A time of rapid and many changes brings many opportunities and many dangers. Scott and Gratton write:
As we live longer lives with more transitions we now have an opportunity to rethink how we form and sustain relationships. The adaptability and flexibility of a multistage life creates many opportunities for us to grow and evolve. But unless we simultaneously deepen and invest in our relationships then, faced with more transitions, there is a real danger of our life fragmenting. We could become adrift from our sense of self and identity. (1)
In other words, we could work hard at adapting and indeed succeeding in a time of constant change only to discover that we have forgotten who we are and the purpose of our lives. Scott and Gratton point out that deep relationships like family and close friends play a central role in keeping us rooted and are therefore key for our “happiness and life satisfaction”. (2)
We don’t really need another reminder of the importance of having deep friendships; friendships with people who know us and whom we know. Andy Crouch writes:
While we must always insist that every human being is a person whether or not they are seen or treated as one by others, we also know that no human being can flourish as a person unless they are seen and treated as one. (3)
It has never been good for mankind to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In the rapidly changing world we live in we need deep friendships more than ever. So what’s stopping us? In his book The Power of Place, Daniel Grothe suggests there are three things that work against our commitment to form friendships. (4) I am sure there are more than three but his three provide a good place to start.
First, he says, is “our blatant individualism”. There are many who believe that to reach a stage in life when you do not need others is to have arrived. And for most of us, since much of our lives are now lived online, we spend much of our time looking at screens of various sizes, but we are essentially alone. I know that social media allows for some degree of connecting but the number of young people who are online yet who complain about loneliness should be a warning signal of the damage of loneliness and the limits of connecting virtually.
Next enemy of friendship, Grothe says, is “our dizzying busyness”. “We want to have deep friendships, but we don’t have time for friends.” (5) The many machines and apps that are supposed to help us save time seem to have made us busier. The lesson that productivity is more important than friendship is learnt young. Parents fill their children’s lives with tuition classes, ballet, football, piano, etc. Rarely do we hear of parents who guide their children to have quality time with friends and who help their children do so by asking their friends over.
The third blockage to friendship is “our pathological avoidance of conflict”. (6) This third enemy of friendship was new to me and sounded spot on. This friendship blocker may not have appeared on a list drawn up 50 years ago or even 30 years ago. But it needs to be mentioned today. We live in a very divided world with a lot of angry people. There is no middle ground. From politics to theological positions, people stand on two sides of a divide, angry at those on the other side. Some thrive on conflict and many internet articles stoke anger and an “us vs them” understanding of all sorts of issues. Many others are tired and frightened of conflict and would rather not risk the intimacy and honesty needed for deep friendships for fear that this might lead to conflict.
So here we have it. We need friendship more than ever. But we face serious threats to a life of friendship. What can we do? First, I think is to really believe that we need deep friendships, as much as we need food and water. Once we realise that, we can then repent of any illusion that we can live lives where we don’t need others. We were created for lives of interdependence. We need others and others need us.
Next, no matter how busy we are, we will schedule time for friends as we schedule time for food and sleep.
Third, we need to learn (and it is something that has to be learnt) how we can love people even when we disagree with them. There will be times when we will quarrel with our friends. That is the price we pay for drawing close. But friendship should be so important that we are willing to run the risk. And when we hurt each other, we learn how to say sorry, how to forgive, and how to rebuild the relationship. A lot of work, yes, but a necessary price to pay to walk in depth with people.
The alternative is a friendless existence where we are fragmented and adrift in life. Friendship is worth fighting for.
(1) Andrew J. Scott & Lynda Gratton, The New Long Life [London, UK: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021], 107.
(2) Scott & Gratton, 107.
(3) Andy Crouch, The Life We’re Looking For [New York, NY: Convergent Books, 2022], 154.
(4) Daniel Grothe, The Power of Place [Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2022], 172–173.
(5) Grothe, 173.
(6) Grothe, 173.