A month from now, my best friend of over a decade will move several thousand miles away from me. I’m not thrilled about it, but he is pursuing his dream. As someone who has been there from the beginning, I think it would be selfish to try to keep him close for my own convenience. I’m happy for the guy. He’s got an unparalleled work ethic, and in my opinion, there’s no one more deserving of the opportunity he’s taking. But when I put all the niceties aside, I realize there will be a huge chasm in my life where this friend has existed for the past thirteen years. And so I have decided to take up woodworking.
Why woodworking? Well, I figure in the world we live in, I would be better suited to taking up a new hobby than endeavoring to make a new best friend. They just don’t make them like they used to.
I’ve heard it said that friendship is the ultimate form any relationship can take. It’s what that chance encounter with a stranger or an acquaintance wants to grow up to be. Friendship is the feeling you get when you and another person understand each other on a profound level. You know that moment at a party when one person brings up the show All That and then you start quoting the Good Burger skit to each other? Multiply that moment by one hundred, and you’ve got yourself a friendship. It is comprised of shared experiences, shared values, grace, vulnerability, and most importantly (at least in my experience), sacrifice. Friendship is a commitment, and it is not to be taken lightly. And in some way, I think we all understand that to be true. That’s why we suck at it.
Does that seem harsh? Well, it should. To be fair, I don’t think it has ever been as easy as it is now to be a terrible friend. And I really blame one thing for it: Netflix. I can binge-watch whatever I want and forget the world outside the Upside Down exists for hours. Why would I leave my couch or bed when there are seemingly limitless entertainment options at the click of a remote? Human interaction is vastly overrated.
That is ridiculous of course. A person can’t just disconnect from the world. Right? There are consequences for that. If you sit on the couch for too long, your muscles will atrophy and your pants will get tighter. You might even start to view the world through the lens of the shows you have been watching. We all know that eventually, we have to get up and go outside and maybe even exercise. And that brings me to another thought…
Friendship is a lot like exercise. At first, it’s hard to get off your couch. However, once you get there, you’re usually glad you went. The more you do it, the more benefits you see. Exercise and friendship both require that you show up consistently. And that—that’s the real kicker. Showing up is a challenge in and of itself. It’s one thing to get up and go to the gym once a week; it’s another thing to do it four times a week. I think that’s what most people have a hard time with in friendship. In order for our relationships to grow, we have to continue to deny ourselves the option to do what comes naturally, and choose to show up. When I came to this realization, it started to mean a lot more to me when people would show up to do things with me. I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, this person made a sacrifice for me. They thought I was worth leaving the couch for.” Subsequently, my relationships with those people grew just like a person’s biceps or endurance will if they continue to go to the gym (this metaphor just works).
But isn’t there a risk with this friendship thing?
Well, yeah. People can be real jerks. Plus, we all carry around a whole bunch of baggage, and sometimes the people we care about most end up being our personal bellboys. Josh Ritter, in the song Kathleen, says, “every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied…” Lyrical genius, am I right? This is a part of the human condition. We hurt each other sometimes. And regardless of how tough some people seem, ultimately, they are probably scared that vulnerability with another person will lead to pain. So why risk it?
Well, it occurs to me that the risk is mitigated by understanding. When two people are engaged in close relationship with one another, they are more likely to cut each other some slack. In some circles, this slack may even be referred to as grace. Regardless of what you call it, the result is the same–people feel as though they won’t be condemned or ostracized for an inadvertent error. Who couldn’t use more of this? In a world that seems bent on jumping to conclusions and demonizing a person based on a limited supply of information, friendship says, “I’m gonna stick it out with you on your worst day.” That is incredible.
The final barrier to friendship is a really big one: being a good friend requires an understanding that the relationship doesn’t exist to only serve you. Friendships aren’t built on transactional behaviors. They aren’t a series of quid pro quo decisions. Some of you may disagree with me, and I’ll probably get some pushback. However, when you think about it, the best relationships are the ones where both parties put the needs of the other person first. That’s why marriage vows seem so intense—two people are looking each other in the eyes and formally promising to sacrifice of themselves for the benefit of the other. And while I’m not saying you should marry all your friends, I am saying that there are facets of a healthy marriage that are equally as important in a healthy friendship. For instance, sacrifice for the benefit of the well-being of the other is huge.
If any of what I have said here is true, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise that most of us are not good at friendship. It requires intentionality, consistency, vulnerability, sacrifice, and the constant pursuit of the well-being of another person (which sounds a lot like love to me). These things are counter-intuitive and counter-cultural. But I think it may just be worth it to try, because there is no replacement for a real friend. Not even woodworking.
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on friendship from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.