Ever since I was little I can remember offering friendship to anyone. It was as easy as a smile when someone makes you laugh. I never thought twice about saying hi to a new face, walking up and introducing myself to a group of strangers, asking the new guy or girl to join our group, and chattering away about some little story that I wanted to share. There wasn’t an ounce of shyness in me and I always considered strangers my friends. Young or old, I liked talking to them. There was always a little curiosity in me that wondered who someone was deep inside. I didn’t fully understand what friendship meant at a young age, but I felt a loving connection with everyone I came across. I loved people immediately, enjoyed their company, and liked listening to their different perspective on things. I liked them causing me to stop and think. I also liked to laugh with them.

I never grew out of this. I’m still a chatterbox. Grocery shopping usually takes twice as long because I’ll be telling the cashier a story from two years ago. A shot at the bar with a stranger will turn into an hour long philosophical discussion. A trip to the restroom will end getting to know the janitor’s life story. A quick bite to eat with a friend will turn into a four hour heart to heart. I’ll accidentally miss my bus stop because I’m telling the bus driver how my Saturday night went. My friends always lose track of me at festivals because I’m befriending the security guard, the stagehand, or some girl with cool purple hair. I’m just a people-person in general and enjoy genuinely getting to know their interesting lives. You can imagine this nature of mine has brought a rainbow of characters into my life! This is not to say that they easily won my trust, but I enjoyed spending time with people different than myself. I’ve made fun-loving memories and learned a lot of lessons!

As I have grown I have explored what friendship means to me and the depth of a meaningful friendship. I have dug deep into my soul to discover what makes friendship so valuable and worthwhile to me. I have always found it good to connect with lots of different people, get to know their stories, love them, and to bare witness to Christ. I have always believed that in order to have a friend, you first need to be one, and to live love as a verb and not a feeling. I have always believed that empathy can turn a stranger into a friend and because I would actively strive to deepen this in me I found more and more walks of life fill my life. The door to my heart was always open and because of this, in walked the good and the bad. I learned the painful way that it is healthy to be intentional with who you allow to have deep access to you. I have found that because of my own poor judgment not anyone is safe to lock arms and run the race with. While there is good in connecting and coming to know all walks of life, it is wise to be selective with who you hold closest to you and fight the good fight side by side with.

I have been bruised. I have been burned. I have been betrayed by those closest to me, as you can imagine would happen to someone who lives life with open arms and would cross oceans again and again for anyone. Any of you peeps who love bigger than life have been down this path and can feel everything I’m describing. You know what I speak of. I could name my hurtful friendships that could not weather the storm, the burned bridges that left scars and painful memories behind, and you could relate on every level. It took the hard-knock life for me to learn to grow intentional with who I choose to bring into my personal inner circle and allow to influence me and the quality of my life. It eventually became a no-brainer to why certain friendships that once brought so much fun, laughter, and pleasant conversation, fell to ruin. It became a no-brainer to why even certain pain-free friendships fizzled to non-existent. The friendships that did not last had never been deeply rooted in virtue. Many were even just rooted in pleasure or convenience.

For example, friendships only rooted in pleasure or convenience could be with coworkers, teammates, or someone who shares the same interests as us. While these can be good and can make us feel happy, they only go so deep and last for so long before they fade. They won’t fulfill us and they will not last. I could name countless friendships where I became good friends with good people (super lovable people!) because we were on the same sports team, in the same class, worked at the same job, were roommates in college, or were part of some social group, and sadly now no longer talk. It was not because we had a falling out or stopped liking each other, but because our friendship held no deeper bond than pleasure or convenience. When the time came we merely went our separate ways and slowly lost touch. I can remember driving down the highway reflecting one day and certain people would start popping into my mind. I counted the years and realized that a good five years, seven years, ten years+ had gone by and I hadn’t spoken with them. Never had a fight with any of them, never disliked any of them, but just grew distant because our friendship had not been rooted in anything other than what had brought us together in the first place (i.e. theater, soccer, choir, etc.) There was not a deeper bond. I could also name all the friendships that crumbled due to betrayal, envy, backstabbing, gossiping, and all the other non-virtuous behaviors that rips people apart and destroys relationship. Every single one of them died due to lack of bonding in virtue.

My heart longed for deeply fulfilling relationships. I yearned for relationships that brought me to life, that stirred my soul, that pulled me to grow into a holier person, that reminded me of my birthright as a child of God, and anchored me in the essence of life. I desired to share life in friendship with those who brought it meaning, beautiful substance, and lasting love. The friendships I craved were virtuous friendships. Virtuous friendship is rooted in Christ’s Sacred Heart. It is rooted in love, trust, integrity, hope, patience, justice, fortitude, prudence, temperance, humility, kindness, diligence, and all those POWERFUL virtues that refine you and deepen your intimacy with God. They fill your depth, sets your soul on fire, and purifies your heart’s desires into a burning passion to live out God’s will for your life unconditionally. A friendship that is anchored in this soil and is rooted in comittment will not only bloom, but will be one of your greatest sources to victory!

I don’t know about you, but I want virtuous friendships. I want to keep powerfully trustworthy, faithful, authentic, strong, holy, wholesome, and loving people real close to me. These are my ride or die peeps. These are the ones that energize me, inspire me, empower me, and give me more strength to fight the righteous fight with everything I got. These are the ones I want to be fighting for. These are the ones I know to turn to for anything, count on no matter what, and who has something inside them that I see in me. I see something worthwhile and deeply fulfilling to bond over. They have something inside of them that I want, too. VIRTUE. I’ve learned that in order to have a virtuous friendship, one that is meaningful and that lasts, one must strive to grow in virtue. It’s impossible to have a virtuous friendship if one is not growing in virtue. Both individuals must strive for virtue or else the friendship will not make it. Every friendship that fails is directly from lack of virtue. Mind blown? Is your mind racing right now to every burned bridge in your life and you’re frantically connecting the dots and realizing that it’s actually true? You can bet mine is! Whether it’s lack of virtue from the other person, yourself, or both, it’s so sad that friends will fall apart by failing to fulfill who they were created to be.

Being virtuous does not mean being perfect, but it is striving to live according to high moral standards, living out your faith, and anchoring your thoughts, words, and actions in Christ. The people I see striving for this are the ones I want to be running with. These are my aspirations. These are the people I want to be racing through life next to and fighting side by side with. These are the people I believe in and desire to grow alongside. I believe the most attractive thing about a human person is their virtue and that is something I want more of! When I lock arms with people who are virtuous it lights a fire in my soul. It calms the storm my life endures. It produces joy, peace, passion, and fulfillment! These warriors are running beside you for the right reasons and this is what I want my friendships to be rooted in. These are the people who I want to have deep access to me. These are the people who I can trust to have deep access to me. As someone who places so much value on friendship, it took quite a while for me to learn how to become selective with who was allowed to have this access.

Have you ever spent all of high school or all of college or all of x-number of years with the same crowd of people, but you feel they don’t really know you? Sure they may admire you, know you for your gifts, talents, status, fun personality, or amazingly good looks, but they don’t actually see the YOU that’s deep inside. Your core self is not known. You’re not seen. You may even be misjudged, boxed up and mislabeled, and misunderstood to pieces because these people who have surrounded you for years do not actually know you, but only your surface or what they assume to be true. It can be lonely, empty, and so very painful when you lock arms with people who don’t deeply know who you are, your worth, your dignity, and what makes the depth of you such a powerful blessing in their lives. You may even feel scared and live fearful that once your true self is found out you will experience rejection. It can be lonesome when your mind, your heart, and your soul is not known and loved by another. This not only can happen in one's social life, but it can even go as far as within someone’s own family. This isolation can cause deep wounds within a person. The neglect of not ever feeling seen, listened to, and known can be equally damaging as active abuse. The human person naturally needs to be understood, to be seen, and to be valued for who they deeply are by trustworthy and loving people. They crave to be heard and validated. They long to be known and to be loved.

I have found that it is through first developing a fulfilling friendship with Christ that I have been able to deeply experience this validation, being seen, and being known. By spending time with Him in the sacraments, in adoration, on a mountain top, on the seashore, or walking down an old dirt road, having intimate conversations with Him and giving Him access to the depth of me, has filled every hole left by living in a beautifully flawed world. In fact, my heart accepting that He knows me more deeply and more fully than I even do myself, has healed what had been scars, has restored what had been broken, and has filled every crack and corner of my being with belonging. I am His beloved and this is enough for my soul. The friendships and relationships with others that grow through Him mirror this love. We are never loved as well of course, but we are loved, and when we become intentional and discern who these people are, we experience a new dawn. Our whole world changes and we begin to walk a very different life and a very fulfilling one.

Inviting virtuous people into myself and becoming vulnerable with them has been a game-changer in my life. It is through these friendships I have been able to experience even more of our Father’s love. By His love, I am able to grow in virtue and cultivate virtuous friendship with others who also are striving to cultivate virtuous friendship. Once I became intentional about who I wanted to be side by side with, the quality of my friendships changed because I chose the quality. I chose to cultivate meaningful friendships of higher standard with people who were holding themselves to a higher standard. I chose to be close-knitted with people who were mirroring the quality of life that I deeply valued and whose focus was on the glory that is to come. This did not mean that I cut off everyone who did not share my values or live with the same intentions, but they no longer had deep access to me and were not who I locked arms with or was running with.

Will you still see me chatting up the night club’s manager, the neighbor, or the old lady at the library? Absolutely. You will still find me out and about meeting new people, connecting through conversation, and enjoying good beer with all kinds of company. My personality and empathy for people hasn’t changed, other than grown. It’s who I become best friends and armour up with that has.