A couple of summers ago, Andy and I drove from Atlanta to Ocean City, New Jersey where my family vacations every year. It was a long drive but a good one where we spent significant amounts of time talking and attempting to keep a 6 month old entertained in her car seat (please be impressed that we succeeded).
At some point on the return trip home I got antsy and began to search my phone for those lists of questions to ask your spouse when you’re out on a date. I found a list of good ones pretty readily and asked Andy to answer them as he drove. Often, while he was formulating his response to one question or another I would also be thinking about how I might answer the question myself. It ended up encouraging some great conversation and got us through some long stretches on the way back to Atlanta.
I really don’t remember much of what we talked about. I know there were a lot of questions like: If you could do a career change, what would you do? There’s one question I do remember asking though that I will not soon forget. The question was:
“Why are your closest friends, your closest friends?”
This struck me immediately for two reasons.
- I knew my answer almost as soon as I finished asking the question.
- The answer made me realize I was missing something. And missing it deeply.
I knew just as soon as I asked the question aloud that my closest friends are my closest friends because I have spent the most time with them. As Andy gave his thoughts on the subject of friendship I considered Kristin and Heather and Suzy and Marie and I realized that I had known each of these girls for at least a decade if not since the moment I was born! These four are and continue to be the ones I call when I want someone who gets it or who will get it just as soon as I get the issue out into open air.
In the moment that I named this. Named these friends and what their consistency meant to me I realized, all of a sudden, that I was missing it. Missing them of course, though I keep in touch with each of these four as regularly as one can once you move to a different state. Even more than connection with these specific individuals though I think I realized I was missing the point.
I started to sense in that moment what friendship expert Shasta Nelson revealed on a podcast interview with author Jen Hatmaker just a couple of months ago. She stated on the show that in her research she and other social scientists have come to realize that the way we American’s prioritize our lives has become cause for an epidemic of loneliness. American’s are so focused on achievement that relationships and community have taken a back seat. I can think of dozens of times when I’ve ignored an opportunity for connection in the name of my to-do list. It took a road trip 10 hours south of my hometown to realize that perhaps in some bigger realm I’ve been missing the point.
I’m hesitant here as I continue to write. It would be all too easy for me to say here “pack up your stuff, find where the majority of your best friends and closest family members are and go live out the rest of your lives in communal bliss.” Despite the fact that every ounce of me wants to write this, I think that’s just swinging the pendulum in a completely different direction. We’ve all read about cultures or met people who made family or relationships the ultimate purpose of their lives. It can be disastrous as people cut each others heads off in the name of an illusive familial bliss. People are just as messy as the work we put our hands to.
So what do we do?
Here’s a few thoughts that are grounding me these days:
- Seek first the kingdom of God.
In Matthew 6 Jesus says, essentially: “I know you need the fruit of your labors (clothing, food, shelter). Any good father knows this about his kids. So bank on the fact that you’re my kid. Trust me and then do this: seek first the kingdom of God.” I’ve dabbled a bit in books on Kingdom theology, and let me tell you…it.is.a.cluster. I haven’t quite wrapped my mind completely around what Jesus (or what all the interpretation of Jesus) is trying to say. I believe that’s because the kingdom of God is mysterious. Like the nature of love, it’s too wonderful to be defined. I do sense a certain theme though that repeats itself throughout the scriptures and in the winsome people in my life. That theme looks a lot like the powerful and rich being brought low so they can see the poor and oppressed brought up and out of the valleys.
Think of Moses brought out of an Egyptian Palace descending to the bottom of the pyramids to lead the Hebrews out of slavery. Think of David brought up and out of a sheep’s pen to slay a giant. Think of Jesus, a King, born low as a baby, descending from high on his throne and ascending to a cross. Dying…and then waking back up. The mountains are made low and the valleys are raised up in the kingdom of God.
Before any of us read this and simplistically say “OK, I’ll pull out my wallet and write a check to XYZ Charity,” we may just be missing the point here too. Hear Jesus say in other gospel pages “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is not giving an economic argument when he talks about the kingdom, though it certainly doesn’t exclude the economy. He’s saying blessed are the people who sense when they are brought low. Blessed therefore am I when I realize in my spirit that I am poor in friendship. Blessed am I because I get to run to the King and ask him to show me out of his riches what friendship looks like in my current poverty.
2. Listen to God-given wisdom in any God-given season.
There’s a moment in that friendship podcast when Nelson says there are often two voices in her head competing for air time. The voice of her ego and the voice of wisdom. I loved this. Ego being: a person’s sense of self esteem or self importance.
In America in 2017, listening to my ego would look a lot like ignoring the still small voice that says again and again these days: “Relationships are important. Stick with this theme right now. Even when you’re tempted to work on your day off. Even as your introvert identity clamors for attention. Even when you want to run and hide.” Solomon, who asked for nothing more from God than wisdom, says it best when he says:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven
Solomon knew what most Americans do not. There is a season for putting our all into our achievements. Undoubtedly. Solomon also knew that when the work was done it was time to call up his friends, set a fire in the fire pit and tell some stories in the cool autumn breeze. America has enjoyed great prosperity after much hard labor. We just haven’t figured out how to share it with those we love.
I’ve asked God to show me practically what friendship in 2017 America looks like. Here’s what he’s said so far:
Connect locally. Connect on the phone. Connect in person. Connect by taking the trip. Connect by invitations to visit. Connect by being vulnerable. Connect by holding his hand. Connect by giving the gift. Connect by turning off the TV. Connect by taking the job. Connect by letting the next job go. Connect at the dinner table. Connect by reading the bible together. Connect by reading Moby Dick together. Connect by praying. Connect by getting on the floor with her and the blocks. Connect. Connect. Connect. Connect.
Does this post resonate with you? If so, would you share it either on your social media page or with friends who might be encouraged by it? I cannot tell you how often in the last 18 months I’ve heard in some way or another that people are lonely. Some doctors have named it the health crisis of our time. Seriously. One doctor said if faced with a patient who was morbidly obese and lonely he’d prescribe friendships as his first line of defense! I am convinced we have the tools at our disposal to be a great nation full of inspiring communities. We’re just letting our egos run the show right now. Here’s hoping we can get quiet enough to listen to the river of wisdom running below the surface. If we rise above the clamor I’m certain we can hear it roar.
Much love, Courtney.