Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.... It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. ~C.S. Lewis
A week or so ago marked the 100th anniversary of what would have been Lucille Ball’s birthday. No doubt there were I Love Lucy marathons, and boxes of chocolate. Perhaps somewhere someone concocted a bottle of “Vitamina Vegamin” or two. But certainly, no celebration would have been complete without a nod to Ethel; the fictitious Lucy’s closest friend, dearest confidant, and greatest accomplice.
Lucy and Ethel, Thelma and Louise, Scarlet and Melanie, Ruth and Naomi. And more recently, Aibileene and Minny. Women who were stronger, better, more alive because of a single common denominator: her best friend. It is interesting to note that some of the most oft used scripture in wedding ceremonies wasn’t spoken between lovers, but between women. Ruth doesn’t pledge to follow Boaz, make his people and God hers; she promises this to Naomi, her destitute mother-in-law who is throwing verbal rocks at her (a la Timmy and Lassie), trying to get Ruth to abandon her. But Ruth stays.
Women stay, for the sake of each other. Thelma and Louise have their fateful cliff. Aibileene and Minny together motivate an entire community of women to share their stories, for change. Melanie opens her home and heart to Scarlett, despite the later continually throwing herself at Melanie’s husband. Each of us needs a friend of this sort. The kind that will spoon food into your mouth, just to keep you alive when you haven’t the strength anymore. The kind that always, always assumes the best about you. The kind that calls you forward into the person you’re supposed to be.
In the first chapter of Luke, tucked neatly into the nativity narrative, is a small passage so often overlooked by any expounding on the miracle of the Christ child’s birth. It’s in between the glorious Annuciation and the Magnificat. Seven verses, in which Mary leaves her home, supernaturally pregnant with Jesus, and visits her cousin, Elizabeth. Scripture doesn’t illuminate Mary’s emotive state during this visit; but she is a teenage girl, betrothed yet unwed, and pregnant, though still a virgin. Great though her faith must have been, I doubt that she was as carefree on the road to Elizabeth’s, as she likely was before the angel visited her.
Her song, a few verses later, is one of the most beautiful in scripture; a hymn likened by some to Hannah’s (1 Samuel 2), when Hannah dedicates her son to the Lord. A statement of faith so rich in theology and yet personal enough to apply to a teenage Jewess, that has been studied, memorized, and quoted at great length. However, Mary does not break into song immediately after the angel’s announcement that she is to be the mother of the Messiah. No. Mary, without her parents or betrothed, hurriedly travels to her cousin, Elizabeth. Some speculate she was trying to escape public disgrace; perhaps even save her family and betrothed from embarrassment; but scripture is silent on the why, so we can only know that Mary sought out company with Elizabeth. Elizabeth, the older, married antithesis of Mary, is also miraculously expecting a baby. And like Mary, Elizabeth is experiencing a type of isolation born from her pregnancy; her husband has been struck mute for his disbelief, and will not speak again until after their child is born.
The instant these women are in sight of one another, their very presence encourages the other. Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary calls out to greet her, and the baby within Elizabeth’s womb leaps. Her delight that Mary would visit her pours forth in her greeting, as Elizabeth loudly proclaims truth over her, calling Mary “the mother of my Lord” and saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear” (Luke 1:43, 42). And it is when she ends with, “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her,” that Mary is able to praise her Lord for His promises to her (Luke 1:45). Perhaps until that point, this promise seemed more like a burden; her fiancé had intended to divorce her quietly and she was likely the recipient of public ridicule (John 1:19). But with Elizabeth’s Holy Spirit inspired speech, Mary is able, in spite and because of her circumstances, to “glorify the Lord” and “rejoice in God [her] savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
It takes another woman, not her parents, not her betrothed, not even an angel, to give the Messiah’s mother a voice for praise. It is the relationship between these two women, grounded in their faith and infused with the Holy Spirit, that washes their loneliness and fear away with truth. This friendship takes each woman where she is, and points her ever closer to God, moves her to a place where she can see above her current circumstances to the provision and abounding grace of God the Father. This is the kind of friendship that illuminates God’s fingerprints on our lives. It highlights His promises and awakens our hearts to movements within and around us. It is the model of friendship that we each so desperately need; that we all are called to.
May you have and delight in such a friend. And may you be this friend to others.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.