Random reflections about the support of fellow pilgrims on the Christian journey
By Ross Chadwick
There is a river that abounds with divine resources. From it we may gather the basic attributes and “supplies” we need for the Christian journey: love, courage, wisdom, knowledge. But however much we may receive these graces in companionship with God, God has arranged that we might also acquire them through the companionship of fellow pilgrims.
Indeed, such elements (love, courage, wisdom, knowledge, and others in that class) define the community of faith, a community from which our own faith finds enrichment. The church (through its members) should serve as God’s arm on the shoulders of the weary and heavy laden, bringing comfort, providing companionship and friendship. Studies show that unless a new convert makes five to seven friends in the church, they are unlikely to survive more than about one or two years.
Unfriendly churches are like winter landscapes. But true friends are like stars in the night, shining down on the frosty bleakness. Or, to change the figure, they’re like evergreens emerging as sentinels amid the chilly snowdrifts. Dotting the desolate landscape, such evergreens are like friends who remain faithful through the storms that batter our lives like the cold winds of winter. Such friends, standing by our sides amid trials and tribulations, are truly gifts from God.
I never realized the importance of this fact when times were good. Only when the landscape of my life changed to the harshness of winter did I experience the blessing (and the miracle) of Christian friendship and community. It was then that I was able to draw upon a resource that God had provided long before I felt my need.
Changing the metaphors yet again, I would say that there is no sun without a shadow. When the dark night descends upon the soul and we find ourselves buried under mountains of trouble, we can dig either a cave or a tunnel. If a cave, then we find ourselves lost, groping friendless in the dark. If we dig a tunnel, then there’s the hope of ending up on the better, brighter side of life.
Every affliction brings with it a window of opportunity. And it was in one of those dark times that Providence worked through human friendship to help me dig my way to the better, brighter side.
A Lifting Force
Other metaphors come to me: True friends are like angels that lift us to our feet when we have forgotten how to fly. True friends are like the rising of the moon when the tide of life is at its lowest ebb and the crabs are playing in the mud. It is the moon that brings forth the waters to fill the coast once more. The moon waxes and wanes, reminding us that the heart, like all nature, has its seasons. And as the moon shines from the borrowed light of the sun, it reminds us that the joys of friendship shine the brightest when facing the Sun of Righteousness.
With God in its midst, the church flows on like a river—like a river of grace. Yet it all becomes truly meaningful only when that grace is manifest in warm and supportive friendship; when through caring members the church can put its arm around the shoulder of the weary and burdened; when like evergreens it can brighten the snow-covered landscape of someone’s life; when like the attractive pull of the moon it can lift the burden of some lonely, struggling soul.
Ross Chadwick is an ordained pastor. He was working toward a teaching degree at Avondale College in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia, when he wrote this piece.