We live in a more globally connected world than ever before, but despite that fact, friendships seem harder to come by. True and trustworthy friends seem to be more and more difficult to find. Why is this? What has made friendship rarer and more valuable in today’s day and age? In order to understand why friendship has become harder to find, or more difficult to build, we must first look at the big picture. The challenge of making friends in public, might be the most daunting since the bubonic plague, literally. It doesn’t take a long shot to know most people understand the prominently private lives we live. Before the establishment social media, we stayed connected through physical proximity, we talked on the phone, or we sent emails. The early days of text were really too laborious and inconvenient to be used as a popular method of communication, and thus, we were relegated to what now seems like a foregone past. All of this culminates in the ability to almost be a hermit and to seemingly still function just as fully as before. Wireless internet, Uber, DoorDash, Meta, interest groups, dating apps, and the like. Not only are we finding ways to not have to leave the home, we’re finding more and more reasons to justify it. Call it a post-Covid effect, but regardless, most of us can agree things just aren’t the way the used to be pre-pandemic.
The bottom line is this: we live in a world that has customized and exacerbated the ability to live more private lives than ever before. Because of this, there’s less need to go out, less need to grocery shop, or less need to be in situations where we’d meet people, ultimately creating the growing challenge of creating rich friendships. All of these aspects are creating a society, that, despite its conveniences, is robbing us of one of our biggest needs as human beings: human interaction. And friendships aren’t simply human interactions; however, they go much deeper than that. Sure, it’s necessary interaction, but by definition, there’s emotion involved. It’s more than a conversation, friendship is confiding in someone. Friendship is having people around you that you can count on when things get tough. Friendship is having people around you willing to speak truth when you need to hear it.
Another aspect that can make it difficult to create friendships lies beneath the surface of the iceberg. Sure, there’s the radically accelerated shift in culture, but beneath the surface of ourselves can exist a range of insecurities and fears that also play out in such a way that can work against us. It can play out in a way that ultimately may create loneliness or separation from people in general. Often times that can be debilitating fear of being truly known. I’m sure a great deal of you can relate to the fear of being known. We all have varying degrees and depths of friendships around us. Those that we love being around and enjoy time with, but don’t go very deep with. Those that we’ve walked with for some time and truly trust – whether with the friendship itself or even to watch our kids. But then there are those friendships that are what we loosely throw around as a “best friend.” A best friend to me is someone that you feel the closest to, trust the most, and want to walk through tough times with. Someone you know will be there for you when you absolutely can’t do it on your own, or need an ear, or someone to process with. However, sometimes friendship looks like bridging the gap of differences. Two people willing to make adjustments to their own perspectives in order to appreciate and love their friend. Something as simple as differing viewpoints that require each person to learn and grow. How did Jesus befriend others? He loved them exactly where they were in their own process or season of life.
Where two people have a voice, where each person chooses to hear the other and furthermore, sought to fully understand where the other was coming from- and wanted to! What it created was a safe place. A space to be truly known, truly seen, and yet, also fully accepted and valued and loved. I truly believe one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is having to walk through those processes. They don’t happen overnight. My closest and deepest friendships have been stewarded and built over years and years. They rarely, if ever, happened in a short period of time. Rather, they occurred season after season of life.
When starting out, I always recommend guarding your heart to a degree. I’ve been a strong proponent of the idea that respect is given, but trust is earned. And that’s also been true of how every one of my friendships started. It’s the biblical example in Matthew 7:6 of not throwing your pearls before swine. What it’s saying is, don’t give what’s most important or valuable to your heart so freely that you’re not aware of if someone is trustworthy to hold those things as sacred as you do. My process in building a new friendship most often looks like this: I will share something that has some significance and vulnerability to me, but also something I already have victory and breakthrough in that I don’t mind sharing. Then, I’ll patiently wait to see what they do with that. Do they hold it in confidence? Do they then go share that information with others? Does it get back to me? Do they respond to me in that moment of sharing with understanding or empathy? Or do they give me the message they really don’t care? These are small ways to share while slowly opening the gates to your heart. If they steward what I share with them in confidence or respond in love, then I know they can be trusted with more. It’s another step of looking to build trust with someone and seeing how they show up.
If we allow it, fear will become the driver that keeps us from being fully known. It’s the thought that, “if I was fully transparent or real about who I am, that I actually opened myself up enough for someone to see me as I fully am, that they wouldn’t love me or value me or even want to be around me. That if someone saw my flaws or knew my past or my mistakes, that they wouldn’t want anything to do with me.” I can tell you with great confidence, that lie has been the driving force in the mass genocide of authentic, life changing, kingdom advancing friendships. It’s true that we don’t know how someone will respond to us, whether through acceptance or rejection, until we choose to be known or seen. And that’s where one of the biggest calls of courage and bravery come in. Every friendship that has the ingredients of trust, safety, peace, and authenticity have been built because two people chose to have those tough conversations. Because those people chose to trust that, despite their hurts, habits, or hang ups, were still going to be valued and loved. They chose to press-in when challenge arose. They chose to do the hard work to talk things out or maintain connection and not run. Those friendships will loudly display to the world what the embodiment and unity of the body of Christ should look like.
Let’s take a look at some Biblical examples of friendship and how those were built and played out. Paul & Barnabas – Paul, before his conversion was named Saul, and was every bit a persecutor of believers and followers of Jesus. So, when he came into Jerusalem, a lot of believers were scared of him. Some even doubted if he was tricking them by pretending to be a Christian. Barnabas took Paul to the disciples and introduced him. Once they heard his story and heard him speak however, they welcomed him. Barnabas made that happen. A real friend walks with us when no one else does. When Paul was rejected by many believers, Barnabas stood with him and encouraged him to continue his God-given calling.
Ruth & Naomi – in the book of Ruth we learn about the friendship between Ruth and Naomi. If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the short version: Ruth marries Naomi’s son, but then he dies. After he passes, Naomi instructs Ruth to return back to her people, but Ruth says she’d rather stay with Naomi. We find them creating a bond beyond their initial connection of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law. Throughout their challenges, we find them helping each other to overcome obstacles. They’re also there to celebrate each other’s breakthroughs and victories. I love how this is embodied in Ruth 1:16, “…Wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God, my God…” This verse also shows us a few other things; Ruth had no obligation to Naomi, in fact Naomi’s other daughter-in-law did return back home to her people. But Ruth was connected to Naomi in more ways than familial relation, she had a genuine friendship with her. Ruth also carried a compassion and generosity. Her love for Naomi made her fiercely loyal. She made a promise to stay by Naomi’s side, so much so that Ruth works to provide for both of them when Naomi couldn’t work. Ruth sacrificed her own time and energy because of the love and friendship she carried with Naomi. The other aspect of their friendship shows us that true friendship breaks boundaries of age, race, religion, etc. Other than both being widows, they didn’t have much in common. They had every reason to find excuses to not bond or deepen or cultivate friendship. They were from different races and religions, as well as much different in age. They were able to put their differences aside and be there for each other in good and bad. Lastly, their friendship brought Ruth closer to God. When she says “and your God, my God…” we see Ruth coming under Naomi’s belief that allowed her to say yes to God.
David & Jonathan – One of the most glowing examples of friendship in scripture can be found between David and Jonathan. If you don’t know the story, the short version goes like this: Jonathan was a prince, in line to gain the thrown from his father Saul. Unlike his father, scripture tells us that Jonathan was a great warrior, a man of honesty and character. So much so, he was willing to face death in the face of having to speak and tell the truth. After David defies earthly logic and defeats Goliath, Jonathan is drawn to him, to the extent scripture tells us Jonathan strips himself of his own robe and armor, making a covenant with David. In other words, Jonathan lays down his own privilege and position, willingly handing it over to David. 1 Samuel 18 shows us that Jonathan loved David “as himself.” Despite his right to the throne, Jonathan committed himself fully to his friend David, whom he befriended when David served in King Saul’s court, and furthermore, scripture tells us that Jonathan recognized David’s anointing as future king of Israel. If that isn’t a picture of self-sacrificing love and friendship, I don’t know what is. Their story goes on to show multiple occurrences of Jonathan trying to get David to fellowship with his father Saul, each time finding one or both of them often narrowly escaping death. Jonathan continually reaffirms his covenant to David in the midst of his or their hardships. Scripture tells us in 1 Samuel 23 that during their last time together, Jonathan encourages David and again places himself under him, honoring him as King. Jonathan’s life was a beautiful example of true friendship and character. Scripture is great at showing us so many varying aspects of what friendships can look like.
I want to leave you with some practical ways of how to help grow great friendships:
1) Choose to trust (but wisely).
Be willing to give or share of yourself. Be willing to let others in, but do so with your best ability to open up to those that have proven themselves faithful to trust. In health, it’s a process to walk that out, but with intentionality, it’s one of the best ways to build a strong friendship.
2) Be willing to be known.
No one can feel close to you or feel like a truly great friend without truly knowing you. It’s okay to show who you are—your past, your mistakes, your failures, even your struggles or victories. It’s in this manner you’ll find someone that truly accepts you for who you are, or conversely, someone that shouldn’t be a covenant friend.
3) Put yourself out there.
One of the greatest indicators in finding the friends that make life all the better, boils down to one main thing: willingness. Are you looking for groups with similar interests? Are you making a decision to embed yourself into a community, whether of similar passion or aim, like a church body? Searching out events or gatherings that you’d want to be a part of is a great place to start.
4) Give it to God.
The God of the universe that scripture tells us “Knows the number of hairs on your head” certainly knows the desires of your heart. If you’re longing for more friendships, or better friendships, or new friendships – hand it over to God. Pray about it. I believe firmly that what we steward, God blesses. When we choose to give it our time and attention, God will meet us in that place.
And lastly, I want to leave you with a few suggestions of how to improve as a friend:
1) Have faith in your friends and give them the benefit of the doubt when communication or conflict arises. (like Barnabas was for Paul)
2) Don’t let differences of age, religion, ethnicity, political views etc. get in the way of being a good listener, a graceful helper and a fierce confidant for your friends. (like Ruth was for Naomi)
3) Always have your friends’ best interest in mind. Practice being present in the moment, and commit to be with them through both the easy and hard times. (like Jonathan was for David)
Friendship is no light thing. It can even make life all the more joyful and fulfilling. It’s exemplified and narrated throughout scripture and history itself. It meets one of the greatest, most essential needs that we carry. Scripture is very clear that God never intended for us to walk alone, but rather alongside others we can trust in, confide in, and have fun with. I can leave you with no greater scripture on the matter than this: John 15:15, “I have never called you ‘servants,’ because a master doesn’t confide in his servants, and servants don’t always understand what the master is doing. But I call you my most intimate and cherished friends, for I reveal to you everything that I’ve heard from my Father.”