• 15068530_s“My cancer has come back.”
  • “I don’t think I can save my marriage.”
  • “My child is gay.”
  • “I have lost my job.”

Life can be very hard. “…no matter how hard we try to bring order and peace into our lives, there are moments when everything seems to be falling apart and times when we not only feel we are drowning but are sure someone or something is holding us under” (Paul J. Wadell, Becoming Friends, 112-113). Already we are seeing increasing incidences of depression, suicide and domestic violence as the global economy continues to tank. A closer look at the stats however, suggests that it is not the blows of life that finally get us. It’s having to face them alone.

A recent study led by Temple University sociology professor Matt Wray found Las Vegas residents are much more likely to commit suicide than people living elsewhere in the country. Among the reasons speculated by Wray and his colleagues in the November online version of the journal Social Science and Medicine: gambler’s despair, of course. But short-term economic woe is probably not the only mechanism at work in Sin City.

“Las Vegas is also one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the U.S., a pattern of growth that may amplify social isolation, fragmentation and low social cohesion, all of which have long been identified as correlates of suicide,” Wray said. (Robert Roy Britt, LiveScience.com, Mon Feb 2, 2009)

A long time ago the wise old teacher in Ecclesiastes had already pointed out both the danger of isolation, and the wisdom of friends.

I observed yet another example of something meaningless under the sun. This is the case of a man who is all alone, without a child or a brother, yet who works hard to gain as much wealth as he can. But then he asks himself, “Who am I working for? Why am I giving up so much pleasure now?” It is all so meaningless and depressing. Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 NLT)

My fear is that the pace and the structure of modern society leave many of us bereft of even one true friend much less two.

Unfortunately the church community can be as lonely as the world. There is a prevalent triumphalism that teaches, or at least implies, that if you are walking right with God, you should have no problems, and that if you do have difficulties, you should be able to overcome them easily. Such an attitude leads to much superficiality in church-based relationships where people hardly know each other much less share their deepest struggles.

We note that Jesus, truly God and truly man, and our model of what it means to be truly human, did not shy away from sharing His deepest struggles and His need for community.

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matthew 26:36-38 NLT)

We need our friends in good times, to share our joys, and we surely need our friends in tough times, to help give us the courage to carry on.

Paul J. Wadell cites Aelred on this aspect of friendship.

A second reason Aelred says we need good friendship is that life is often hard for us, more than any of us can handle alone … None of us can navigate the perils of life alone, and we shouldn’t try to do so. Sometimes we need to be rescued. Sometimes we need others to lean on, someone to take our hand and guide us along when our luck runs out, and this is what friends do for us. At moments of chaos and confusion, suffering and loss in our lives, they do not want us to be alone. They want to be with us and help us though our tribulations. (Becoming Friends, 112-113)

I say a loud “amen” to Aelred and Wadell. As I look back on my life, I note the times of deep brokenness and despair. For each of those moments I can name the names of the friends who were there for me. Without them I would have been lost a long time ago. I cannot thank them enough. I can try to pass it forward. I can try to walk with my friends in their times of “chaos and confusion, suffering and loss…”

Do you have life-giving friends in your life? The thing is, you can’t treat friends like a fire extinguisher, “breaking the glass” to get to them only in times of crisis, when we need them. We value our friends for whom they are and not for what we can get out of them. Therefore in good times or bad we need to make time for our friends. We need to meet up with them regularly to share our lives. In good times we may fool ourselves into thinking that we can go it alone. One of the redeeming features of tough times is that it reminds us that none of us can go it alone. We need God. And we need our friends.