In his study on friendship, Robin Dunbar discovered that there was a direct correlation between the strength of a friendship and the amount of time the friends spend with each other. He writes:
How emotionally close we feel to someone is directly related to how much time we invest in them — friendships draw heavily on time . . . Friendship does not come cheap. (Robin Dunbar, Friends [London, UK: Little, Brown, 2021], 154.)
We have seen that friendships are built on shared meals and shared stories. Both require time. This is a challenge for those of us who live the frenzied, busy lives typical in most urban centres. But there is no escaping the fact that if we are serious about forging a friendship, we must invest time in our friend.
The decision to invest time in something is tied to the degree that something is important to us. We will invest time in friendship when we realise how much we value it. Citing the work of Aelred, Paul J. Wadell writes:
. . . friendship is basic to our nature, a fundamental need at the heart of what it means to be human. This need is not something we have to create or cultivate; rather, it is something we cannot escape. We have a natural desire for friendships because it is our nature to need others and to live in relationship with them. A desire for friendship is one of our most basic and enduring inclinations, as inescapable as our need for food, drink, clothing, and shelter. (Paul J. Wadell, Becoming Friends [Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2002], 111.)
We quickly feel the discomfort of hunger or thirst, but we may live with loneliness for a while yet not take any action to alleviate it. This is not good. Genesis 2:18 is the first negative we find in the Bible. It is not good for us to be alone. We must make time for friends even as we make time to eat and drink. Such times do not come cheap, as Dunbar reminds us. It will cost us our most valuable resource — time.
Robert Waldinger reminds us that “attention-time — is the most valuable thing we possess” (Robert Waldinger & Marc Schulz, The Good Life [London, UK: Rider, 2023], 119). If I care for a friend and our friendship, I will give him or her the most precious resource I have, my time/attention. Waldinger clarifies that time and attention are related because attention “is about how we spend time, and specifically, about what our mind is doing at any given moment” (The Good Life, 121). To give someone my time is to pay attention to him or her; a context to share our life stories.
When we give time for friendship, sit down with our friend, and have a vulnerable conversation, something powerful happens.
When someone listens to us with real concentration and expresses sincere care for our struggles and our pains, we feel that something very deep is happening to us. Slowly, fears melt away, tensions dissolve, anxieties retreat, and we discover that we carry within us something we can trust and offer as a gift to others. (Donald P. McNeil et al, Compassion [New York, NY: Image, 1983], 81.)
Clearly, we can’t give the same level of attention to many. At every point in our lives, we need to make choices. Who are the ones we will invest time in more intentionally at this chapter in our lives? Even Jesus had to make choices. Out of the many people He connected with He spent most time with His 12 disciples. And of the 12 He chose to spend more time with three, Peter, James, and John. The choice to invest time to build a friendship comes with the need for wisdom as to who will be our “3” and who will be our “12”.
So how do we invest time with friends? Some meet up with their friend once a week over lunch to share life as they share food. At Graceworks, we suggest a 3-2-1 framework: three friends meeting for two hours once a month over a meal. Justin Whitmel Earley proposes another rule: spending one hour a week in conversation with a friend.
The weekly habit of an hour of conversation is meant to cultivate this kind of life, where you know and are known by those closest to you. (Justin Whitmel Earley, The Common Rule [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019], 96.)
No matter how we choose to spend time with our friends, it will be reflected in our planners and our lives . . . if we are serious. We build friendships by sharing meals, by sharing our stories, and by investing time in each other.