Her mother having passed away only days earlier, Carolyn Bolz was in deep grief while attending the Sunday service at Trinity Lutheran Church, Riverside, Calif. While others cheerfully passed the peace, she hung her head and wept.
“Suddenly there was a hand on my shoulder,” Bolz recalled. She looked up and saw a church member she didn’t know very well. Jackie Letourneau Wagner handed her some tissues, joined her in the pew and listened empathetically. The encounter led to a joyful friendship.
“Thanks to her unexpected act of kindness on that Sunday morning, I felt the love of Jesus and made a new friend,” Bolz said.
Bolz was one of many who responded to Living Lutheran’s call for readers to share stories of friendship and faith. Friends occupy a special place in our lives. Through them, as for Bolz, we often experience God’s love, especially in times of deep need.
That was the case for Cynthia Lauletta, a member of Grace Lutheran Church, Mount Prospect, Ill., when she went through an especially difficult period of one misfortune after another. She lost her father to a heart attack and then two beloved pets died. She also faced declining health, car trouble and the betrayal of people she trusted.
“It was almost too much to bear,” Lauletta said. In her pain she seemed to forget her faith. But church friends surrounded her with support and love, accompanying her back to wholeness. “The power of God still amazes me,” she said. “If I should ‘forget’ his strength, I have strong, spiritual people in my life to guide me back.”
Friends not only give us love and support in times of trouble, they can help us find a stronger faith when ours is wavering. While a student at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., during the 1970s, Larry Gajderowicz found himself plagued with doubts about his faith. That’s when he met a new friend who shared common interests in school, sports and family, but especially in faith. It dominated their late-night talks.
“He bared his soul to me and I bared mine to him,” Gajderowicz said, who grew in faith and wound up joining his friend’s congregation, St. Mark Lutheran, Evansville, Ind., where he now serves as a certified lay worship leader. The friendship that led him back to faith has deepened over the decades. “The only thing that has grown more than my friendship with this wonderful friend is my everyday walk with Christ,” he said.
“The power of God still amazes me. If I should ‘forget’ his strength, I have strong, spiritual people in my life to guide me back.”
Discerning what’s truly important
Church is a great place to develop faith and friendships, but so are Lutheran camps, said Kaitlyn Rager, a member of Zion Lutheran Church, Hummelstown, Pa. “Camp is my happy place, my favorite place and my home,” she said.
As someone who has experienced depression, Rager knows that it’s sometimes difficult to feel God’s presence. But she always finds comfort in reaching out to camp friends.
“Even in my darkest moments, when I feel everything falling down around me, I read my affirmations from leadership training camp, I look at goofy pictures of my friends and I at confirmation camp, and I text my friends … my friends that I gained through the work of God bringing us together to enrich our faith,” Rager said.
Thinking about long-lasting friendships, Linda Staats, a member of Faith Lutheran Church, Phoenix, recalls The Message translation of Proverbs 18:24: “Friends come and friends go, but a true friend sticks by you like family.” She finds that to be true for a lifelong group of seven girls who grew up in the same small town in Iowa. Now scattered across five states, they stay in touch by email, text and videoconferencing, and gather once a year.
“Faithful, lifelong friends—a very rare treasure, indeed!” Staats said.
Sometimes friends can help us discern what is really important, said Sue Czarnetsky, who was once in the middle of a hectic day when a friend asked if she could visit. Czarnetsky felt torn.
“I watched the struggle between the Martha and Mary sides of my personality,” said Czarnetsky, a member of St. Mark Lutheran Church, Springfield, Va. Although she was very busy, her Mary side prevailed, and she invited the friend over.
The incident reminded her of how Jesus asked the disciples to journey with him in faith. “Beginning my journey that day required me to slow down,” Czarnetsky said. “By slowing down, I was able to hear the Spirit speak and to clearly see my way.”
Deep friendship even transcends species for Pat Gergar, a member of Grace Lutheran Church, Macungie, Pa. Pointing out that “God” spelled backward is “dog,” he counts his two dogs among his best friends. After all, dogs provide people with companionship, listen to our stories, keep our secrets and provide us with unconditional love that mirrors God’s love for us. And when we lose pets, they teach us about love and coping with death.
“Just like Jesus walked this earth as God’s Son, I am convinced that God put dogs on this earth for us to have a physical connection with the unconditional love only our Lord can provide,” Gergar said.