential care.
Here is a quick checklist of some signs of a good friend: He listens. He tells the truth. He wants what’s best for us in the long-run, even if makes us uncomfortable in the short-term. He is trustworthy. He is loyal. And here is the most important characteristic of a good friend and friendship: Our relationship with him is based on a common love of God and desire to do His will. Basically, then, a good friend will tell us when there are “ants in our kitchen” which need eradicating, even if we don’t want to hear it. And if we’re smart, we’ll be like my four year daughter who simply changed course when her mistake was pointed out to her. We must be willing to adjust if necessary. We are truly blessed if we have friends who can see the “ants in our kitchen” and who will tell us so we can get rid of them.