My cousin Edward had not just one but two imaginary friends. Their names were strange, names he heard somewhere. One of them was called Humid. I think he heard that name on the radio. The other's name was Buttergy. Humid and Buttergy.
The great thing about imaginary friends is that they go everywhere with you. Humid and Buttergy would go everywhere with Edward. They never seemed to get tired of his company. They agreed with him most of the time. Only once did he say that they scolded him. They were his constant companions.
I'm not sure what happened to Humid and Buttergy. By the time I was old enough to know what was going on, Edward was way too cool to have imaginary friends. Maybe some kid laughed at him in first grade and told him that they did not exist. Maybe he just decided that they could not be true, but it must have been a sad day, the day that they went away.
"Unless you become like little children, you cannot come to me," Jesus said. Only little children can believe that they could have a friend who never leaves them, a friend who always listens, a friend who understands who they really are. Only little children could believe in a friend who no one can see.
Jesus is talking to his friends in today's gospel. He tells them that they are not his servants, they are his friends. They are his friends. And so are we. All of us who try to follow his example, who try to do his will and bear fruit to feed the world, all of us are his friends. But how can we begin to believe that Jesus could be our Humid and Buttergy?
When a child is scared at night, it is good to introduce Jesus. After all, he is the one friend who will never leave them. With him, they are never alone. They can talk to him and he will listen. And many of us, if we were asked to comfort a child, would tell them to talk to Jesus. But when it comes to our own prayer lives, well, we get all intimidated and formal. We think that we must sit in silence or pray prayers that sound good. We feel guilty for not praying right or often enough or with a particular style, when all Jesus is really asking is for us to be friends.
I love the TV show House. It is a wild, sometimes ethically and scientifically challenging show about a doctor who's last name is House. And House is brilliant, probably the most brilliant diagnostician in the world, in fact, but House is also a jerk. He is a total jerk. And no one likes him. So he spends his time alone. And that seems to be the way that he likes it.
But as the show progresses, it becomes clear that House remarkably does have one friend. His friends name is Wilson. And the weird part is that Wilson doesn't like House either. Like everybody else, he too thinks that House is a jerk. But he cares about House anyway. And when House needs to talk, Wilson is always there.
"What have you done now, House?" Wilson will ask. And often House has done something mean or petty or juvenile. Wilson will often gently remind House that he doesn't have to act like such a jerk. He will disagree with House and even get angry or frustrated, but he is always there. And he clearly loves his friend.
For Christ to call us his friends is, on the one hand, absurd. We are bumbling idiots when it comes to God. We may try to do what's right but we can be completely self-absorbed, greedy, self-pitying creatures. In comparison with Jesus, well, we all come out looking like jerks. But he sticks it out with us anyway. He truly cares. Christ really is your friend and when he said that he would never leave you, he meant it.
And this changes everything. First of all, we are never alone. Second of all, prayer is nothing more than a conversation with our best friend. It is that comfortable. You are sitting down with a cup of warm coffee and just talking with your best friend, sharing the thoughts that plague you, the mistakes that you have made, your worried and doubts and insecurities. You can say it all. Because God is your friend.
What if prayer were to become as easy as breathing for you? What if you just start talking and don't ever stop. Yes, people will look at you as you drive by and you are talking to God. They will think one of two things: either you have a Bluetooth or you have an imaginary friend. Or maybe they will think your crazy but does it really matter what anyone else thinks? If you are truly able to get back to that childhood trust that someone who loves you is right there, there is nothing that you cannot do. Nothing.
Oh, and one last thing. Jesus makes this incredible promise to all his friends. He promises that God will give us whatever we ask in Jesus' name. Whatever we ask.
I once came up to a well known professor after a great lecture. Many students were asking him a questions and vying for his time. He seemed scattered and unable to fully focus on any one of us. But when I mentioned that I knew his daughter, he immediately looked at me with sharp focus and seemed to hear my every word.
Whatever you ask for in my name, Jesus says, you will receive.
Not only do you have a friend, but he has major connections. Connections to God, the Maker of the Universe, who is unfathomable and beyond our understanding.
And Jesus has his ear and he advocates for us. Our friend. Not imaginary but more real than anything else here on earth.
Now, that's some kind of friendship.