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Everyday Ignatian is a series written by guest contributors, chronicling their daily lives and experiences through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.

By Catherine Sullivan

Leaning up against the kitchen counter, I was supposed to be meal planning, but I was scrolling. I had opened the text thread with one of my dearest friends, ostensibly looking for a recipe she had recommended months ago. But as I searched for it, I found myself getting caught up in our previous conversations.

A book recommendation, followed by several weeks of silence. Something funny that one of our kids said. Months with nothing. Why is parenting so hard??? Lots of encouraging words that I would never think to say to myself. Silence. A heartfelt prayer request paired with a podcast recommendation. Pictures of our kids. Sarcastic quips. Memes, GIFs and a lot of emojis.

We’re hilarious, I thought to myself as I laughed quietly in the kitchen. I took a breath. And then another thought surfaced: I am so grateful for her.

This particular friendship began nearly 20 years ago in college. Since then, it has survived an almost countless number of life transitions: graduations, cross-country moves, career changes, marriages, births and deaths.

There is a small handful of people like this in my life. Like treasures in a miner’s pan, these friends have remained even as time and the circumstances of our meeting have fallen away.

Fully aware of my many faults and failings, I marvel at their decision to stay in my life every time there is a natural opportunity to say goodbye. They are not bound to me in any way. Instead, their presence in my life is a choice that they have made over and over again, one that leaves me filled with wonder and gratitude.

Because so many of these friendships began during our time in a college — Loyola University Maryland, a Jesuit school no less — I often think about them through the lens of Ignatian spirituality. Doing so has helped me to better understand their lasting power.

Like any good friend, these friends care for my whole person. “I’m good,” is always an unsatisfactory answer for them. They ask about my family, because they know my family personally. They ask about what I’ve been reading and writing lately, because they know those are the activities that bring me life and joy. They ask, “How’s your heart?” opening the door for a conversation about my spiritual life, in which they listen carefully, respond thoughtfully and intercede for me constantly.

This type of care has helped these friendships to run deep, growing and maturing with time, because it has given me a unique experience of being seen and known and loved as I truly, fully am. And not just for the sake of my inherent dignity and goodness — but for a greater purpose, too.

That’s because these friends draw the best out of me, for the best reason: the greater glory of God. They are not afraid to challenge me, calling me out and deeper, inviting me to strive for something more, something worth more than just worldly success.

When one of these friends called me out like this several years ago, the conversation was not easy. Some of my choices had been causing her pain, and it was uncomfortable to receive that information. Yet, even in the discomfort, she clearly offered it in love: She could see the best in me and wanted to draw it forth, and she wanted to remain friends. In that moment, she also taught me a powerful lesson about facing conflict head-on, like a doctor tackling an infection for the good of the body. We survived the conflict, and our friendship is better to this day because of it.

Some of the most helpful and powerful conversations I’ve had with these friends have taken place in times of my own desolation, when the circumstances of my life have made it hard for me to see God. This is when I have relied on their ability to find God in all things, even the hard, unfair, uncomfortable things. They have held space for my anger or grief and have reminded me, gently, and with tangible evidence to back it up, “Even here, God is still working. He is present in the family that surrounds you, in the body that sustains you, in the natural world that enlivens you.”

Thinking about these friendships, which were often forged at times of great change or transition in my life, has reminded me to practice Ignatian discernment as I choose new friends today. As a working wife and mother, I need friends who will support me, inspire me and bring me closer to God. It is unwise for me to spend my limited free time and emotional resources on relationships that drain me, so I am careful to pay attention to feelings of consolation and desolation when I find myself around new people. This might sound calculating, but it actually allows me to choose freely to invest in the relationships I know will help me grow into the person God has made me to be.

When St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, he called himself and his friends “companions of Jesus.” It was a shocking title then and can cause people to pause in confusion now. Yet, looking at my own friends has helped me to see that true friendship is what Jesus wants to offer us: a steady presence through life’s many changes, someone who sees and draws the best out of us for God’s greater glory, and the consolation of knowing that God is with us and for us always.

St. Ignatius and his friends we were willing to follow God anywhere and desired to bring him glory in a wide variety of places. St. Peter Faber did this as he shared the Gospel throughout Europe with gentleness and humility. St. Francis Xavier did this on his missions to Asia, where he showed respect for native cultures while introducing them to Christ. Most of my closest friends now live very far away from me, but I am encouraged by the example of the first Jesuits, trusting that we remain united in our love for one another and our desire to bring God glory in our own unique vocations across the globe.

Catherine Sullivan is a Catholic writer, reader and teacher. After earning a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame, she spent nearly a decade teaching religion and English to middle and high school students. She now stays home with her three young daughters and writes a monthly newsletter on the Catholic imagination called Wonder & Awe. Come say hi and find more of her thoughts on books and faith on Instagram @catherinesullivanwrites