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Christian Friendship - Why Differences Make Good Friendships

Updated on August 28, 2014

It is a great mistake to suppose that...

It is a great mistake to suppose that love unites and unifies men. Love diversifies them, for love is directed toward individuality. The thing that really unites men and makes them like each other is hatred.

G.K. Chesterton

Unity in Diversity

True Holiness (and True Love) Is a Both-And Proposition

G.K. Chesterton is known for combining wry whit with deep wisdom. This quotation is no different. Obviously love unifies. Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that love seeks to assimilate itself with the beloved – to unite in complete intimacy. But Chesterton also has it right. The friend and the saint are the most unique of individuals. Everyone assumes that being a saint means being a carbon-copy of some “holiness” template. But holiness actually means not only bing fully human, but fully becoming the unique person that God created you to be, and then being in a full loving relationship with God and His Family. Friendship reflects this great love of God that calls us to become our best selves.

Commonality an important part of any relationship. But if we only choose friends exactly like ourselves, we may be practicing narcissism - self love - rather than the authentic love that God calls us to.
Commonality an important part of any relationship. But if we only choose friends exactly like ourselves, we may be practicing narcissism - self love - rather than the authentic love that God calls us to.
When we find ways for our differences to complement each other, we discover the treasure in our uniqueness.
When we find ways for our differences to complement each other, we discover the treasure in our uniqueness.

The Power of Opposites

Don't Limit Yourself!

It can be surprising how much good friendship with an opposite brings you! That must be why my college Residence Hall Director always partnered me as a Resident Assistant with people who had completely opposite personality types. Figuring out how to work with each other was quite the task. But in the end, we found that we complemented and strengthened each other more than we annoyed each other. I was the creative problem solver, able to see things from different angles. They were the organizers and task masters. They kept me on time and on schedule. I kept them from taking too narrow a view and from taking themselves too seriously. This happened with two different partners.

This experience taught me a valuable lesson in friendship building. Don’t limit your friends to people who are just like you. I was able to exercise this lesson very recently when my family moved to our current location. I joined a men’s group in our new parish. One of the men – whose name is Ed – is in many ways opposite of me. We even find ourselves at odds with each other about theological topics sometimes. But he sought me out in friendship. Because of the lesson I learned in college, I was open to friendship with him. And I have to say, I’m glad I was! It turns out, Ed and I sharpen each other. We forgive each other readily. We have great discussions when we disagree on something – and we both learn from it. Our friendship is growing not despite our differences but in many ways because of it.

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Don't Miss the Beauty!

Are You Guilty of Only Being Friends With Yourself?

G.K. Chesterton did get it right. Love and friendship celebrate uniqueness. They are focused on the individual. Too often we hate others because they are not like us. We fail to see the beauty in their uniqueness. To love only those who are much like us is really self-love. We love our friends only in as much as they remind us of ourselves. Now one caveat here. We don’t want to take this too far and slip into modernism. One thing that helps Ed and me to grow through our differences of opinion is the shared conviction that there is truth that exists beyond us. We are ready to admit that one of us or both of us may be wrong. We seek the truth together, and that humility is what makes it possible for us to unite. This also doesn’t mean accepting sin as “well, it’s OK for them even though I think it’s a sin.” That’s not love. Love seeks the good for the other. Sin is forsaking the good. But with those warnings in mind, look for ways that differences in your friends can complement and strengthen you. You will find that your love is more selfless and that your character benefits from embracing the differences.

Open yourself to the beauty of legitimate differences among your friends. Uniqueness is beautiful!
Open yourself to the beauty of legitimate differences among your friends. Uniqueness is beautiful!

© 2014 Jeffrey S. Arrowood

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    • From the Abbey profile image
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      Jeffrey S. Arrowood 2 years ago from Somerset, WI

      Marlene - you have identified with a very important point. When differences complement us they can be extremely good! There are times when difference conflict with us - or when we fail to find ways to complement each other - and then they can be difficult. In general, marriage therapists say to marry someone who is similar to you. But a complementary relationship can be very strong as well.

    • MarleneB profile image

      Marlene Bertrand 2 years ago from Northern California, USA

      As I was reading this, I was thinking about the fact that all of my friends are so different than me. It is, as you point out, a good thing. For instance, most of my friends are talkers, which is completely opposite of me. I like that because if it were left up to me to keep a conversation going, the room would be completely quiet. But, on a higher note, it's good because friends who are opposite can balance each other's strengths and weaknesses. I really enjoyed reading your publication. It reminded me to be appreciative of how opposite my husband and I are. We balance each other out.