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A clearer view of friendship

From the October 20, 2014 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

One evening as I was sitting at home scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I realized that this was something I’d gotten into the habit of doing far too often. It’s easy to get involved in the emotional hype that people’s online updates seem to offer. Often I’d open Facebook as a relief from work or study, or simply to escape boredom or loneliness.

I was also aware that as I sought a more spiritually based lifestyle, I was growing distant from many of my friends. Facebook can be a great way to connect with others who are on a similar journey, but I often used this as an excuse to waste away hours of the day.

As I closed the Web browser, I remembered the paragraph from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures that begins: “Would existence without personal friends be to you a blank? Then the time will come when you will be solitary, left without sympathy; but this seeming vacuum is already filled with divine Love” (Mary Baker Eddy, p. 266).

I had always had difficulty understanding how this statement fit in with what I’d learned in Christian Science. I didn’t see why I should be punished—left “solitary, … without sympathy”—because I liked having friends. In the Bible, John records Christ Jesus as saying, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). 

On the surface, it looked as if Mrs. Eddy’s statement was devaluing the importance of friendships. This didn’t make sense to me, since I knew Mrs. Eddy had friends. I decided to dedicate some time to praying to understand what this statement meant on a more spiritual level, and how it could relate to my situation.

I realized that I’d spent a lot of my life defining my individuality based on who my friends were, and likewise stereotyping other people based on their friendships. This tendency is particularly evident in schools and colleges, where groups of people are labeled as “geeky,” “punks,” or “hipsters,” etc., and people’s identities often become shaped around these labels. 

Likewise, we often seek approval from friends, teachers, or parents to tell us we are funny, beautiful, intelligent, or caring. It dawned on me that as I’d been gradually becoming distant from friends I’d grown up with, I was starting to feel a loss of identity—my existence without these friends was feeling a bit “blank.”

Facebook can be a great way to connect with others, but I often used this as an excuse to waste away hours of the day.

And yet, this suggestion that my individuality was shaped by my mortal life experiences was a lie about my origin. It was the false “Adam” suggestion that we live and die in matter separate from God, as described in Genesis, chapter 2. 

Christian Science teaches otherwise. Mrs. Eddy writes, “The divine Mind maintains all identities, from a blade of grass to a star, as distinct and eternal” (Science and Health, p. 70). I realized that my individual identity can never be lost or confused, or a blank, because it is being constantly maintained by the ultimate intelligence, divine Mind. 

I was reminded of an experience I’d had a few years earlier, in high school. My family had left our home in England and moved to India for a year. Although I made friends at the school there, I found it difficult to develop strong friendships, as English wasn’t my peers’ first language. When I came home from school in the evening, I would scroll through social media sites and see my old friends from England sharing experiences that I hadn’t been part of. I started to feel really lonely.

Then I came across the statement referred to previously from Science and Health: “… this seeming vacuum is already filled with divine Love.” At that point, everything changed. I saw that since God, divine Love, is all and everywhere, I could not find myself bereft of love. 

Suddenly, I felt filled with love. An incredible sense of peace and of God’s care came over me as I studied those words and considered what they meant. I didn’t suddenly make loads more friends, but I saw that I didn’t need to. It was OK to pursue quality over quantity in relationships, and to be by myself sometimes, too. I was satisfied with being grateful for the current friendships I did have.

Although I still use and value Facebook, I no longer spend hours mindlessly scrolling through my newsfeed. As I’ve begun to recognize more clearly that my identity is being constantly maintained by divine Mind, I no longer fear being alone sometimes or bored, but am grateful for those moments alone to nurture my companionship with my best and closest friend, God. When the temptation comes to feel lonely or to put off spending time companioning with God, I remember that friendship is a two-way deal. I should be willing to give time to God for all the good He gives to me—and what’s more, I can enjoy it!

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