“To the ancients, friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
If you’ve been journeying with me through this midlife crisis, you’ll know that I have made a series of critical decisions at this crossroads moment – decisions that will hopefully help determine the trajectory of the second half of this life that I’ve been given. Those decision points are:
- Trust – Confront fear with courage.
- Invest – Make intentional time and space for my most important relationships.
- Speak – Find and use my unique voice.
- Love – Become love.
- Risk – Live without regrets.
Investing in my most important relationships, for me, starts with God, Barb and Henry (in that order), and expands beyond that to family. I’m not focusing on those relationships here for two reasons: 1) You’ve heard me yammer on about those before, and 2) Quite frankly, I have some significant work to do there, and I am striving with God to figure out some next steps in bolstering those primary relationships.
Instead, I want to write about friendship this week. A recent article in Relevant magazine, entitled “The Importance of Persistent Friendships” began with that Lewis quote, and it couldn’t be more perfect for one of the areas I’m placing some energy in this season.
Those of us squarely in midlife can find ourselves in a relational Bermuda triangle. Work demands make it difficult to prioritize family. Our mobile society presents challenges when we live away from biological family, sometimes farther than any others in previous generations. For those married couples who have children, schedules sometimes leave us with little more than a taxi rotation – and even less margin for marriage-keeping and quality kid-time, let alone hope for friendship beyond the bleachers or drop-off line. For single parents, the challenge is magnified even more. For married couples with no children (by choice or not), it adds another layer of navigating. For guys, we’re allowed to have drinking buddies, work pals or sports bros, but nothing that ever gets too deep. If, however, we believe the old adage, that, “A friend doubles your joys and divides your sorrows,” we can’t let those barriers get in the way of developing
So, here’s the message I’m wanting to get out. Developing and maintaining grown-up friendship, authentic and deep friendship as adults is hard work. Do it anyway. Invest the time and energy into friendship – because it matters. A 2013 article on friendship in Psychology Today reminded me of an important truth. “Close relationships help us to see ourself as we are and our impact on others. Friendships are invitations to re-examine ourself and to grow.” I am incredibly blessed to have developed a small circle of close friends without whom this journey would simply not be the same. These are women and men with whom I’ve worshiped and worked, coached and shared meals, struggled and celebrated – and simply lived life. I have cried with them (or at least in front of them), and have laughed until my sides hurt with them.
Make no mistake – it’s work. It takes effort. Everyone is busy enough that friendship could easily fall into the category of “Something nice to have when life gets less crazy.” I’ve decided, though, that if I’m going to experience the fullness of life that I believe God wants for me, I’m going to need to invest the time and space to maintain and celebrate those friendships. So, if you look at my calendar, you’ll see chunks of time set aside for lunch with a friend, or coffee or breakfast (relationships and food often go together). If a friend’s child is participating in a sporting event nearby, I’m going to get there. If there is a Friday or Saturday evening not already scheduled, there’s a significant chance it’s going to involve a text conversation with friends about Chinese take-out and cards.
But another investment I’m trying to make in this season, particularly in the time of year where my own crazy calendar often means weeks in between lunch or coffee, is a three-fold discipline of prayer, encouragement, and checking in. Seems easy, but I know it’s meant a great deal to me. I pray for my friends by name, and by circumstance. I’ve tried to make it clear that I want them to tell me specific ways to be praying, in addition to the ongoing seeking of God’s blessing over their lives. Encouragement is a discipline that God is growing in me – partially out of my own experience on the receiving end as I seek to get healthier – and so I’m working to shoot the occasional text or e-mail in response to what I feel is the Spirit’s nudging. I hope that God uses even the drive-by encouragement to remind them that they matter to God and to me. Finally, checking in is just about going beyond the surface a bit to ask, “How are you really doing? What’s the best thing that’s going on, and the hardest thing that’s going on?” This can be as simple as asking, “How is it with your soul?” and then listening deeply for the answer.
I believe that, investing time and space for real and meaningful friendships makes us healthier in other areas of our lives. My friends encourage me to be a better husband and father. They talk me down off the proverbial ledge and remind me that God is still on the scene when things feel out of control. My closest friends celebrate the steps I’m taking to improve my health, and meet me at lunch in places where I’m forced to get a salad (not really). They offer feedback that is honest – reminding me that I’m never as bad as I think I am, nor am I as good as I think I am. In my Facebook memories this morning, I was reminded of a friend’s counsel a few years ago that has become a bedrock prayer of mine – “I am yours, God. That’s all.” We all need people in our lives who can speak that kind of word to us and into us.
So, do the work.
Find the time.
Make the call.
Send the text.
Be the friend.