I read a recent survey about friendship that was disheartening, but not terribly surprising. Since the 1980s, the number of “close friends” we Americans have has declined. Thirty years ago, most people had three confidants, people outside their family they could confide in (and did confide in). Now that average is down to two…and 25% of the survey respondents said that had no one they would consider a true friend.
Odd, isn’t it? In our Facebook world, most of us have more “friends” than ever before. But genuine friendships seem to be increasingly rare. Just think, for instance, of your own father. Can you name some of your dad’s good friends? Not “people he worked with,” but actual friends. If you can, I’m guessing you’re in the minority. Most guys quit pursuing friendship after they get married.
So friendship may be a rare commodity these days. But I suspect that most of us still yearn for it. And for good reason. Friendship goes to the very core of our identity. It is something so fundamental that a life without friends is not only sad, but literally subhuman.
1. Friendship matters because we are made for it.
The doctrine of the Trinity may be one of the most complex aspects of Christian theology, but it gives us a glimpse into the very foundation of friendship. From all eternity, the Father and Son have existed in relationship, bound together in friendship love (John 15:9–17). And because we are made in God’s image, we also are made for friendship.
Every other relationship we experience had a genesis. Marriage was created. The parent-child relationship was created. Work relationships were created. But friendship was never created. It’s part of the eternal nature of God. Ponder that till your brain hurts: there has never been a time when there was not friendship.
Here’s what staggers me about that thought: when God created Adam, before anything bad had happened, he declared it “not good” that Adam be alone. Why? Because Adam was like God, and God was not alone. Adam wasn’t lonely because he was imperfect; Adam was lonely because he was perfect. Every other problem in our lives arises out of our sin and imperfections. But loneliness is the one problem that we have because we are made in God’s image. So if you’re content being a loner, congratulations: you aren’t very much like God.
As C. S. Lewis said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival.” You can “get by” without friends. But you can’t really livewithout them.
2. Friendship matters because it makes us.
One of the most staggering verses in all of Scripture is Proverbs 13:20: “He that walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm.” According to that verse, friendship is more than just important. Friendship is the most formative factor in your life. Get your friends right, and you’re setting yourself up for success. Get them wrong, and you all but guarantee failure. Or, as I’ve heard it said, show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.
Are there exceptions to this? Sure. But as a general rule, as Craig Groeschel says, “you are the average of your five closest friends.” If four of your five closest buddies were stoned last night, chances are you were, too. But if four of your best friends are passionately following God, you probably are as well. You were made for friendship, and in turn, friendship makes you.
We spend so much time agonizing over choosing the right spouse, but few of us put any thought into choosing our friends. But your friendships are actually more likely to shape your life than your family members—even your spouse. A 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the friend relationship was the most telling one when it came to gaining weight. If your spouse or your adult sibling gained weight, you had a 40% higher chance of gaining weight, too. But if your friend gained weight, your chances jumped up 60%. (So if your “bestie” suddenly announces that ‘every night is ice cream night,’ you might want to have a talk.)
We all have something we’d like to become—a better student, a more patient parent, a more faithful Christian. But what if the decision to become was really a decision to become friends? You and I might be one friend away from becoming a better spouse, a better parent…or one friend away from being a worse one. So be wise about who you are walking through life with. It’s good to have a lot of friends, but who are your closest friends? And what are their lives like? You show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future.
Published January 23, 2017