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2009 April 22
by Mike

Check out this piece on friendship in the NY Times. Here’s a taste:

In the quest for better health, many people turn to doctors, self-help books or herbal supplements. But they overlook a powerful weapon that could help them fight illness and depression, speed recovery, slow aging and prolong life: their friends.

Researchers are only now starting to pay attention to the importance of friendship and social networks in overall health. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with a large circle of friends were 22 percent less likely to die during the study period than those with fewer friends. A large 2007 study showed an increase of nearly 60 percent in the risk for obesity among people whose friends gained weight. And last year, Harvard researchers reported that strong social ties could promote brain health as we age.

“In general, the role of friendship in our lives isn’t terribly well appreciated,” said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. “There is just scads of stuff on families and marriage, but very little on friendship. It baffles me. Friendship has a bigger impact on our psychological well-being than family relationships.”

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Here’s a piece on friendship I wrote for the Christian Standard a few years ago:

My wife will tell you I’m “relationally challenged” when it comes to expressing my feelings. But a while back, I decided to tell a friend of mine what I was feeling. He and I have been through so much together over the past decade. We’ve prayed together, laughed together, hiked together, shared good books together. He’s more into Shakespeare; I’m more into Grisham. He likes to watch movies with subtitles; I like movies with Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford. But, remarkably, we’ve tended to find much common ground and to teach each other to appreciate something different.

But not long ago my buddy moved. I encouraged him to. It seemed clear to me that God was calling him to a new job.

This particular night, however, I was feeling his absence. So I summoned up all my “I-can-too-describe-my-feelings” courage and dropped him a four-sentence e-mail. I just told him that I missed him and that I felt unprotected without him. Then I thanked him for the thousands of times he’d guarded my heart and soul.

That night, he responded. He said, “I thought of how you had introduced me to Larry Crabb and his idea of the church being a place of true safety, ‘the safest place on earth.’” Then he reminded me of a story we’d discussed before: of the Nazi survivor who had a test for friendship he learned during World War II.

He and his family knew they would need protection when the Nazis came, so they would speculate about their Gentile friends. They wondered, Which ones would protect us? Who would hide us? Years later this man used this question as his litmus test of a true friend: Who would hide me?

Then my friend wrote, “Of course, you and I have settled this once and for all, haven’t we? We have seen each other at our greatest points of peril and vulnerability. I know you would hide me, and that is a comfort beyond words.”

Community Means Connecting
What I’m describing here is a taste of community—a word that gets worked pretty hard today (AOL community, gay community, green community, yoga community, Muslim community), probably because of the absence of the real thing.

True biblical community grows out of our convictions that God—Father, Son, Holy Spirit—lives in perpetual communion and that he created us to be in communion with him and with one another. It means we connect at the deep levels of life with one another—praying for one another, confessing to one another, encouraging one another, guiding one another, protecting one another.

For this to happen, we have to believe something about the church that many no longer believe. Larry Crabb, a well-known Christian psychologist, has helped lead a revolution by writing about the healing power of God’s people.

To imagine the seismic shift he has in mind, picture an automobile accident in your city. Emergency vehicles whiz to the scene and rush the victims to the Emergency Room, where the real healers, the physicans, can take over.

Unfortunately, in this therapeutic culture we have come to believe that the real healers are counselors and ministers. About all ordinary Christians can do when people they know have wrecked lives is try to rush people to the experts.

In his books Connecting and The Safest Place on Earth, Crabb urged Christians to move away from this unbiblical way of thinking. It would be better to see ministers and counselors as the trained emergency workers who seek to get people to the real healers–their friends, their small group, their elders, mature Christians—who will enter through the power of the Holy Spirit into their lives. . . .

Community Is Possible
My mind races back to our own spiritual friendships, including our little covenant group. When Diane and I could hardly breathe after our daughter, Megan, died, this group intubated us and breathed for us. They listened, they wept, they held, they prayed, and they spoke words of grief and hope. When our sorrow at times alienated the two of us from one another, they bound us back together. The healing balm was Christ.

The big question, of course, is, “Where do I get friends like that?” They don’t sell them at Starbucks. They don’t seem to be available on eBay.

Undoubtedly, the place to begin is in solitude and prayer. We are ready to engage in deep community with others only after we have found our deepest rest in God alone. Otherwise, we’ll try to get people to fill places that only God can fill. Ask God to send you a friend or two with whom you can be spiritually connected. (And while you’re at it, get rid of some of your preconceived ideas of what that person might look like!)

Second, take some relationship risks. You can’t hibernate waiting for spiritual connectedness to break out around you. Take a chance by entrusting someone with something that isn’t huge. Did the person seem wise? Were they confidential? Did they point you to Christ?

Third, show some restraint. Haven’t we all been scared off by someone who took the phrase “whither thou goest I will go” just a bit too literally? We wanted to run! So will others. Ease into these relationships, letting God’s Spirit use time and experience to bind you together.

And fourth, consider starting a covenant group of people who are anxious to experience community on their Christian pilgrimage. You might begin by reading together one of Crabb’s books or perhaps Randy Frazee’s The Connecting Church—maybe even Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s timeless Life Together. Read them, along with the rich biblical passages about community, and ask, What can our relationship to one another mean? How can we enter deeply into one another’s lives with the gospel? How can we be present for one another without becoming insular and self-serving?

Never before has a civilization been so digitally connected or so personally disconnected. Cell phones, answering machines, beepers, faxes, e-mail, and BlackBerrys–yes, we can hardly get away from one another. So electronically connected, yet so lonely.

I think Crabb is right:

The future of the church depends on whether it develops true community. We can get by for a while on size, skilled communication, and programs to meet every need, but unless we sense that we belong to each other, with masks off, the vibrant church of today will become the powerless church of tomorrow.

9 Responses leave one →
  1. April 22, 2009

    Great post on friendship. So true. You are a rich man in those things that matter.

  2. April 22, 2009

    Thanks Mike. It was a wonderful post on the right day.

  3. April 22, 2009

    After being apart of the A&M church of Christ for 28 years and moving to Abilene recently your thoughts were confirming about how friendships are developed. You also reminded me how much i love to read Larry Crabb’s thoughts. Thanks, your light shines bright for the name of our Father, I’m encouraged!

  4. Kathy permalink
    April 22, 2009

    It seems science is always tagging along behind us ‘discovering’ things we’ve always known, doesn’t it. Kinda nice to have them confirmed by the scientifically educated. 😉

    Thank the LORD for friendship’s love! My family, all of it, lives not only hundreds of miles from Abilene, but some even thousands. Friendships are one of God’s greatest gifts and in my circumstances, life saving; and certainly not the least of them is yours, my dear pastor/teacher/preacher/friend.

  5. April 22, 2009

    Cathie, say “hi” to that long-haired scrounge Daniel for me. I heard y’all had left A&M and was stunned. You oughta be in good hands at Highland, tho.

    formerly long-haired, maggot-infested qb

  6. kathy s permalink
    April 23, 2009

    Have you noticed that God provides just the right friend(s) at just the right time? Even with the most loving and giving family of anyone I know, my friendships have sustained me in ways that are indescribable. And there are people whom God has knit so stongly into my life that friendship and family are intertwined.

  7. April 23, 2009

    Wow, Mike. Thank you so much for sharing your words on community and friendship — they are very timely in my walk with God. I don’t want to give up on finding a community of believers with whom I can walk so closely through pain and joy — this is something that I really feel like God is stirring in me. I had such a community in my teammates in Togo, and I want to believe that something here is just as possible. I could not agree with you more about the topic of counseling/healing, etc. I have been seeing a Christian counselor most of this year, and I have been amazed at the healing that God has done in me with this counselor as His vessel. But at the same time, it has made me sad that we’ve had to create this profession to fill in for what the church should be all about — everything that you have described here. I hope you don’t mind if I link to this post. Thank you.

  8. Amy Boone permalink
    April 24, 2009

    I like this.

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  1. Larry Crabb quote at For the Joy of the Journey

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