So I've been thinking a lot lately about why we need friends. Seems elementary, I guess. There are a hundred easy answers. We need friends to have fun with, to help us, and to keep us company. We want people to go to concerts with or hang out at the beach with. We want people to help us in a pinch or give us a hand with a big chore. We want someone to call when we're on a long car ride or need a grown up conversation. Is that it? Fun, help, and companionship? Seems too simplistic.
Is that something we've done? Oversimplify friendship? Maybe we are trying to make something meant to be deeply powerful into something simple so we can control it. We keep people around us, but don't let them get too close. By keeping our distance, we keep our fears and insecurities from being exposed. We settle for surface level friendships because being really vulnerable is terrifying. Here's the thing, though. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind. 1 Timothy 1:7. When we let fear define our friendships - fear of rejection, fear of loneliness, fear of judgment - we limit ourselves. And we limit our friends. When we don't let people in to the complicated parts of us, when we oversimplify our friendships, we lose something important. Something we are meant to do for one another. That's why our friendships can sometimes feel draining instead of fulfilling. We are missing each other. We are not even giving each other a chance to be what we need.
So what are we missing? What's the deep down craving we are trying to satisfy with every girls night, coffee date, phone call, and group text we engage in with our friends? Perhaps there is something Divine at work in us, pushing us to pursue friendship in service of a greater purpose. So what's the purpose? Why should we push fear aside and invite our friends to know us deeply?
As I've tossed these questions around in my head, I've done some reading and some praying around the subject. I actually did a Google search for "why do we need friends". Psychology says we need friendships for health, happiness and longevity. One study shows that good social relations is a necessity for happiness. Another indicates that people with a trusted confidant are less stressed and more optimistic. There is even evidence that our friendships can improve our overall health and actually make us live longer.
In civilization, our desire for friendships is rooted in survival. In early civilization, people needed real help to survive. They had no choice but to form trusting and loyal relationships. It was how they survived individually and as a society. Taking care of your neighbors is taking care of yourself. It is survival.
These two theories make a lot of sense. We want to be happy and healthy and we want to survive. Friends help us live richer, fuller, longer lives. But why? I'm like the child in your backseat that never relents, I know. How do our friends really feed our souls? Why do we long so deeply for belonging, deep connection, and affirmation? And why do we self sabotage by putting up a barrier between ourselves and the people around us? We busy ourselves with a million tasks and challenges, chores and obligations, leaving no time for connection. Why? We want it so badly; so why do we prevent ourselves from having it? As I researched, I was led to a Bible verse that settled into my spirit and brought an understanding of God's intention for our friendships.
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another. Hebrews 10:24-25.
We stir up love and good works in each other. How lovely. I love the words stir up. They indicate that alone, we let our gifts settle and sink, becoming hidden from the world. But our friends stir up the love and good works in us. They dig in and find the good stuff we might not believe in anymore and they don't just bring it to the top. They stir up all the goodness in us, spreading it to every part of us, making it a part of us that can't settle or sink any more, changing us. It makes me think of mixing a cake. All the ingredients in a bowl, but nothing makes sense until you stir it up. When it's stirred, all the ingredients are in every part of the batter. After it's stirred, you can't separate it again. It's changed forever. That's what we do for each other. We feel like we are a random concoction of hopes and dreams and gifts and mistakes and fears and regrets. But every experience, every piece of us, is an ingredient. They work together to make us the beautiful creations God planned. Our friends' job is to stir it all up. Make everything make sense. Mix our gifts with our fears and combine everything mixed into us into something so very sweet. The end product is our love and good works. The knowledge that we are whole, that our dark parts play a role in us, but they can't overpower us. We are bigger than one ingredient; we are greater than our fears, and our gifts can become an essential part of us. It can be scary to let our friends stir us up. If we let them, they see what we're made of. All the pieces of us become exposed. Also, what will happen if we start mixing our fears and our dreams? Allowing everything to blend into something whole? Will we like the end product? It takes a lot of trust. Trust in God that He has, in fact, put everything we need into our make up. And trust in our friends, that they will stir us with love and acceptance into something beautiful. And trust in ourselves, that we can take it. That we can survive. That we can be better. We don't have to hide our fears or our gifts from our friends. They need to see what we're made of to stir us up.
I love taking it a step further too. We can apply this beyond the individual level and make each person an ingredient. Each person, with her light and her darkness, an important and vital ingredient. We are poured into this world separate, alone, hard to understand. But when we figure out how to combine, we each begin to change. When we're stirred up, our purpose becomes clear. Things begin to make sense, and we become something completely different, something whole and inseparable. Every person needed. Every heart vital. Every gift used. All part of the sweetness of the whole.
This is as God intended. Friends are important because together we make a whole. All we have to do is be who we are created to be. Just that. We don't have to be everything to everyone. When we learn how to use our own unique gifts, we contribute to the whole. But when we over exhaust ourselves trying to be more than we are, we can't be what we are intended to be. What a relief! Friends make us enough. We don't have to be everything because they are the rest. Together, we are a whole. I love this quote from Mother Teresa, "What I can do, you cannot. What you can do, I cannot. But together we can do something beautiful for God."
So let's get bold and give each other a little credit. Let's move beyond small talk and get over gossip. Let's push through the fear, and embrace being seen. We can't be stirred up if we don't let our friends see what we're made of. We need friends for a beautifully Divine reason: They stir us into what we are meant to be, and together, with God, we are whole.
More verses on friends and human connection:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17
The body is a unit. Though it is made of many parts; and though the parts are many, they form one body. 1 Corinthians 12:12