No doubt, there is a time when you need to be a parent to your children, but there comes a time when you can become their friend. But how do you achieve that? When I think about my relationships with my kids, I have to come to grips with one thing – if I wish to be their friend, not just a parent, they must choose me for a friend. Unlike parents, friends are chosen, not given. And this has to be a free choice on their part, with no compulsion, coercion or manipulation. Such is the nature of friendship – it’s a free choice, not out of necessity or obligation, but because a person’s soul resonates with your heart and mind.
C.S. Lewis wrote: “I have no duty to be anyone’s Friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself.” Friendship can only thrive when someone’s inner world is attractive to you in and of itself. It’s true that my children are 100% dependent on me, and I could force them to “be my friends”. But that’s not what I really want. I don’t want to say to them: “Be my friend, or you will regret it.” Friendship, unlike parenthood, is the opposite of dependence.
This is a hard one for many parents. Of course, I want my 16-year old daughter to be my friend, but this can only happen if I let her freely choose me for a friend. Freely as in “no obligations”. As it is, I often try to “bind her” to myself by instilling in her some sense of guilt for not being what I want her to be. And I am good at that. I don’t really want to be her friend, but would rather act as her “source of good things” so she will have to come to me for resources. Then I will have control over her. Isn’t it nice? Hm… Not in the long run. Come to think of it, what I really want for her at this age is to choose me for a friend. If she would.
What do we really want as parents? To relish our sense of control so that our children will “have to” pay us their respects, give us the love and attention we so crave? If so, we may succeed in getting their act together, but will, most likely, fail in the realm of friendship – big time. They will come to you because they depend on you, not because they have a genuine interest in who you are.
As long as relationships are based on some “need”, they are not based on friendship. Think about it: any type of connection between people in this world – whether family, or marriage, or society – implies an obligation of some sort. Friendship does not, because its key element is to be able to freely choose a person’s soul content as a thing to be treasured, without any coercion. So, friendship, unlike any other relationship, is not based on psychological or physical need. Its nature is otherworldly; it is from the realm of the Spirit.
Friendship dies when a person feels that he is “needed” for something other than his soul’s content. The content of your soul may be quite useless from a practical point of view, and you know it. But for someone who feels the same way about life, it is a treasure anyway. And how rewarding it is to have your child come to you not because they want something from you, but… for no reason! Just because he or she enjoys your company. It is at this moment that you have the most influence over them. It is at this moment that they want your input. They are seeking you out. They want to learn.
The same holds true about my relationship with God. Even though we are chosen by God, he must be yearning for us to choose him back. He won’t force us to be with him. He wants us to be his friends – not because he’s a perfect King who’s able to perfectly provide for his loyal subjects, even though he does that. He could have easily forced us to “befriend” him, but it’s not what he’s after. In fact, he makes sure that those who want to live without him, could do so. He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good.
Though we, as children, come to him every day for food, drink and clothes – and he provides every day – his heart is after something else. He has called us friends, made known to us the content of his soul and mind and is waiting… hoping to see a tiny sparkle of interest in our eyes, which would mark the beginning of a friendship. And he has made it possible for us to live apart from him, so we can choose him for a friend not out of duty but out of love.