I find it hard to maintain friends.
Bear with me as I explain. I have friends from many different circles. Church, school, university, Bible studies, mission events, work and friends of friends. A few of these I know deeply, many I know well, and there are even more I would love to know better.
But it’s so hard.
You see, it is true that friendships are born of “much agreement, much disputation, and yet more personal liking” (in the words of George Elliot) – but they are also born of ‘shared time’.
Since moving over an hour away from almost all of my friends, I have discovered it is extremely hard to maintain a relationship when you never see a person face-to-face.
Don’t get me wrong – there are many, many ways to keep in contact. In one way this century makes it easier than ever before to have long-distance friendships. Facebook, email, text-messaging, Whatsapp… I could go on and on. I could also talk to my friends all day if I wanted via the radiofrequencies that zip invisibly across our skies.
And yet, on the other hand, this century makes it harder than ever before to keep in contact with friends. We are surrounded by distractions, by information competing for our attention. We can meet more people than ever before – and we can stay in contact with them too – thanks to the internet, we have the power!
So why is it so hard?
I think there’s a few reasons:
We have more friends, and so we have less time for each of them.
Distance, time zone, vocation is no boundary. Our social circles are limitless, and yet we are not.
We have more distractions, and less time for thought.
There are always going to be more exciting, more pressing, more immediate forms of entertainment at our fingertips than taking the time to answer deeply and converse well over social media and email.
We don’t need friends to get through the every-day.
There are people and services for hire at our fingertips. We can ‘feel’ social by looking through Facebook or Instagram. Gone are the days when we needed friends to help us cut down our trees, cover our backs during battle, or make mundane tasks bearable.
We have less time to simply ‘be’.
Friendships are born through shared experiences. Through solid chunks of time. And yet… where is that time? I live far away from my friends, so by the time one of us has made the trek, we have very little time to simply hang out, and are less likely to do so at someone’s home. At one time, people lived and died in a single town, and their friends did so alongside them.
So… what do we do?
Firstly, I’m not advocating a return to the “good old days” – because those days were just as difficult as our own, the problems were just different.
Secondly, I’m still figuring out myself how to be friends in this day and ages. Sometimes I get it right, and other times I get it very wrong. Here are a few things I’ve been thinking over:
Friendship is difficult – let’s just pause and acknowledge that.
- We can’t be ‘equal’ friends with everyone. We simply don’t have the time.
- I don’t think we should feel guilty about ‘prioritising’ some friendships over others. We have to. We can’t keep in contact with everyone. At the same time, it’s important that we understand what our priorities are – why are we more inclined to keep in contact with some people? Which relationships is God calling us to invest in?
- Let’s not underestimate the power of a decent email or letter. Regular correspondence, which shares our own lives and thoughts, and listens to others’, is a powerful way to maintain friendships and love people. It takes time, it might not come easily to us – but I definitely think it’s worthwhile. It can save a friendship.
- At the same time, let’s not underestimate physically coming to see someone. It takes energy and effort and money – but it is a blessing and the highest compliment you can pay someone. It says “because I love you I took time out of my busy schedule, and bundled up my energy, and payed for petrol, and fought peak hour traffic, just to see your face”.
- And last but not least, pray. Pray for your friends and pray for love and wisdom and humility to maintain friendships. Pray that you will make the right decisions, that you will know when to selflessly sacrifice time and energy, and when to let someone do that for you. Pray for perseverance when people don’t respond to your texts, and a servant-heart to lovingly craft a thoughtful letter.
How can we ever hope to be a good friend, if we don’t look to our Good Friend?