Finding and maintaining healthy friendships really isn’t on the priority list for most Americans. Getting an education, a job, a home, and so on are the essentials while meaningful friendships (the ones that progress beyond happy hour) are quite rare. Far too often the friendships that we read about in books and watch in gut-wrenching nostalgic cinema are left studied from a distance in novels and scripts. The reality is that we’d rather not get our hands and lives dirty with tragedies, valleys, and tears that accompany real friendship.
In March 2015, Time Magazine wrote an article entitled “You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?” Here’s an excerpt:
"According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS), the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has roughly tripled in recent decades. “Zero” is also the most common response when people are asked how many confidants they have, the GSS data show. And adult men seem to be especially bad at keeping and cultivating friendships."
We are designed by our God who dwells in perfect community as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and thus, because we are in his image, we can’t afford to go through life isolated. In fact, one of the greatest consequences of sin is that it drives us to places of loneliness, hiding, and withholding from others. And social media offers little to nothing when it it comes to real flesh and blood friendship. While having the appearance of friendliness, we deny it’s power.
How Friendship is Born: Interests and Burdens
Many of you are probably familiar with the name C.S. Lewis and have likely read or will read one of his books along the way. As an Irishman who moved to England and had a profound conversion to following Christ he became a very influential Christian writer and thinker. In one of his books, “The Four Loves” he presents different kinds of intimate relationships and in it he makes the case that friendship is the most selfless and sacred of all.
Probably the most famous paragraph in the book he speaks about how friendships come into being.
“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one." ... It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision - it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 65.
You see, what he’s saying here? He’s saying that friendship is something that’s discovered. It’s that moment that when you move from being an acquaintance to the holy place of friendship out of common interests and passions. That person chooses you and it’s because there’s something about you that lights up something within them. You're enjoy something together and that leads to enjoying each other.
And yet, Lewis, one who had his fill of suffering in life, also mentions that burdens can unite two friends as well.
So for me, my father passed away 7 years ago and the men that I’ve grown very close to over the last few years also are men my age who lost their dads along the way. And here’s what’s interesting: even if we aren’t talking about the men we miss, there’s an unspoken understanding, respect, and honor that’s in the air. Friendship is born just as often in the valley as on the mountaintops.
Your friend is the one who knows the real you and didn’t turn away. Your friend is the one who not only read the story of your life from afar but wept with you and even for you. Your friend is the one you have laughed with until late in the evening accompanied tears rolling down your cheeks, waking up the children… only to keep the jokes coming. Your friend is in your memory. Your friend lives in your heart... not just your neighborhood.
Frederick Buechner says it this way:
“The best moments any of us have as human beings are those moments when for a little while it is possible to escape the squirrel-cage of being me into the landscape of being us.”