There is a crisis today which is impacting everyone but is majorly hurting Christians and the church. It’s not really a new crisis but instead of getting better, it seems to be getting worse. I’m talking about meaningful friendships and the growing lack of them! It’s not that we don’t want them, we do. In fact, the Bible tells us we were made for them, and yet they seem to fall so short of their intentions. Why is this?
Why do friendships fall short of their intention?
I’ve not done any study on this topic, but I’d say I traffic in environments where relationships are rampant. So I offer my musings on the question. As I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure this is a new crisis, because particularly as guys, friendships have always been a little weird. Well that, and a culture that has promoted surfacey conversations without depth, feeling or revealing anything about ourselves. Isn’t it amazing how you can talk with someone for a little while and walk away thinking, “I didn’t learn a thing about that person?!” We’ve become masters of talking without really saying anything.
I think social media has not helped things in this department either. We’ve reduced conversations down to short phrases, limited characters and quick jabs. Social media has given us a sense of “connection” without really being connected. It’s like we’re eating air while looking at a picture of a steak – somethings missing! So what happens is we walk around thinking we’ve experienced relationship, and yet feeling so unsatisfied and confused. That’s because in most cases, you DIDN’T experience relationship, you consumed content. So what happens is either we experienced a really watered-down and weakened version of a friendship or we actually experienced a counterfeit!
I think the third thing is a growing lack of conversation. Many of us have no idea what really meaningful conversation even sounds like, let alone how to do it. And let’s be honest, many of us are so self-absorbed and self-focused that if you’re topic doesn’t pertain to me, benefit me or somehow impact me well then I’m just waiting for you to finish your blabbing so I can talk about what I want to talk about. Add to that the lost art of question asking. Sure we may ask questions but they’re often reduced to “yes or no” or some other factual piece of information.
Why does it matter?
As mentioned above, God created us for relationship. In fact, relationships are the primary means and environment for spiritual growth and progress in our lives. So if we are settling for acquaintances or are unaware of what relationships are intended to be then we will be severely stunted in our spiritual growth! Not to mention all the pragmatic things like loneliness, boredom, depression, feeling invisible etc. We need relationships and not just any relationships – relationships of meaning and intention.
An Alternate Idea
I call this concept: “intentional friendships” because without intention and purpose we will default to either a watered-down and shallow relationship or a total counterfeit. So what happens in intentional friendships?
First of all, and probably most critical is intentional friendships have a mutual investment. This means you don’t have one giver and one taker, but two people mutually engaged to see growth happen. That’s not to say there won’t be seasons of giving and taking in a healthy friendship but when you step back over time you see two people who both care and are committed to the other person. I’ve had relationships where I needed to sit down and ask for this “mutual investment” because it doesn’t come naturally and even the people who want to be a part of something like that often assume they’re the only ones. But once you have the courageous conversation, I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many people I meet who long for that kind of friendship.
The second aspect is intentional friendships are focused on progress. The intention of being in relationship must go deeper than just companionship or two people who just don’t want to be alone. As I study the Bible’s view of relationships it seems to always present some sort of spiritual growth outcome in good and healthy relationships. This means I need to know the other person well enough (often through asking meaningful questions) to be able to assess what their needs are. This is key, we must not start with us, but with the other person. Jesus came to serve and we must have the same attitude in our relationships. I love how the author of Hebrews 10 says it, “consider how to stir up love and good deeds in each other”. My focus is to think about the best way to help you make progress, spiritually speaking. And because we are both mutually invested, I know you’ll be thinking about how to help me too. The great thing about relationships is we don’t have to be at the same spot spiritually in order to walk together. We can all learn from anyone regardless of where we may perceive them to be. I’ve learned a ton from people who are just beginning their faith journey, just as someone who has many years of experience. The reason that is is two fold: 1. it’s much more than knowledge we’re gaining, it’s character and 2. if they’re believers in Jesus they have the same Holy Spirit that I do and therefore He still speaks through us all!
The third aspect is intentional friendships are curious and caring. Great friends are so interested in you that they get curious and verbalize that curiosity. “I wonder why do you that?” “what made you react that way?” “what do you think about….?” “I’ve always wondered what drives you?” and on and on it goes. Each curious question probing a little deeper, caring a little more and helping us to feel known. You see that is one of the reasons relationships feel so empty. No one knows us. Sure people know about us, but we rarely feel that another person really knows us and cares enough to go beyond our first answer to the question to some deeper place, a place that drives us. And when you’re known, you begin to feel loved and when you’re loved you get courageous and you get moving forward! Can you imagine that kind of friendship?!
You and I have an opportunity to begin to create a different kind of Christian community made up of intentional friendships. Don’t go looking for them, they must be made and now that you’ve been invited into this space, it’s up to you to start moving towards it!