We wait for our phones to light up with indication that someone has affirmed us, agreed with us, or made some superficial commitment to us. How many likes did you get? How many friends do you have? How many people follow you? Many are grasping for the trophy of going viral or becoming a Instagram sensation.
But, we are also one of the loneliest generations of all time.
Whereas most generations before us lived in community and had to purpose to find moments of seclusion, we live in seclusion and have to purpose to find moments of community.
My Facebook account says that I have a very large number of friends. If I were invited to each of their birthday celebrations, I’d never have time for anything else.
I don't know about you, but I do not have the ability to sustain true friendship with that many people. Could anyone? An old proverb says, "A man of many companions comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24)
It is time to permit ourselves different kinds of relationships and different levels of connection with people. From my experience, it will set us free to love more openly and yet not be suffocated by expectations.
For a moment now, let me speak bluntly to those of you who are followers of Christ.
It is not for the faint of heart, nor is it for the perfect ones. I do not call myself a Christian because I think I have it all together, but rather because I saw in Jesus Christ a perfection that I knew I could never achieve for myself. What a glorious reality that He would then share this righteousness with me. As children of God, we have been commanded to love one another. We are to love those who do good to us, and also to love those who oppose, malign and attack us. The Bible says that if we claim to love God but hate each other, we are liars.
I do not think it is funny for Christians to talk about how they hate others or want bad for them. I do not find it "refreshingly real" when Christians boast in their criticisms or accusations of others in the name of "honesty". When I speak of "Like, Friend, and Follow" I make the assumption that we have ruled out "hatred" as an option regarding how we allow ourselves to feel about one another. You don't have to be friends with the whole world, but you have to spend your life maturing in your love, letting the Holy Spirit coach you in finding a way to love the whole world.
Here are three key categories of relationships - some overlap, some morph over time, but all are viable options:
There are many people whom I like.
As someone who battles reoccurring episodes of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), let me tell you that people and new settings fascinate me. The threads of personalities, back-stories and yet-to-be-experienced destinies weave a beautiful tapestry that I enjoy learning about. I'm primarily an extrovert (though learning to embrace the introvert in me as well) and I love walking into a room where people are laughing and enjoying conversation. Sometimes I just want to squeeze people (is that weird?) and tell them that I think they are delightful. I want them to have a good week. I want them to succeed in their dreams and aspirations. I think about them randomly when I am washing dishes or I pray for them while I am driving down the road.
I like them and I am friendly towards them. However, I am not necessarily friends with them. A person with too many "friends" will be ruined.
Why? Because friendship is more than just liking each other.
You are allowed to like people and yet not be their friend. It isn't an insult to them, it is just a reality of living in sizable communities. The book of Ephesians in the Bible talks about how a Christian community is like a human body, where different parts are connected to and taking care of different portions. The elbow need not feel guilty that it isn't directly linked to the knee.
There is freedom when we feel released to thrive in the connections we do have, rather than always striving to make the connections we don't have. There are beautiful, funny, intriguing people in this world that I will never be able to be friends with.
I Corinthians 12 again speaks of this body analogy and says, "God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired." He put IN you what He knew would fulfill you and He will connect you WHERE you will best be fulfilled. Not always happy, but increasingly fulfilled as you increasingly trust the Lord.
It is an amazing time to be alive because of the access we have to resources by fellow disciples of Jesus - worship albums, leadership training, Biblical studies, and sermon series at our fingertips. I wonder if the Lord nodded His approval to the advent of such widespread technology because He knew the great strength it would provide His saints during times of great discouragement.
I follow many people. I am inspired by the faith of men and women of God from all over the world and I am routinely corrected and challenged to live a more genuine life as a Christian. I am grateful for their vulnerability before a worldwide community, even though they may never know my name or face. I pray for them that they will be steadfast and complete every assignment unhindered.
I am also determined to follow people whom live nearby or whom I have built relationship with over time. I could not have survived this path without having an older generation in my life. They are people who know me and my giftings and can speak directly into my life. I invite their opinions and do my best to pray for them and honor them for the unique role they fill.
Most accurately I would call them mothers and fathers whom I can lean on, tuck under and follow. They may not perfect, but their experience and insight are priceless to me.
Friends are not just those that we hang out with.
They are not merely those to whom we are friendly or those whom we learn from. I love the story of David and Jonathan in the Bible because I see it as a clear picture of what friendship is really about. The narrative of their friendship is found primarily in 1 Samuel 18. Here we read that they had a heart-level connection.
Jonathan, who would logically have been the next heir to the throne after his father King Saul, recognized the call of God on David's life and willingly stepped aside for his friend's promotion to royalty.
That promotion would not take place for at least another 7 years, and those were years that David spent hiding in surrounding countryside as a refugee! David and Jonathan never once "hung out" again but their friendship was as secure as the day they had committed themselves to it because of their love and intention towards one another.
When David was finally appointed king of Israel, Jonathan had recently been killed in battle. David mourned for him and sent out a search party, looking for any relatives of his deceased friend; he was looking for someone to show kindness to. The love he had for Jonathan would not be destroyed even by death.
Their friendship was in their willingness to sacrifice themselves for one another. We cheapen the word "friend" when we throw it around haphazardly and it doesn't cost us anything. Jesus spoke to this when he said, "Greater love has no one than he lay down his life for his friends."
All relationships of depth take time to develop. Even if you are a naturally trusting person, time will give you a gift that nothing else can. The gift of memories. So be patient and do those little acts of kindness over and over again. People with the heart of a servant are rarely alone for long. And if you want a friend like that, first decide to be a friend like that.
Be available. Be dependable. Be forgiving. Be generous.
Be reasonable in your expectations, because no person can sustain all the weight of a human heart. Not a friend. Not a spouse. Not a leader.
Only the Lord is able to carry that kind of weight and He is the truest friend you will ever find.