Friendship at the Margins

For this post we have something a little different. Our Family and Youth Support Coordinator, Fiona Limpach, has just begun her maternity leave and here she provides us with a reflection of one of our favourite books and how it connects with our model of care work.

As a staff, we have been reading through, “Friendship at the Margins: Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission,” by Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl.  One glance at the title and we knew that the discussion within would reflect much of our core beliefs and journey with ACET over the past 20 years.  However, we have also found it to be filled with challenge and perspective on the continuous growth we face as individuals and as an organisation seeking to love through the building of transformational friendships.

Allow me to take you on one particular path in this journey as we reflect on an aspect of our care work…

We like to consider ourselves flexible.  Flexible in that at a moment’s notice, the posts for the intended goal on any given day can move.  In fact, sometimes they just disappear.  Often, we work with a particular individual for years, celebrating the small victories in their every-day living as well as the life-changing choices they make.  We invest our time, energy, emotions and finances in encouraging and empowering them.  However, when that moment for a life-changing choice comes: to make an appointment to prioritise their health, choose counseling to explore an area of brokenness that holds them in a continuous place of despair, or plan a day trip to mark the loss of a loved one in a way that helps them move through their grief rather than sitting in it, they choose not to commit.  They choose to abandon the plan or put it off until another time.  They choose someone or something else instead of us.

Flexibility in this instance is the ability to quickly implement a new plan, attempt to tackle another piece of work or have the humility to realise our lack of control and leave our meager plans alone for God’s ultimate plan to unfold as it will.  However, it is the latter option that we struggle with the most.  If we are to be entirely truthful, it is the road less travelled, the option intentionally left until last.  Why?  Because in the moment when a goal becomes unattainable or a plan falls through, we chose to reflect on our failure rather than acknowledge our lack of control and ultimately, we get hurt.  What’s worse is that when your ‘work’ is to build relationships with people, you chose to believe that their lack of response or participation in your plan can mean only one thing – the posts for attaining the goal of ‘friendship’ keep moving further and further away.  Then comes another choice: is the failure my part or theirs?  Have I not loved enough or have I loved in abundance and simply been abandoned?

Heuertz and Pohl’s thoughts on friendship at the margins would have us rethink this gut response.  They note that in the midst of our, “idealism in offering friendship… wearing thin,” “we need to come to come to terms with our own brokenness, with the ways we betrayed, doubted and denied God’s love for us and the love of our brothers and sisters” (Pg. 36).   Their reflection on whether or not we see Jesus’ discipling of His followers as successful has them question whether or not success is the right word.  Rather, they would have us reflect on Jesus’ faithfulness, for, “Even to the end of Judas’ life, Jesus loved him” (Pg. 35).  Ultimately, the goal of transformational friendship saw Jesus choose to love despite disappointment and abandonment.  The choice then remains for us to allow ourselves to be, “reconciled to God’s vision of faithfulness and love” (Pg. 37).   That ultimately, we should be compelled to love as an extension of God’s love at work in us.



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