This piece was originally published at Spiritual Friendship on June 22, 2014.
Some friends of mine were recently married. As a part of their wedding ceremony, they included the prayer:
“For those suffering from broken hearts and homes, from loneliness or the dread of it; and for all called to the generosity of the single or celibate; that they might inspire [name of bride and groom] by their conformity to Christ, and always find in them fiercely devoted friends, and in their house a second home.”
This is a rather odd prayer for American weddings, which are often primarily (or purely) celebrations of a “filling love” between the husband and wife. We often celebrate marital love as a love in which the man and woman are seen as fulfilling each others’ deepest desires, creating an insular community in which the couple is viewed as “enough” for each other. The couple is seen as creating a home for themselves, but not a home for others.
But this couple is not only creating a home for themselves; they also desire a home for their friends. This prayer shows a deliberate resistance to one of the greatest tendencies of erotic love: the tendency for that love to be a raging flame in which the couple is consumed by an exclusive desire for each other, a flame that both impassions the couple and burns those who may come too near to them. We’ve all known people who, upon starting a romantic relationship, will abandon their friends and allow all their time and energy to be consumed by their significant other.
The highest forms of love, however, are not those which simply fill; the highest loves will always open, like the love of God, which not only fills us, but overflows into the lives of those around us. This strikes me as a very important test for those of us who are seeking to cultivate chaste friendships. We ought to ask ourselves: “Is this friendship enriching the lives of those around me? Does the fire of our love burn those who seek to be near us, or does it provide steady heat and warmth for all who encounter us?”
I remember a few years ago, when I had cultivated a very intimate friendship with one friend, and another friend remarked that he felt “like a third wheel” when he was with the two of us. Although I failed to realize it at the time, I now know that this is a bad sign for a friendship. It is good for friends to enjoy time alone together, but others should not feel unwanted in their presence. A true friendship not only fills the two friends, it also inspires and is devoted to the good of others, creating a “second home” in the union of their souls, in which others can take rest and find joy.