The Importance of Friendship
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Kelly Needham, author of the book, “Friend-ish,” talks about the valuable role friendship plays in our lives. All friendships aren’t created equal, however. Sometimes what drives a friendship is a person’s longing for importance or popularity. Kelly explains why Christian friendship should rise above this, on FamilyLife Today.
The Importance of Friendship
Bob: There is an epidemic of loneliness in our culture today. Kelly Needham says that's something everyone of us can do something about.
Kelly: I think a lot of us are walking into those common ground areas—the lobby at church or the baby shower, wherever we happen to be at—and we are waiting for someone to befriend us. I think the call that we see in the Bible is to be the friend to others that you wish you had yourself. Jesus does that in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The guy starts asking, “Well, who's my neighbor?” and Jesus turns it around, “What kind of neighbor are you?”
In our friendships, we tend to ask: “Who's my friend? Who's going to be my friend today?” I think what Jesus challenges us, in the Gospels, is to go, “Who are you going to befriend today?”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 15th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. There is a lot in the Bible about how we are to relate to one another and have brotherly affection for each other. How do we do that? How do we cultivate that? We’ll talk more about that today with Kelly Needham. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We're going to talk today about the importance and, maybe, a little about the danger of friendships. I was thinking about this: when Mary Ann and I were raising our kids, I learned at some point in this process that, when Mary Ann had a night when she went out and was with her friends for the evening, I got a newer, better wife and mom back at the end of the evening—
Bob: —than if she hadn't had that time. You know what I'm talking about; right?
Ann: Absolutely. I think this topic that we're going to hit today is really important. It's necessary, but it's also a little tricky. I think that every listener will think, “I've had a great experience with friends,” but there can also be some negative experiences with friends.
I know for women—I don't know about you guys—but for women, this resonates with our hearts. We want it; we need friendship.
Dave: I think it resonates for guys. Are you kidding me? That's one of the best gifts I've ever had in my life—are my friends.
Dave: Of course, I'm the perfect friend to them. [Laughter] You know, that's who I am.
Ann: You are, honey.
Bob: We've got Kelly Needham joining us today. Kelly, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Kelly: Thank you, Bob, so much for having me. I'm glad to be here.
Bob: Kelly is from the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Your husband is a worship pastor at a local church there.
Bob: You're a writer and a speaker and you've written a book on friendships called Friend-ish. That's an interesting title.
Ann: I like the title.
Bob: Yes, where'd that come from?
Kelly: It came from this idea, like you were saying earlier, that we need friendships; they're super important. But not all of our friendships are healthy; there are dangerous versions of friendship that we need to know about and be aware of. As Christians, I found most people didn't even have a category for an unhealthy friendship with another
Christian. The title is trying to communicate that there is such a thing as being friend-ish: it's kind of there, but not quite; it's not the real thing; it might be a counterfeit. It's trying to help create a category for that.
Bob: The danger issue came up—you were telling us earlier—this came up in kind of an interesting way as you were working with high school and college-age girls?
Kelly: That's right. I was mentoring a few girls in college. One of them called me with some peculiar issues going on in a friendship and a lot of hard things had happened with her friends. She was really stepping in to care for her friend, and their relationship was becoming really ingrown—and having some physical temptations come alongside that—and then, that became more sexual over time.
I remember thinking, “I have no idea what's going on here.” I started walking with her and trying to search the Word of God: “How do I understand what's happening here, and walk with this friend of mine?” Then over time, that story became more common. That for me, made me aware that this is a bigger deal than just a one off situation.
Bob: Let me make an observation here. I'd be interested in your thoughts on this—any of you guys. It seems to me that we live in a day, where we don't know how to think about close relationships with people, without sexualizing that in some way. I think the culture tells us, over and over again, that if you have strong feelings/if you're drawn to somebody in some emotionally-connected way, the right response to that is to sexualize it.
I think this goes to every movie you see these days, where as soon as the couple starts to have romantic feelings for one another, the next step for them is to sexualize that in some way. Do you think that's right?
Kelly: I do agree with that. I mean, you even see it with the community of people, who would call themselves gay Christians/that they would identify with Christianity, but also say, “That's true to my identity.” They'll look at Jonathan and David in the Bible and say, “That was a sexual relationship, whether it was expressed or not.”
And it was not, but they were really endeared to one another in a way that they weren't to their wives. I think because of their commitment to the kingdom of God, and how unique that was for the two of them in that season of Israel's history to have that; but we don't have a category for that, maybe, or understand the story; so they go, “Look, they're really close to each other.”
Dave: Yet, you write about that in your book, that David and Jonathan's friendship—what is it about that friendship that we can learn from?—because it really is beautiful.
Kelly: It is beautiful.
Dave: So what is it about it that is a model for us?
Kelly: I think what is so fascinating about their friendship—when you read it in context; when you read all those chapters together—is that Jonathan becomes endeared to David right after he slays Goliath. You see in that moment, David rises up above all these men, who are older than him, and has faith that the Israelites should have had; but they didn't.
Jonathan has expressed that faith in previous chapters in our Bible. I think he sees a like-mindedness with David and goes: “You get it. You get that God is strong enough and big enough, and all of our peers don't get it.” And so, of course, they feel this sense of endeared-ness toward each other.
The other factor at play with their friendship is that David is a threat to Jonathan's
place to the throne. I think Jonathan's covenanting to David is even a uniting himself with the kingdom of God, even at the expense of his own kingdom. I think it has very little to do with fulfilling your own personal desires; in fact, you see them parting from one another for the sake of the kingdom.
Bob: What is attracting them to one another/what they're loving about one another is this common mission that they're on. Part of the thesis of your book is that, for our friendships to be healthy friendships, that needs to be at the core rather than whatever emotional benefits you or I are getting from the relationship; right?
Kelly: That's right. That's why war stories are actually really helpful models for us, as Christians. At the end of the book, I actually cite Band of Brothers as an example. I quoted that book; he says, “Comrades are closer than friends.” It's because they share a mission together. I think Christians have the ability to have deeper and more meaningful friendships with one another than anyone else; because we have a mission to live out together, and that's actually when they deepen.
But a lot of us are building friendships because we're lonely. We want to feel comfort; we want to feel secure; and we want somebody to tell us we're amazing. That's never going to satisfy or deepen our friendships. It actually can really pull them in the opposite direction; it can create more conflict, jealousy, bitterness, anger, resentment, and these things that we now find on the internet—articles about BFF break-ups—you know, you have best friends getting together and breaking up.
Why is all that happening? I think because we're letting our friendships be built on our own desires and not on something bigger, like they were meant to be.
Ann: I think, when I was in high school, I shied away from friendships; because there was exactly what you talked about, Kelly. There was jealousy; there was gossip; there was competition; and so I kind of stayed away from that.
But then when I got into college, and I started to be discipled by an older woman—and we had this small group of women—it's exactly what you're saying. We were on this mission to make the gospel known; and it changed everything, because it wasn't about looking at one another with a microscope. It wasn't seeing their flaws, and what you're not doing for me. It became this mission of “How can we reach the world for Christ?” It became so beautiful, so sweet of that common mission.
And yet, we don't always start there; because relationships are really tricky. And I know for me, as a woman, talking to other women—this is such a messy thing. It's this beautiful desire we have, but it can also be really hurtful. How can we go about this in a healthy way, besides having that common mission?
Kelly: I think a lot of us are walking into those common ground areas—the lobby at church or the baby shower, or wherever we happen to be at—and we are waiting for somebody to befriend us. I think the call that we see in the Bible is to be the friend to others that you wish you had yourself. Jesus does that in the parable of the Good Samaritan. The guy starts asking, “Well, who is my neighbor?” and Jesus turns it around and says, “What kind of neighbor are you?”
In our friendships, we tend to ask: “Who is my friend? Who's going to be my friend today?” I think what Jesus challenges us, in the Gospels, is to go, “Who are you going to befriend today?” I think the richness of our friendships depends on how willing we are to be a friend to somebody else.
The only way that's possible in my life, and I think for any of us, is to have a really deep reservoir of our friendship with God. If God is meeting our needs—if we are going to Him as that Fountain of Living Water; and He's our closest companion; He's our stability and security—we can befriend someone else and risk rejection/risk the person, who might not have time for us, and we feel that insecurity in that moment. If we have a solid foundation with Christ, then we'll be able to navigate that and continue to befriend other people. That will give us a wealth of friendships that I don't think anything will.
Dave: You open the book, talking about your own desire to have a friend, when you sort of didn't have any.
Kelly: That's right. [Laughter]
Dave: Talk about that. I mean, cause you're sort of—I mean, we've all been there, where I want a friend—but we wait. Nobody comes, and then we are the victim.
Ann: And we also think like: “They aren't even friendly,” “These people aren't even friendly,” “This church is so annoying; they're not even reaching out.”
Kelly: Yes. I used to travel with my husband; he's a musician and was on tour a lot. Then I stayed home; I took a job in youth ministry, and he was on the road. I remember thinking, “I'm not going to make it without friends.” I have a lot of friends, but they're all over the country. I don't have a lot of local friends, because we've been traveling and “How do I build a friend?” I literally sent an email to three women that I had met once or twice.
Ann: That's a gutsy move.
Kelly: It was gutsy.
Kelly: It was literally a “Will you be my friend?” email. I knew them through a fellow mentor. We had met in some common circles; they were around my age. I remember writing and saying: “Look, I need encouragement. I need women who want to study the Word with me, who want to pray with me. You might have too full of a schedule already; that's fine. I'm just throwing myself out there.”
They all responded in some way; but one of them responded and said, “Let's meet for coffee this week.” We got together that week for coffee and just got to know each other, started to pray for one another. We met for two years straight, and it was so rich. It was one of the sweetest expressions of friendship that I had had in my life thus far. But I don't think it would have happened without what was really a kind of scary thing to do—to write to some women I barely knew and say, “I don't really have friends. Will you be my friend?” Sometimes we have to be willing to do that.
Bob: Scary because they could write back and say, “No,” or say nothing. And all of a sudden, you've just put yourself out there and the rejection that can come with that. There are some listeners, who are going, “I tried that and I got the rejection; I'm not trying that again.” What do you say to those women?
Kelly: Those hurts are ones that new friendships aren't going to heal, and I think sometimes we're looking for that. I think those are real wounds; the wounds that we have from friends are legitimate and real. We have to take them to the same place we take all other hurts, which is, first, to the Lord to heal our hearts. If you haven't done that, I think, for me, that's always the first step. I need to talk honestly with God about this hurt that I'm still carrying around, and ask Him to heal it, and then provide for me what my friends never can.
As I restore my relationship with God, and find healing there, it gives me the courage to keep walking out there and risking that; but it is scary. I don't think it ever is not scary in some ways. You have more stories of God's faithfulness the longer that you risk things in faith, but it's still hard; but it's worth it, and we need friends. You need people; I need people. We have to fight for that need to be met, so we can continue to move forward the gospel.
Dave: And yet, I've heard some people say: “Well, if my relationship with God is intimate, and it's really good and close, and I'm with Him every day, I don't need anything else; I don't need anybody else. I just need Jesus.”
Bob: “He's all I need.”
Dave: Yes. You've heard that. God doesn't say that; He says we need each other. You even, in the opening story, when you're talking about Abbey—you make the comment it was like God used Abbey to remind you that He's there.
Kelly: He does; He meets us through our communion with one another. I think we do need those times alone with Him, but we are His body—that's why we're called to not forsake meeting together and to pray for one another; all the “one anothers” of the Scripture—you can't do on your own.
And that's some of how the Spirit of God encourages and strengthens our hearts is in those ways. We all face temptation, and it's our friends or other people in our lives that are usually the ones to then fight alongside with us for that. Or when we stumble into sin, we're called to confess our sins—well, who do we confess them to? We should confess them to God; but He says, “Confess your sins, one to another and pray for one another that you might be healed.” None of that can happen on our own.
I think the gospel is most felt when I share my failings/my sins with another person. I have to, in some ways, experience the weight of my shame in front of them and then be embraced with the fresh news of the gospel: “Hey guess what? God still loves you.” That just penetrates my heart in such a deeper way than even just when I'm alone with God. He meets me there in that moment of community. I think that's so necessary; we can't do life alone.
Dave: It is interesting—you know Bob; I know you've probably heard this as well—in all my years of working in the NFL with players, when you talk to them, when they're done,
and ask them, “What do you miss about the game?” It's 100 percent—I've never heard anybody say anything different—“I miss the locker room; I miss the guys.” They don't talk about touchdowns. They don't talk about the Super Bowls; of course, in Detroit, we never got anywhere near a Super Bowl, [Laughter] but watching it. I'm not kidding—they only talk about friendship, and the bonding, and going through Two-A-Days, and training camp together, and being on mission together. It is in the soul of a man and woman to connect, and that's what they miss.
Ann: And yet, I talk to so many wives, who would say: “My husband doesn't have a friend. He says he has Jesus. He says he has me, as his wife. That's all he needs.” I think these women are thinking that “Friendship is so important to me”; and yet, statistically, many men don't have even one friend. Why is that, guys? What happens among men that—
Dave: Don't ask us.
Ann: Is it harder to have male friendship?—or define that?
Bob: I think there are some cultural factors that are at work there. We can't deny that there are gender stereotypes that are a part of the culture. You grow up, thinking different things about gender. But I also think that guys form friendships around different things.
You talk about guys saying, “I miss the locker room.” If you were trying to start a men's group at your church and you said, “Guys, we're just going to get together for coffee and just talk,” guys are like, “I'm not showing up for that”; right? But if you said: “We're going to get together and start a softball league,”—guys will get together and play softball and form friendships in the midst of that activity; or “We're going to go help this widow lady in our church; we're going to help do yard work for her,”—guys will show up for the task and will form relationships in the midst of that.
I just think we live in a culture today, where the opportunities—you know, it used to be you worked side by side in the factory; or your environment created more natural friendship opportunities—we live in a much more isolated world and culture.
Dave: Yes, and it's interesting—we're more connected than ever before. We thought that connection, digitally, will heal that wound for friendship; and it's actually the opposite, isn't it?
Kelly: That's right; it's made it worse.
Bob: When we're talking about friendships, we're not talking aboutFacebook® friends; right?
Kelly: That's right.
Bob: What's the difference between a real friend and a Facebook friend?
Kelly: A Facebook friend: you pick and choose what you share with them/when you interact with them. It's ala carte; it's curated. A real friend sees you on your bad days, because you run into them in the town that you live in; or in the church lobby—and they know you—and they're like, “You're off. What's going on?” I think those are the friendships we long for, but they're also a little scarier to create.
There's something we like about the safe environment of digital friendships, because we don't have to risk anything there. We love it, and we hate it. It's providing the secure environment to build friendships, where we stay isolated behind the screen; and we love that; but we're not actually getting real friendship out of it, and so we're more isolated and lonely.
Bob: So, these superficial connections—these curated connections that you're talking about—can give us an artificial sense of “Oh, I have lots of friends.”
Bob: But there's an epidemic of loneliness because all we have is curated surface-level friendships; and not anybody who knows our hurts, our pains, our struggles, what we're going through; right?
Kelly: That's right. I think that's why local friendships matter so much. I encourage a lot of people that you have to make that a priority.
What was different about my mom's generation when I talked to her—when she went to nursing school; it was like not an option: you don't have cell phones; you don't have a way to stay in touch—and so you say goodbye to these old friends; and then you come and build these new friendships, because that's what you have.
Now, we have options; and so it creates for us a new decision that we have to make. I have to make the conscious choice to let go of old friendships; because I can't just continually add, or I'll burn out. I see a lot of young people doing that: “I'm going to have a thousand friends that I'm trying to keep up with.” I have to make a conscious choice to let go of these friendships here, when I move to a new city; and give space to build new ones, that are actually in my local arena, that I'm going to run into and I'm going to see them.
Some days, I'm going to hate that because I'm going to run into them in the grocery store when I'm feeling really depressed or sorrowful—and I kind of like it, and I just want to stay there—and then my friend's going to see me, and I have to deal with it. It's a grace, but I don't like it all the time. But we need that; that's where we long for those types of friendships, but they happen locally, for the most part.
I don't think that means you can't have friendships that are long distance, but we need local friendships. I think that's why the local church matters too.
Bob: We need face to face.
Kelly: That's right.
Bob: We need life on life.
Kelly: That's right.
Bob: Not just FaceTimetoFaceTime; right?
Kelly: That's right; yes. [Laughter]
Dave: And you're not going to get it unless you pursue it.
Kelly: That's right!
Dave: You know, it's easy to sit there, and look, and wait. I think, at church, that happens a lot—they sit there. I'm up there, saying, “You need community.” And I can see them, looking at me, like, “Well, nobody's reaching out.” And it's like: “No, no, no; go!
Kelly: “You do it”; yes
Dave: “Go—go reach out.”
I thought of this: when we moved to Detroit, one of the first things I knew I needed was guys in my life. I knew that—and I'm going to preach it as a preacher—but I knew I needed that. Here I am, almost 40 years later—is that how long we've been there?
Dave: —35 years. I have those guys. We've raised our kids together; now, we're raising our grandkids. I've done their daughters weddings; you know, all those kinds of things.
I'll never forget when Ann's sister—like her best friend—got cancer; mother of four. She's 44 years old, and she's gone quickly. The cancer spread very quick, and she passed. These guys were over at my house—while Ann was down in Atlanta, where her sister lived, often with her—doing life with me. I can remember playing basketball, Bob—there we are; we're doing something together, but we're talking about what's going on.
Then the day of the funeral—I'm going to do the funeral, because I'm the family pastor—the back door of this church opens in Atlanta, and all these guys and their wives walk in—never told us they're coming; they flew down from Detroit. In that moment—I can see them right now in the back of the church—it's like: “That's our community. Those are my friends/our friends.”
It was such a beautiful picture of “God's here,” through friends. That's how strong it is to say: “You've got to pursue it. In the mountaintops, they're going to be there; and the valleys—they are a picture/they are the very presence of God in your life.”
Bob: And we started this whole conversation talking about how friendships in our lives can actually bless our marriage; we will have a better marriage and family if we've got healthy friendships outside. Part of the reason for that is because then we're not looking for our spouse to be everything to us. No spouse can be everything to you, and your friends can meet needs in your life and can help minister to you in a way that your spouse can't. To have those friendships really takes some of the pressure off of your spouse to be everything in your marriage.
This is why—on a program that is devoted to marriage and family—we're talking about how healthy friendships are going to make your marriage and family better and stronger. I think this is going to be a helpful, important book for a lot of our listeners. This is one you will read, not just once; in fact, this is a great book to read with friends, together.
Go to our website—go to FamilyLifeToday.com—and get a copy of Kelly Needham's book, Friend-ish. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order. Our number is 1-800-358-6329. Again, online, look for the book, Friend-ish, when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Or order by calling 1-800-358-6329—that's 1-800-”F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, our goal at FamilyLife is to help all of us think more biblically about whatever it is that we are facing in life. Whether it’s friendships and how they form and how we live those out to the current moment in which we are living and the issue of the coronavirus. Earlier this week we had the opportunity to talk with Dr. John Piper about this issue.
He has written a new book called Coronavirus and Christ. We are making the audio book or the e-book available to any of our listeners absolutely free. You can go to our website and download your choice of the audio book or the e-book of Coronavirus and Christ by Dr. John Piper and again this is a part of our desire to help you and your family be thinking Christianly about what we believe and how we live during moments like this. The download is free. Go to our website FamilyLife Today.com. The book is called Coronavirus and Christ. If you’d like a print copy of the book those are going to be available in about a week. You can preorder the book on our website FamilyLife Today.com.
We hope you’ll take advantage of this offer. And hope you’ll read it maybe together as a family or as a couple so that we can all be thinking rightly about what it is that we are dealing with right now.
And we hope you can join us tomorrow. Kelly Needham is going to be back and we are going to continue talking about friendships and how we can live those out biblically.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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