I’m sure most of you here will have seen at least one episode of the 90’s hit TV show Friends. For those of you who haven’t, it’s about a group of six friends who basically do everything together—four out of the six live together, they are constantly in and out of each other’s apartments, they tell each other everything, eat together, hang out together, go to sporting events together, support one another through life’s ups and downs, know each other’s parents, go on holiday together, etc.
The theme tune was called I’ll Be There For You. And they were. This TV show was very popular and it is still shown on some cable channels today.
A Friendless Culture
Why was it so popular? Well, David Schwimmer, one of the actors, has said: “It’s a fantasy for a lot of people—having a group of friends who become like family.” This idea of it being a fantasy is backed up by a recent survey done by Relate. They found that almost 7 million UK adults—more than 1 in 8 (13%) of us report having no close friends. This has increased from 1 in 10 when the same question was asked in 2014 and 2015. When they broke it down into regions, 14% of people in Scotland said they didn’t have any close friends.
Almost half (45%) of adults said that they feel lonely at least some of the time and 18% said they feel lonely often or all of the time. Relate’s chief executive Chris Sherwood said:
It’s often said that we should be able to count our true friends on one hand, but it’s very concerning that so many people feel they don’t have a single friend they can rely on. Making friends and keeping them isn’t always easy: it can take time and effort that we don’t always have to spare. Life can take over as we juggle careers with family life, and it might seem as if our social media friend count is high but what is the quality of those friendships really like? Social relationships are essential to our health and wellbeing. We mustn’t take them for granted. People need support to be able to nurture personal friendships and feel part of a community.Loneliness Rising
People with no close friends are two-and-a-half times more likely to say they feel down, depressed, or hopeless either often or all of the time as those with four or more close friends. And people who reported their friendships to be ‘very good’ are more than twice as likely to feel good about themselves often or all of the time as people who said their relationships were ‘average’.
Contrary to many people’s perceptions, younger people were more likely to report feeling lonely than older people. Almost 65% of 16-to-24 year olds said they feel lonely at least some of the time, and almost 32% feel lonely often or all the time. Among people aged 65 or over, however, 32% said they feel lonely at least sometimes, and 11% feel lonely often or all the time.
Made for Relationship
So, what do these statistics tell us? Well, the most obvious thing is that friendships are helpful for us on lots of different levels. As Christians, this shouldn’t be a surprise to us because we know that we were created by a relational God. He is in constant relationship within the Trinity and He has made humans to mirror that.
If we look back at the creation account, we can see that Adam and Eve enjoyed a perfect relationship with God. They had a perfect relationship with each other and with their Creator. We know that the Lord walked in the garden with them too. This is how God intended our relationships to be. Adam was created to be in perfect relationship with Almighty God and with Eve.
However, as we are well aware, sin spoilt these relationships. It has not only disrupted our relationship with our Creator but also our relationships with each other. But, if you take a quick glance over the Old Testament, you will see that God calls those who belong to him ‘friends’. In Exodus 33:11 we read that “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend”. In Isaiah 41:8 we read that Abraham is referred to as a friend. God, then, still wants to have a relationship with his creation.
Vaughan Roberts in his book called True Friendship says: “Friendship is not an optional extra but is essential to our God-given humanity.” So friendships are unavoidable in our lives. They can be either good or bad, but they will be a part of our life. When thinking about this topic, I think one of the best places to go in the Bible is Proverbs. Proverbs has a lot to say about friendship and how we should be navigating this part of our life in a godly and biblical way. The foundational principle for the whole book is found in Proverbs 1:7—“the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
Life is displayed as a journey in the book, and it shows that there are always two paths that we can choose—wisdom or folly. It encourages us that we will need good friends who will walk along the path with us, those that will spur us on and help us to make wise decisions. Proverbs 27:17 says: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
What lessons then can we learn from this very practical and helpful book? We will look at that in more detail next week.
This is part one in a series on choosing friends wisely. Watch for part two next week.