According to cognitive science experts, around 60% of adults in the U.S. report feeling lonely “on a pretty regular basis.” That number has been on the rise since the 70’s and with each generation we are seeing more and more individuals reporting feeling lonely.
If I were to take a poll of every first time guest that has walked through our doors at church on Sunday mornings, I’d bet over 75% of them would list community or relationships as one of the top 3 things they are looking for in a church. Almost every single one of them I have talked to say they are looking for community, a place to connect or a small group.
That probably isn’t very surprising to you. We talk about how vital community is and how we value relationships at church all the time. I imagine to varying degrees we all have benefited from a community that we found in a church.
While we often throw around the words community and relationships in church, one word I don’t often hear is friendship. As I have been preparing for my small group this week where we are talking about friendship, I heard the phrase “spiritual practice of friendship.” You don’t hear that very often in church. But why? I suppose it could simply be because community and relationships don’t sound like we are on the playground in 2nd grade asking someone if they will be our friend. But can it really be that simple?
One of my favorite examples of friendship in the bible is David and Jonathon. I imagine you are familiar with the story. Jonathan was King Saul’s son, so in theory in line to be King himself. When Saul realizes that God has tapped David to be King he tries to hunt him down and kill him. But Jonathon helps David escape to safety. Later, after Jonathon died, King David takes in Jonathon’s son as his own son. These two guys were supposed to be enemies, but instead they went out of their way to help each other in big ways.
Friendship is a two way street; we are there for each other in their trials, we are there to celebrate their successes, we are there to help build each other up into better versions of ourselves, and we are there predictably and regularly just to spend time together and check up on each other. It is completely mutual.
I’m afraid when I hear people say they are looking for community, what they really mean is that they are looking for a support system and help, but not necessarily to give that support and help back. Obviously that isn’t the way that community is supposed to work, but is certainly treated this way by many.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I don’t do friendship well enough. I don’t know how many friends you “should” have, but I don’t think I can say I am at that number. I have several people I spend a fair amount of time with but I am nowhere open enough or vulnerable with them to know my trials or even successes, not to mention help build me up and hold me accountable. I have a handful of people that I used to be friends with that I could call up on the phone today and talk for hours like we never missed a beat, but I don’t know what is going on in their life right now. I still love them, but I would be kidding myself to consider them a true active friend in the way I described earlier.
If I had to guess I would say most of you are in this boat with me. I hate to say it, but if you pressed me on why I don’t have enough friends, I’d have to say I don’t have time. I have 3 people who are already either on my speed dial or whose text messages are pinned on my phone that if I just made the effort, they would easily be that type of friend. I’m missing out because I just haven’t made the time.
The podcast our small group is listening to this week features these two musicians from Nashville who became friends but ran into the same problem I often do, they just didn’t make the time to talk or spend time with each other. Almost 10 years ago now, one of the guys moved about a mile and a half away from the other and one of them, Andy, had the idea to once a week text each other, walk ¾ of a mile to a park where they would give each other a high five.
Every week since they have made that walk and given each other a high five. Some weeks they have a “silent five” where they don’t have time to hang out or talk, but they still walk and meet up at that park. But the high five is often an excuse to go for a walk together or sit and talk about what is going on in life.
They have a whole routine now where they clap, snap their fingers and then high five. It seems so silly and small, and they will admit it is. But what isn’t small is that for 10 years they have shown up for each other. Even when they have other things going on (like almost dying…see the link below) they made time for their friendship.
The important stuff like vulnerability, and the sharing in trials and celebrations and the accountability, all that requires trust and a lot of it. If showing up predictably in someone's life week after week after week doesn't build that kind of trust, I don’t know what will.
I hope that if friendship is an area of your life you have not invested enough into recently that you can be honest enough with yourself and figure out why. Then, I hope you can do something about that because we all need true friendships in our lives like David and Jonathon, or Jesus and Lazerous, or Ruth and Naomi, or Elijah and Elisha.
Friendship is hard. We can’t just walk up to someone on that playground and ask them to be friends anymore. We have to work at it. We have to be willing to give of ourselves selflessly. But, it is worth it.
P.S. The two friends with that meet up and do the high five were actually featured on CBS Sunday Morning about 2 years ago.