The necessity and art of friendship

Last Sunday, we looked at the friendship between Jonathan and David. I want to spend a little more time reflecting on friendship.

Our experience of friendship changes throughout our lives. I remember when one of my boys was about 3 years old, we went to a local park. He was gone for a little while playing on the equipment until he came back and said,

“Can my friend come home with us?”
“Which friend?”
“The boy I’ve been playing with.”
“What’s his name?”
“I don’t know, but he’s my friend”

You see a 3 year old has pretty easy standards for friendship. But it’s different as you get older. It gets harder to make friends and to keep friends. By the time you’re an adult, you have more time constraints, more emotional baggage, and you’re more critical of people. We live in a busy city and we have busy schedules, but all the studies say that we live in an age of increasing loneliness. Social media often helps us to stay somewhat connected, but it doesn’t help to build deep friendship. We’ve lost many of the skills that we need to naturally acquire friendship.

Building spiritual maturity is dependent on having good Christian friends; people who know you well and can speak into your life, who can support you, care for you, and pray with you. The bible speaks frequently on the importance of friendship. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Prov. 27:17).

Building spiritual maturity is dependent on having good Christian friends

There’s a lot that could be said about developing deep friendship, but here are four important “skills” (thanks to Michael who recently shared these).

First, develop an interest in other people, their stories, opinions, hopes, and fears. In order to discover these, you need to ask people some questions and to show that you’re a safe person by giving them something of you.

Second, do some homework so that you have some things to talk about. It’s fine to have eccentric interests, but it’s also important to have things to say about more normal things in life (entertainment, sport, the news).

Third, you need to learn to say “yes” and you need to turn up. Half of forming friendships is being reliably present. You won’t make friends at church if you don’t turn up very often, or if you’re not connected to a smaller group of people. People won’t invite you again if you refuse an invitation to coffee or a meal. They certainly won’t persist if you stand them up.

Fourth, beware of oversharing. At first, friendships are meant to be a joy, not hard work. When trust has been established, then the hard work can begin, as you carry each other’s burdens. This is why some vulnerability is good, but not too much. As C.S. Lewis observes, friendships start when two people are standing shoulder to shoulder looking at the same object (a sport, an interest, a game). It takes a while for the friends to turn to one another and away from the common object.