I’ve had periods in my life where, despite knowing God wants to be my friend, I’ve lived like He is just my master. I did my best to pray ever so often, be obedient to His teachings, and go to Mass. But the more I treated faith like checking the box to stay in God’s favour, the harder it was to stay close to Him.
My spiritual life devolved into a series of obligations that lacked real joy. And while I believed God loved me, I think what I really believed was that God loved me out of obligation.
Sure, God loves me because he has to love me. Because he is perfectly good and, therefore, perfectly loving.
We’ve probably heard somewhere that God wants to be our friends. Maybe we remember hearing it from our grandparents or during Sunday school. Or maybe hearing something about it in Norman Greenbaum’s classic song, "Spirit in the Sky” (“Gotta have a friend in Jesus...”).
It’s easy to acknowledge this truth with our heads, but our hearts might tell a different story. It’s not hard to fall into a rut of living as if what God really wants are obedient and good servants. And in this light, God can become more of a master than a friend.
This started to shift for me when I became involved in a vibrant faith community with others who had a strong friendship with God.
They spoke about their relationship with God as if it was any other relationship they had with a friend or family member. Praying wasn’t some secretive thing they did on their own, but rather something they weaved into their daily lives and spoke casually about.
I was drawn by how much they spoke from a place of confidence that God deeply cared for them like a, well, true and loving friend.
And as I began reading more about the faith, spending time regularly with God in prayer, and receiving the sacraments my perspective changed. I began to realize that Christ really wants to be my friend.
What’s more? God doesn’t just want to be our friend — He wants to be our very best friend.
He wants to share in our frustrations at work and fears about our uncertain futures. He wants to journey with us as we seek to be more generous and patient with our family and friends. He wants to celebrate with us when we reach our personal, professional, or spiritual goals.
In fact, the whole reason He created us was to have a deep and loving friendship with us: to share His blessedness and happiness with us in an eternal friendship (CCC 1).
In a commencement address by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, the cardinal explained that “the whole way of a human Christian life has its deepest sense in the building of friendship with God.”
This is a powerful statement. It means that the heart of the Christian life isn’t just love—but a love that is based on friendship!
Love and friendship can overlap. But they are not always the same. We can love our enemies. We can love those we don’t know (like praying for strangers all over the world). But while we are called to love everyone, we can only have a friendship with those whom we share a mutual love.
As with any friendship, it’s a two-way street. And so while God wants to be our friends, He also needs us to return our friendship.
So, how can we love God as our friend?
Three things have helped me see and love God more as a friend:
The first is spending time with God in prayer. Like with any friend, a friendship with God requires time, effort, and care. We wouldn’t consider someone to be a good friend if he or she only visited us sporadically when in need of something. Those in my life whom I consider my best friends are those who visit or call me regularly just to spend time with me. Not because they feel they have to or need something from me.
Of course, we’re utterly dependent on God. And so He wants us to ask Him for things. But God also desires that we come to Him for no reason. And we can be with Him in a number of ways when we lift our hearts and minds to Him. We can do this during Mass, Eucharistic adoration, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, reading Scripture, going on a prayerful hike, sitting in silence, and so on.
The second way we can grow closer to God as a friend is to join a faith community where we can both give and receive love. When we love others because we love God, we are demonstrating our friendship with Him. It could be calling someone who might be lonely (certainly not uncommon during our current pandemic), offering to help at a food kitchen, leading a Bible study, and so on. Plus, when we allow others to love us, we enable God to pour out His love onto us through them. The more this happens the deeper our friendship with God becomes.
Finally, we can foster our friendship with God by trusting Him with our lives. The more we step out in trust that God is with us and working in our lives — even while suffering — the more we experience how much He deeply cares about our struggles, and we affirm that God is indeed our friend. We can trust He will always be with us through our doubts, difficulties, and challenges in this life.