Missionary Objective #7: To teach people to live as God sees us - First, by the example of our own lives; then, by friendship; then, by words.
We have had a good run, up to now, in talking about spirituality, relationships and need from the lesser considered angles. Our Missionary call has been a departure from the conventional ways of thinking about relationships because, quite frankly, they do not always work well, and when they do not work well over long periods of time, our spiritual nourishment diminishes.
How can we go along, turning concepts on their ears, acknowledging the gaps between social skills and spiritual skills, claiming that social skills alone do not nourish the soul – and then plunk down “friendship” as a Missionary Objective?
Because we refer, very specifically, to missionary friendship.
There is no need to discuss conventional understanding of friendship. We are saturated with this concept, especially as it has increasingly come to mean shorthand for “agreement on social media,” independent of any actual loyalty, forbearance or sacrifice. Yet we still know, instinctively, that a friend is someone with whom we can be both needy and accepted.
To the spiritually starving, this is a bitter topic, as one might promote a cookbook to a person without food or invite someone to a banquet who has a serious digestive disorder.
To the person with autism, this is a conundrum tangled somewhere between the desire for connection, the steps required to get there, and fulfilling the expectations of others before we can feel that we have earned the title “friend.”
To suggest conventional “friendship” as an objective is downright absurd. If friendship were already possible, and if friendship were already fulfilling, there would be no need of this Mission.
But to see how we mean friendship, go back and see that the full objective says “to teach people to live as God sees us – by friendship.”
We do not say “start a friendship.” We do not say “be in a friendship.” We do not say “find someone without a friendship and create one for them.”
We say: teach people to live as God sees us, using friendship as an example. In other words, teach people with missionary friendship.
Think of missionary friendship as a live action demonstration of what we feel in the depths of our hearts friendship is. Imagine missionary friendship through these statements:
“This is how I look, speak and act when I consider you my friend.” “This is how it looks when I need a friend.” “This is how friends treat one another.” “This is what loyalty looks like.” “This is the kind of sacrifice a friend makes for a friend.”
Notice that these statements are in the present tense, not the future tense. This is not an exhortation of what friendship ought to be. This is a living demonstration here, now, of what friendship is.
So far, so good.
Now, how does it work in real life?
Simply. When we interact with another person, we demonstrate what it would look like if we were that person’s friend.
We are to do this with:
The people in front of us
The people behind us
The people next to us
The people we like
The people we dislike
The people we loathe
The people who intimidate us
The people who reject us
The people who are completely oblivious to us
… in short: PEOPLE.
This formula is incredibly simple but requires repeated reminding that missionary friendship is a demonstration of the best of our friendship abilities. It does not imply, predict or secure actual friendship. It is a teaching tool.
This formula works equally well when we:
Are terrified of friendship
Despise the person in front of us
Desperately want to be someone’s friend
Desperately want someone to be our friend
Desperately want to be alone
We repeat: It is a manner of behavior. It is a style of conducting ourselves. It is a demonstration of how we feel friendship should be. It is a teaching tool.
Social Skills Programs: Lost Teaching Tools
Somehow, it seems that the takeaway from all the years of implementing social skills training programs has been a conditional assumption: IF we perform our social skills well enough, THEN we will have wonderful and fulfilling friendships. This is a devastating message to carry off into the real world with no accounting for every single dynamic variable that keeps life from ever playing out in a perfectly straight line. This kind of thinking ends in spiritual starvation more times than not, because there is no way any one of us can perform our way into fulfilling friendships. Too many of us fall into the contrapositive: IF we do not develop fulfilling friendships THEN we must be inadequately performing.
This illustrates very well that conditional statements (= IF we perform correctly, THEN we merit friendship) cannot be applied to authentic friendship… which, if experienced with the fullness of caritas and voluntary humility, is unconditional.
Have we been clear enough? It does not require anyone to begin or be in any friendships to demonstrate what friendship behavior looks like. Let us liberate our social skills to become what they were intended to be: teaching tools. Sometimes, we will be taught by them. Sometimes, we will teach with them. Never should they be used to marginalize.
This week, consider the implications of demonstrating what friendship looks like in each of our interactions – of putting missionary friendship into action. Then, try it.
Pray: Heavenly Father: Help us to love our neighbors by showing them what authentic friendship looks like, and by being a living example that such behavior is possible anywhere we go.
Contemplate: How difficult is it to demonstrate missionary friendship with those with whom we are not conventionally “friends”? Why is this difficult?
Relate: Do we save our friendship behavior for people who meet a certain requirement [= conditional friendship], or do we use our friendship behavior across the board to demonstrate the ideal [= unconditional, missionary friendship]?