You may have noticed that books tend to arrive in bunches. Once publishers identify that readers are interested in a particular theme, several will often commission authors to write on the subject. Over the past couple of years we’ve seen quite a number of books on friendship. Most of them address friendship in a digital world and say, rightly, that it has fallen on hard times as so many people focus less on real-world relationships and more on online relationships. Social media has increased the quantity of our friendships, but perhaps also eroded their quality. We are a long way from the days when a person would count herself blessed if she could name one or two close friends among her acquaintances.
Many of these books call us away from our innate selfishness, and rightly so. Many of us want to have friendships for reasons of personal satisfaction and fulfillment. We want to be wanted, we want to be loved, we want to have the benefits that come with intimate friendships. In this way, friendships can actually reflect a form of selfishness. But as Christians, those called to love our neighbors as ourselves and those who have seen this modeled perfectly in the One who was rightly called the “friend of sinners,” we want to have friendships for reasons of offering a blessing to others. We ought to pursue friendships not just for what we can gain from the relationship, but for what we can give. If friendships prove that we need, they also prove that we are needed; if they prove we are loved, they also prove that we love.
This is common territory and you can read about this in any number of books. But as I’ve journeyed through life, I’ve come to see yet another reason to pursue friendships. This is also out of love for others, but this time a different set of others. I have learned that I should pursue friendships out of love for my family. I am a better husband to my wife and a better father to my children when I have meaningful friendships with others.
Why is this? There are several reasons I’m sure. Foremost among them, is that I have someone I can turn to when I need help with issues related to my family. There are inevitably issues that arise in a family setting and, when they come up, none of us is a disinterested party. If Aileen and I are seeing an issue in very different ways, almost invariably we will each be seeing it through a self-interested perspective. Often the best way to gain objectivity is to appeal to a friend for an outside perspective. It may be that each of us appeals to a personal friend or that together we appeal to a mutual friend. But either way, a close friend is able to listen, to evaluate, and to offer guidance. Some of the best counsel I’ve gotten from friends is of the “you need to stop being a jerk” variety. Friends have helped me better love those I love most.
Then there is the challenge of growing in godliness and Christian character. Through friendships, I get to have a close view of another person’s growth in godliness. Yes, a brother is born for adversity (Proverbs 17:17) but he is also born for the good times. As my friend grows in godliness, as he puts sin to death and comes alive to righteousness, he inevitably challenges me to do the same. He provides a model of Christian living that I can imitate. If a mentor calls upon a younger believer to say, like Paul, “become an imitator of me,” friends say mutually, “let’s imitate one another.” And who benefits most from my growth in godliness? It’s my family, of course.
And then there is the joy of having friendships that spill over to the rest of my family. Aileen knows that I have friends to whom I can turn, and to whom I do turn, when going through difficulty. It is a blessing and comfort to her to know that I have godly men with whom I can discuss issues or face challenges that pertain specifically to men. She knows I have the kind of friends who would alert her if there was something she needed to know, the kind of friends she could turn to and say, “Is everything okay with Tim?” Their love for me extends to love for her. Meanwhile, in my friends, my children have trusted adults whose love for me extends naturally to love for them. They know dad has friends they can turn to if and when they have struggles of their own or if they need a perspective beyond mom’s or dad’s. It’s a joy for me to know that they love and trust my friends and seek their counsel alongside my own.
There are many good reasons to make friends and to pursue meaningful, close friendships. As time has gone by, as I’ve aged, as my children have grown, I’ve seen this as being among the most important and the most precious. I can love my family better by loving, and being loved by, a friend.