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John Paul II’s model for finding true friendship

Przyjaźń po narodzinach dziecka

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Cecilia Pigg - published on 05/16/23

Środowisko is a Polish word meaning environment or milieu, and it is what a group of college students led by Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope St. John Paul II) called themselves.

After getting married, I felt loved, known, connected, and inspired to become better than I was before. But here’s the thing. It wasn’t my new relationship status or the sacramental grace that comes with it that made me feel so rooted and accepted. Instead, it was a community my husband and I had stumbled into — a newly formed Bible study at our parish in Denver.

This group of couples was a source of true friendship — of peace and life that I didn’t know I desperately needed. Recently, while reading Gift and Grit, I found out that there is a name for this kind of life-giving community. Środowisko is a Polish word meaning environment or milieu, and it is what a group of college students led by Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope St. John Paul II) called themselves.

The joy and friendship that they experienced enriched their lives and the lives of the future saint and Holy Father. As I read the beautiful descriptions of their friendships, I thought, “Aha! This is what we had with our couples’ group!”

It helped me reflect that throughout my entire life, true friendship is what has carried me through. The difference in life when you have true friends who are seeking God with you is huge. It’s pretty painful when all you have are superficial friendships — even if you don’t realize that’s what you have. But once you have a taste of a friend who truly cares for you, wants what’s best for you, and calls you to be better, you’ll never want to go back. 

Where do I sign up?

So how do you find true friendship? There’s no magical secret shortcut. But, there are some tips that might help, which I’m learning along the way. Additionally, the book that introduced me to Środowisko is all about forming meaningful relationships, and outlines a lot of very helpful and practical tips and dos and don’ts when it comes to making true friends.

Here are a few steps I found from Chapter Six that overlap with my own experience. 

1Ask the Holy Spirit for help

First, ask the Holy Spirit for help. Pray and ask to be connected to a good community, be that a group of people or just one friend. 

2Meet and strengthen

Then, start meeting people or strengthening ties with acquaintances. Remember that it will take time and perseverance. Start by getting to know the people who volunteer with you, or go to your Bible study, or some other intentional group setting where people have to make some kind of effort to be there. Getting to know someone starts with small talk and then moves to spending time together. Sometimes you have to spend a lot of time just hanging out casually with someone before you are able to really connect on a deeper level. A note of caution — avoid sharing too much too quickly to try to fast track the friendship, as that usually scares people, and is not the typical way friendships develop. 

3Be ready for accountability

Finally, once you are really getting close to someone, be ready to hold each other accountable in love. True friends want to help you to be better, to be more you, to be closer to God. This might mean gently calling each other higher, even if it isn’t easy.

These steps to making meaningful relationships played out in the Bible study group we joined early in our marriage. The friends we found there were ready to dive deeper into their faith, and ready for deeper friendships. We spent time slowly getting to know each other, casually over snacks and small talk, as well as more formally over reading and discussing. We slowly built trust as we shared more of life together. All of that is to say … it’s possible! Here’s to finding your own Środowisko!

FriendshipPope John Paul II
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