Friendship in Eternity

I recently read an article by Catholic ethicist Christine Gudorf which made some thought-provoking points about the expectations which get placed on families as a result of our late modern, highly mobile lifestyle. Because people are less likely to have communities and extended kinship networks to turn to, she observes, the immediate family ends up having to bear a great deal of weight: people are forced “to concentrate all their intimacy demands within the nuclear family, especially the sexual relationship.” The sexual relationship therefore becomes particularly definitive: “the cultural trend we see in late modern societies is not only the restriction of intimacy to sexual relationships, but also an understanding of sexual intimacy as the key to self-knowledge and sense of selfhood, and as the glue that bonds people together.”

Gudorf sees this as potentially problematic, noting that it “puts a terrible burden both on sexual relationships–for this one relationship to fill all relational needs for the partners–and on those who do not have sexual relationships, who thus often lack outlets for intimacy.” To counter such problems, she advocates that “churches should stress the importance of friendship.” She notes that a majority of men and a significant minority of women in our society report that they have no close relationships outside of their sexual relationship. The Catholic church, she observes, has been reluctant to advocate friendship, due to both fear of homosexuality and fear that “outside friendships for the married may undercut loyalty to the marriage and even support adultery.” However, she argues, sacrificing friendship is simply too high a price to pay, as “both the married and the celibate need close friendships.”

Reading this caused me to reflect on how this dynamic might play out in in the LDS church. I think Gudorf makes a valid point that restricting intimacy exclusively to a marital/sexual relationship has the unfortunate effect of both placing unreasonably heavy demands on that relationship, which becomes the only place for a person to meet all her relational needs, and of leaving singles out in the cold. I can actually see a number of ways in which LDS practices attempt to counter this trend. We emphasize the importance of involvement in and interaction with our local ward communities. Ideally, the isolation which is a consequence of high mobility is somewhat mitigated by the fact that when you move to a new place, you do not have to start from scratch in building new networks of relationships, but can “plug in” to the local LDS community, so to speak. Things like the visiting teaching and home teaching programs aim to provide people with broader social networks, and give people resources for support outside of their immediate families.

In many ways, then, we have structures in place which are meant to prevent immediate family relationships from becoming overwhelmed, or having to bear too much weight. Theologically, however, we give family relationships, particularly the husband-wife relationship, a weight which goes beyond anything described by Gudorf. It is only within such a relationship, after all, that a person can be exalted; it is therefore invested with profound eternal significance. And arguably, this teaching has similar effects to those described above: the relationship carries a heavy load (it may not be the only place where one can find intimacy, but it is the only place where one can achieve divinization), and singles are in a difficult position.

I have often wondered about the role of friendship in LDS theology. Clearly we are encouraged to befriend one another. But these relationships are not given any kind of eternal import. If the reason we seal families is because otherwise such relationships would only be “till death do us part,” does this imply that friendships in mortality, by virtue of being unsealed, are limited to mortality? I remember being warned as a teenager about spending too much time with one’s friends and neglecting one’s family, because the former relationships were ephemeral while the latter were eternal. I have a hard time with that viewpoint. It’s not that I think friendship should come at the cost of family relationships. But I find it difficult to believe that close friendships will not continue into the world to come.

One of the LDS teachings which I most deeply appreciate is the teaching that our relationships with other human beings really matter; we don’t believe, for example, that we’ll be so busy worshiping God in the next life that we’ll no longer be all that interested in each other. My hope is that this teaching does not apply exclusively to kinship connections. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether the ultimate purpose of sealing might be not so much about connecting isolated individuals together here and there, but bringing us all into an extended network in which there no longer exists a substantive distinction between “friend” and “family.” LDS teachings, after all, indicate that we were all family in the premortal life long before we developed friendships in this one.

(quotes come from Christine E. Gudorf, “Gender and Human Relationality,” in Health and Human Flourishing (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2006), p. 197 and 199.)


  1. What a wonderful post! Thank you for writing this.
    I met my best friend in first grade, but we didn’t really become close friends until fifth grade. So, I’ve had the same great best friend for about 17 years. We live nearby, have the same number of children about the same age, and are currently both pregnant and due 6 days apart. (I swear we didn’t plan that) But mostly, we’ve just been there for each other for pretty much everything.
    I’ve never thought too much about friendship in the afterlife, I guess I’d always assumed we would be free to associate with whomever we pleased, and those relationships we spent so much time on in this life will still be there for us after we die.
    I really like the conclusion in your post, thanks so much.

  2. D&C 132: 7
    7 All covenants, contracts, bonds, obligations, oaths, vows, performances, connections, associations, or expectations, that are not made and entered into and sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise…. are of no efficacy, virtue, or force in and after the resurrection from the dead; for all contracts that are not made unto this end have an end when men are dead.

    This reads to me that we ought to seal more things than just spouses and parents/children. I wonder if Joseph imagined- or even did- seal people into other sorts of “contracts, obligations, connections, associations, or expectations”

  3. My implied idea is that if a sealer were willing, the scripture says you could be sealed up as friends or neighbors or mentors or whatever other association you want. Wonder why we don’t.

  4. Would a “friends sealing” (to a non-member neighbor) mean anything if the non-member didn’t quality for the CK on his own? And if he qualified for the CK on his own, and so did you, then why need the “friends sealing”?

    It seems like the current sealing system in effect preserves all relationships, as long as personal salvation in the CK is already established.

  5. I too remember the idea that since we are sealed to siblings they should always come before friends. However this is just not so! We are NOT sealed to our siblings. We share the experience of being sealed to the same parents. None of us are sealed to siblings. Just pay attention to the ceremony, not to some of the mush-headed sentimental comments often made about sealings. And besides, what could the sealing of children to parents make possible that you can’t do with anyone else in the CK?–Invite them to Thanksgiving Dinner, or what? Actually I don’t think that Celestial frienships are tenous at all. If you are there and I am there what could possibly stand in the way of friendship? What I think generational sealings really do is aggregate us into the family of God, and agian I assume that as glorified members of the Family of God we will be able to associate with everyone we want to there. Of course husband/wife sealings are of a different weight entirely, in eteranl possibilities.

  6. I’ve always liked this verse in D&C 130:2:

    And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy.

    “Same sociality” sounds to me like something more than just sealed family relationships, for sure.

  7. Janeannechovy, you beat me to the punch. I was going to cite that verse for the same reason. I find it very comforting.

    However, she argues, sacrificing friendship is simply too high a price to pay, as “both the married and the celibate need close friendships.”

    Kathryn Lynard Soper’s post at T&S and the discussion that followed included many interesting comments on the issue of married people having close friendships with members of the opposite sex. Sorry–I have nothing to add–I just thought someone reading this thread might enjoy that one too.

  8. I was attending a RS General Meeting broadcast (2002) with one of my dear friends whom I have known since my freshman year of college. We heard Pres. Faust talk of RS being a place to “establish eternal friendships” (footnoting the scriptures Janeanne mentioned). I found great comfort in that notion of friendships that can last beyond the veil, particularly as I sat by one of my dear friends. We both smiled at the thought of eternal friendships.

  9. Last Sunday I told the teenagers in my Sunday school class that I envisioned the final judgement to a process to which we will be allowed to contribute our input, and that God will want to hear our opinions on what sorts of people we will be happiest spending eternity among. Do the readers of this blog think I was off base with that remark, or do we all imagine that describes the future reality?

    And I think it is side-splittingly funny the way that we project the way we live now onto the future. We speak of “beyond the veil” and “the next life” as though we actually know what we are talking about. But since that is the only vocabulary we know, that is what we use. And the phrase about the same sociality (one of the lovliest thing about Mormonism, in my opinion) actually does suggest that our circumstances after we die will bear a recognizable resemblance to our relationships here.

    The thing that struck me the most about Rough Stone Rolling was how Joseph Smith was portrayed as a man who hated loneliness and separation. He treasured companionship and was intensely loyal, and wanted to bind his friends and family to him even after death.

    Sunstone had a great article outlining Joseph Smith’s views on friendship.

  10. I have long treasured President Stephen L. Richards’ oft-reiterated description of a priesthood quorum as having three characteristics: a class, a service unit, and a fraternity. The quorums I have been part of and ones that I’ve observed do fairly well at being a class, more or less fine at service, but not so well as being a fraternity. I think the Lord’s instruction is that as quorum members we should be friends — good friends. That’s tough when we are so diverse. But as I think about it, it may be more a function of the time I am willing to spend away from my immediate family than of the characteristics of my brethren in the quorum themselves. After all, I confess that I don’t know many of them very well.

    On a very different tack…
    Many of our very best friends don’t live near us. We became friends when we were in the same ward as our families began. These are the kind of friendships that we eternally treasure — ones that sometimes seem as remots as geography suggests, but with whom our connection is so strong that any time we get back together it’s as if we never were separated. Surely the same must be possible for those we encounter later in life, but I confess I have seldom managed it. There’s simply something about sharing those critical moments when a family is just starting to grow.

  11. Following D&C 130:2, I guess I’ve thought that the friends I have now most certainly may end up being my friends after this life. I hope no sealing is necessary to make that happen, though. The idea of being proposed to by a future husband sounds nerve-wracking enough. I don’t want to have to think about which of my friends I want to propose to. Awkward.

  12. Wonderful post, Lynnette. I’ve always loved the Bible story of the friendship of David and Jonathan.

    I’m not sure what purpose a sealing among friends would serve – other than the symbolism of binding two people who like each other together. Then again, I wonder about the salvific effect/necessity of other priesthood ordinances (including sealings) as well. Are sealings to reassure us or are they for God?

  13. We are NOT sealed to our siblings. We share the experience of being sealed to the same parents. None of us are sealed to siblings. Just pay attention to the ceremony, not to some of the mush-headed sentimental comments often made about sealings.

    Oh, drat. I’m not usually mush-headedly sentimental, but I admit that during those long high-council talks, the heaven I sketched on the back of the program always involved at least one mass blog sealing. (Although wow, now that I say that out loud, it sounds like a Jim-Jones ritual community binding. Ahem. Pass the Koolaid. But we could ameliorate the Jonestown overtones somewhat by permitting individuals multiple blog sealings. Polysociality seems only just, for us Mormons.)

    Hooray ECS! It’s great to see you. And, on a slightly more serious note, it’s interesting to think about what, exactly, we consider the meaning of sealing. I’m sure the more historically accomplished among us can enlighten us further, but my understanding is that people used to have themselves sealed to Joseph Smith as his adopted children (?)–a practice I strongly suspect the Church no longer encourages.

    Thanks for your thoughts, Lynnette. The topic of opposite-sex friendship has come up a number of times on the Bloggernacle, and I’d like to see someone treat it systematically, try to consider the gains and risks and ideally offer some practical suggestions for promoting healthy friendships across (embattled?) gender lines.

    I’m not one who makes friends easily or often, but I have friends to whom I’ve remained close for nearly two decades now, and I can’t imagine my life without them.

  14. I loved this post, Lynnette.

    I think there’s a lot to be said for friendship. You’re right, that our society does put a lot of pressure and expectations onto a single, sexual relationship. Some of that pressure is warranted, but much of it could be diffused. Not that one shouldn’t be friends with one’s spouse — hopefully, marriage contains friendship. But you’re right, that sometimes emphasis on the spousal relationship leads to underappreciation of friendship.

    I wouldn’t be averse to sealing to my friends. It seems that the friend relationship is not just one of this earth. Didn’t Jesus himself say:

    Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends . . .

    If the friend relationship merits that kind of discussion from Jesus, it has to be more than just mortal, doesn’t it?

    A while ago Starfoxy wrote something along these lines: The reason we are here on earth is to learn to love other people, and the reason we learn to love other people is because our bonds with other people are what we take with us to the next life. I really liked that description then, and it still strikes me as one of the best descriptions of Heaven. My sense is that relationships after this life will be held together not so much by ordinance or formality, as by our love for other people.

    Which makes it especially funny, that I could do a lot of work in the friends category. I don’t really make friends easily. I’m not all that good at chatting socially. And even once I have a friend, I’m not really a good and attentive friend — I forget to write people, I get distracted, I lose track of friends. And then I think, “I haven’t written so-and-so for the last four months. If I write now, they’ll just wonder why I didn’t write earlier.” And suddenly it’s six months, or a year. Rinse and repeat.

    Fortunately, e-mail and blogs make it easier (sometimes!) to keep track of friends online. And I can sorta-kinda pretend that it’s good enough. I may not have said anything directly to so-and-so for six months, but if I’m still reading her posts, then I’m not completely falling down on the job as a friend, am I?

    Meanwhile, the job of organizing and maintaining real-life friendships, particularly in the ward, typically falls on my wife. (How’s the for ironic? Friendship can remove some of the stress from the marriage relationship, yes. But it can also add layers of extra work!)

    My wife is much better with names and faces than I am. She keeps up with ward developments: whose daughter is getting married, and who’s moving out of the ward, and so on. I’m likely to not notice for months, and suddenly ask her, “where are the Jensens? I haven’t seen them for a while.”

    Which brings us back to how I need to not be such a slacker friend. Sigh. With my track record, even if friend sealing was available, I’d probably forget to do it, or postpone it indefinitely, or miss the appointment.

  15. Thanks for all the comments, some of which made me laugh; I agree with Jessica that having to propose to your friends could be rather nerve-wracking.

    queuno asked,

    Would a “friends sealing” (to a non-member neighbor) mean anything if the non-member didn’t quality for the CK on his own? And if he qualified for the CK on his own, and so did you, then why need the “friends sealing”?

    I think a similar question could be asked about any sealings. If you and your spouse both qualify for the CK, why do you need the sealing to have a relationship there? But like ECS, I think I’m not entirely clear on the purpose of sealings in general, though I like some of the suggestions that people have made here.

    Kaimi, I can be a slacker friend, too. I agree that email and the internet can help with that (though what can I say when I’m such a slacker that I take forever to respond to comments on my own posts? 😉 ) Anyway, I like that idea that eternal relationships will be held together not by ordinance or formality but simply by love. As a kid, I actually felt somewhat trapped by the whole sealing thing–like I was stuck with a certain group of people whether I wanted to associate with them eternally or not. I’m hoping that they’re not quite that coercive.

    I also like that verse about the “same sociality” mentioned by janeannechovy, Ziff, and m&m–thanks for bringing that up. And it’s cool to hear about people’s different experiences with friendship. I have to admit that part of the reason this matters to me is that as an unmarried person, it’s easy to get the impression that there’s a sense in which your relationships don’t really matter because they’re not the “real thing” yet, that they don’t have eternal significance, as opposed to those who are building eternal family relationships. But like several others on this thread, I have friends who have been such an integral part of my life that I simply can’t imagine life without them.

  16. I’ve attempted to respond to this post but this topic is sooo deep that I’ve had to erase what I wrote several times, as it wasn’t sufficiently long enough to cover every aspect of it and covering a portion of it just doesn’t do it justice. So, good luck to everyone in figuring this out. I won’t be contributing my two cents because I’d need 10 bucks and I don’t want to write that much.

  17. Your last paragraph touches closely on my thoughts on the matter. I was recently talking with a non-member friend about religion, and she said that she couldn’t see being stuck with her family for eternity would be heaven, but more like hell (a sentiment I’ve heard before). So I got to thinking about why we are sealed both to our parents and to our spouses, if we are also told to leave father and mother and cleave to a wife (or spouse, ignoring momentarily the gender-specific language). I realized that being sealed to parents does not establish a single nuclear family unit into the eternities, as one’s parents will be (theoretically) sealed to their parents, and so on until we reach God. The spousal relationship, it seems, is the fundamental unit, whereas the parental relationship binds us all together.


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