I have been binge watching Breaking Bad and finally finished up the series last night. Yes, fashionably late — per usual. If you’ve seen the series, you realize that Jesse Pinkman loves Walter White, deeply. He loves him even though he sees exactly what kind of monster he is, and while he fears that he may lose his own life in the hands of this madman, he can’t bring himself to end his life first.
We are made to question Walter’s love for Jesse throughout the show, and while the writers give us clear indications that he cares for the kid, there is one overarching truth that can’t be ignored. Walter ultimately cares about himself more than anyone else because he doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice every person that he loves on the altar of his own prestige. He cares more about his “empire business” than his wife, children, extended family and friends — as each of them ultimately become casualties in the wake of his destruction in the quest for recognition. In pursuit of building this empire, he puts Jesse in the place of doing morally compromising, gut wrenching things in the name of “loyalty”. Walter single-handedly wrecks Jesse and destroys everyone that Jesse loves in that process.
Somewhere along the way it becomes evident to Jesse that this man he loves so much has just been using him this entire time and it wrecks him. No amount of professing love from Walter can take away the pain of that realization. It doesn’t stop how this reality moves Jesse to expose the monster while feeling the affections he has for said monster (hence the bitter weeping while pouring gasoline all over his home in an attempt to burn it down). The final season is a roller-coaster of tension for Jesse between deep love and gross pain when it comes to his relationship with Walter.
This has stirred my thoughts on how friendship is such a tricky, fragile thing. In the theological world of Law and Gospel, communities are built on the love of Grace that has been lavishly poured on us — we find ourselves motivated by that truth to extend love to others. This is a beautiful thing that should be encouraged, “see how they love one another?”. Love and forgiveness abound in a community where people have been freed by grace and this is something to be celebrated and cherished. However, I would like to suggest that sometimes we lose sight of our limitations as humans in relationships within these communities. It happens the moment we turn the gospel into a formula for relationships.
When a friendship falls apart, we are often times quick to take grace and turn it into law, beating the wrecked party over the head accusing them of not “loving enough”. We have taken the perfect love of God in the gospel and we have made it the expectation for people to keep with each other — forgetting that the only one who can love this way is God himself. God’s relationship with us is unconditional but human relationships are conditional. Only Jesus can be the friend who walks with you no matter what, that’s what makes him Jesus and makes us needy. God can take all of your shit, as much as you can possibly dish out and then some. People however, cannot. Everyone has a breaking point. We wish that we could hold on no matter what, but it’s not our job to save one another — there’s a huge difference between loving and saving.
I can hear the arguments from the choir already so I want to try and clarify a few things by likening friendship to a beaver dam. (I know…cheesy analogy but just stick with me here). Two beavers meet, become fond of one another, and begin to build a dam together — friendship. They lay the groundwork for this friendship by pushing logs together across the giant river of life. Once built, this friendship dam will provide a deep pool for these beavers to dive into which becomes a safe place to escape the harsh world around them. The longer the beavers build, the stronger the dam becomes and that pool of safety gets deeper. Each log, twig, and leaf is representative of memories, hurts, secrets, laughter, tears, dreams, and failures — shared with one another, which is held together by the mud of trust. This all happens organically and isn’t forced, though it takes both beavers laboring to keep this dam sturdy and functional.
There will be times when one of the beavers fails to keep up his side of the dam, so his companion will pick up the slack, and work frantically on both sides, out of love, until his beaver friend comes to his senses seeking forgiveness. This is where confession (I failed you) meets absolution (you are forgiven) and the friends go to work repairing (reconciliation) what was lost.They don’t speak of it again, they just continue to enjoy their deep pool of safety together. Even though there are patch jobs to be made throughout the course of their little beaver lives, they are equally committed to one another and so the dam just continues to get stronger.
Sadly, there are times where the one beaver fails and fails and fails for a variety of reasons. His companion frantically jumps into action, patching both sides of the dam, but forgiveness is never sought, confession is never made. The more that time lingers without true reconciliation, the more trust begins to break away from the dam. His companion can and will work himself to death trying to repair the damage alone but eventually, the rivers of life give way, the dam is too weak… and everything, including the beavers, gets washed away from one another.
Now is not the time to yell at the beaver, who did his best to keep up both sides of the friendship dam, that he “didn’t work hard enough or long enough”. Nor is it time to slap “abandonment” labels on him, telling him that if he truly loved his beaver friend he would keep building no matter how difficult it got for him. It’s not time to call him “unforgiving” when because of grace, he was always willing to forgive and hopeful of building again. It’s not the time to guilt and accuse him of not giving “one way dam repairing love” because it “would have healed his friend’s brokenness”, because after all — he’s just a beaver too –he can’t heal anyone. He is completely limited by his little beaver abilities.
No — now would be the time to remind this sad little beaver that there is a bigger more perfect dam, that needs no help from him to provide protection in the rivers of life. This dam will always hold, apart from his work, and it is here alone that he can truly find rest and safety. It is here alone that he will find healing from all of the lesser dams that never held, as badly as he wanted them to.