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. Being a parent is about exercising control, being a friend is about letting go of control. Being a parent means you attach a child to yourself, being a friend means you let them go so they can come back to you of their own accord. The paradox of parenting is that you bind a child to yourself when they are little, so that you can let them go when they grow up.
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 on mine. 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 have forced them to “be my friend”. But that’s not what I 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 17-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 strings attached”. As it is, I often try to “bind her” to myself by instilling in her some form 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 in life” so she will have to come to me for resources. Then I will have control over her. Isn’t it nice? Hm… Not really. 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” play by our rules, give us the love and attention we so crave? If so, we may succeed in getting their act together, but we will, most likely, fail big time in the realm of friendship. They will come to us because they depend on us, not because they have a genuine interest in who we are. Interestingly enough, no true influence is possible until they have become your friend through their own choice.
As long as your relationships are based on a “need”, they are not based on friendship. Any type of “earthly bond” between people in this world – whether family, or marriage, or society – implies an obligation of some sort. Friendship does not, because its nature 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 any psychological or physical need. Its nature is otherworldly; it is from the realm of the Spirit.
Friendship dies as soon as a person feels that he is “needed” for something else, 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 particular 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 surely does that. He could have easily pressured us into befriending 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 that 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… in hope to see a tiny sparkle of interest in our eyes, which would mark the beginning of 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.