One of the biggest blessings of my life exists in the form of a Google document.
Two years ago, my friend Alycia and I sat on the steps outside "Saga O" on Wheaton College's campus and made the rather arbitrary decision to be accountability partners. Looking back, we had no clear idea of what that really meant. The decision came out of a conversation about how ironically difficult it was to read the Bible regularly at a Christian college. If memory serves correctly, I made the suggestion, she readily agreed and neither of us thought too much about it. Later that night, one of us created a Google document, titled it “Rachel and Alycia’s Accountability Page” and we went on with our unsuspecting lives.
Like in the gospel story of the five loaves and two fish, God took our clueless-but-genuine intention and multiplied it in ways we never could have predicted. We started reading Deuteronomy and Hebrews together and began writing on the page every night. We wrote out our questions and thoughts on the passage and responded to each other’s posts in different colors. Soon we were reading Paul's letters to the Corinthians, the prophet Hosea and the Gospel of John. We posted on C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, shared lyrics to hymns we were currently listening to and pondered the Tolkien lectures at the Wade Center we attended.
It didn't take long before academic discussions turned into personal conversations. Alycia opened up to me about her family; I shared with her some of my struggles. We began to not simply share prayer requests but to meet every week, usually on the steps of Edman Chapel, and pray for things going on around the world, on our campus and in each other’s lives. Whatever happened on any given day, I could count on Alycia’s steady reflections on our accountability page; whatever a particular week looked like, I knew there would be a time to come together, share and pray. The summer before our senior year, we read a book together and decided to pursue spiritual friendship—friendship that was intentional, committed and rooted in biblical truth.
Looking back, I’m not sure either of us would have so casually embarked upon our accountability friendship had we known all that would happen. There is something a little frightening about seeing something grow so powerfully, so unambiguously of God. Some truly beautiful conversations and memories have come out of our accountability, but it has also been immensely difficult at times, as we struggled through busy schedules, the natural wounds that come from deep vulnerability and the inevitable realities of post-graduation life.
Part of the struggles we faced—and still face—stem from the fact that we have few places to find examples of friendships like ours. Short of David and Jonathan, there aren’t many biblical stories used to illuminate deep friendship, and the topic does not factor heavily in most sermons or seminars. Our culture as a whole, and I would dare to say, church culture in particular, holds friendship as the least committed of all relationships. It puts marriage and romantic relationships up on a pedestal, and friendship comes in last of all. The nature of friendship is seen as whimsical, the decision to “be friends with someone” as arbitrary; we become friends and stop being friends with someone based on how we feel, and we use words like “commitment” and “intentionality” exclusively for marriage.
As a single, recent college graduate, friendship obviously plays a different role for me than it does for someone in another season of life. I recognize this, and yet at the same time, I cannot help feeling that our under-emphasis of friendship has caused us to miss out on a fundamental aspect of God’s character, as well as a profound avenue for grace and blessing in our personal lives. I have learned different things from my friendship with Alycia than I have from my relationships with my parents or my sister, particularly because I’m stuck with my family whether I like it or not, whereas friendship requires unrequired effort. It is creating a covenant where none exists, choosing commitment in a culture that says we can drop friends when we no longer feel like we have much in common. And accountability specifically has done more than anything else in my life to show me that I cannot walk alone—that to do so would be to miss so much of what it means to be human, made in the image of the relational God.
Alycia and I are still accountability friends, though we live in different states and the lack of proximity makes everything harder. Our Google document is close to three hundred pages long, and I recently returned from Minnesota where I spent a week with her and her family. Before my friendship with Alycia, I never knew friendship could be so hard and so complicated; I also never knew it could be so beautiful. It is my prayer that both secular culture and Christian culture can slowly work towards understanding friendship in a radically different light. I’ve found too much beauty in my own to pray any differently.