"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life,
and have it to the full." - Jesus Christ (John 10:10)
Have you heard a good talk or read a good book of late on friendship? It seems like it has fallen out of fashion, or relegated to an adiaphorous category, of something that is of little importance or inconsequential.
On the contrary, if you have watched Crazy Rich Asians or similar movies, it seems like romance is essential to life. That love is romance. And of course, sex being integral to that.
I can recall serving in the Cathedral as a young and eager deacon in the early nineties. I was charged with rewriting the marriage preparation material. I wrote up a new lesson on the importance of romance. My dean then was Bishop John Tan. I can still vividly recall how he frowned upon the need for a chapter on romance in a marriage preparation course. I harboured some thoughts in my heart as I quietly reacted: “What an old-fashioned idea! What a funless thought! Romance is essential to a good marriage.”
I can tell you this, as honestly as I possibly can. Twenty eight years later - of which twenty five is spent married to Jennifer - and having seen so many marriages fall apart, I must admit that Bishop John Tan was correct on many counts. Men and women have been bewitched by a misplaced importance on romance. A ten-year-old marriage (or less!) can hardly stand a chance when one party seeks to recreate the feelings of romance and physical intimacy they imagine the marriage should continue to have.
Meanwhile, the idea of friendship continues to fade and human family experience is impoverished. How ironic. The human existence is uniquely housed and structured in a family. It is here that we receive our identities as we are called from anonymity. It is here that we are given a name, a place, and a "mother tongue”. We learn to speak by being spoken to. Further, the language I learn to speak is not “mine" but “ours.” We find our identity within family and community.
Alas, such a family has no chance to grow as one spouse gets bored, distracted and walks out of the home. Children grow in a family-less existence. Meanwhile, glued to American sitcoms, they are told “gleefully” that true love is found in romance. They get married, often after a whirlwind romance. And then sooner or later, the romance fades. As quickly as "one can’t help falling in love”, they couldn’t help falling out of it either. It gets predictable. The vicious cycle continues.
The experience and concept of family disintegrate. And along with that our old friend - friendship herself. The thing is, what truly matters in life are good friendships. Friends whom we can walk together with through life. A community of friends whereby I discover who I truly am, where character is grown in the context of where I learn to be less self-occupied and more centred on the other.
For when our days are almost finished, when we have the luxury to contemplate on our death-bed and recollect life, it will be true friends and family whom we will treasure. Those who have not ravished us for their self gain. Those who have truly loved and given to us, enriching us for here and eternity. Those whom we have truly loved.
I know. It is old-fashioned. As old as the declarations we say every Sunday about the primary importance of loving God and our fellow man - as one would love oneself. Agape sits so strangely in the modern reductionist view of love. However it remains the guiding vision of the Christian life and I should say, “life” without any qualification. It is agape that founds the truly human, moral, and faithful life.
Don’t look for true love. Make your love true. And you will live life truly - and sanely - rich.