Our Friendship Conundrum

As a young minister many years ago, I remember hearing an old pastor say that ministers have few friends. Then he said that he himself had no friends, save for his wife. It was the cost, he said, of serving Jesus.

My reaction at the time was a little mixed. I felt sad for that pastor for the feelings of loneliness that must have prompted that comment. I was saddened, also, for those in the congregation who considered him a friend – as I knew there were many.

His comment also made me wonder if I could be happy serving Christ with no friends in this world.

That same pastor showed himself to be increasingly cynical about relationships, and so I likely didn’t take his comment to heart as much as I should have.

Here I am many years later, finding myself relating to him more than ever. I do feel a dearth of friendship on the one hand and a longing for deep friendships on the other. I want to push back against cynicism too, having seen the damage that caused in his heart and ministry. And, of course… I don’t want to sadden those who consider me a friend.

Few value friendship, because few experience it.

C.S. Lewis

I preached a sermon last summer on what the Proverbs teach about friendship. While preparing, I ran across what C.S. Lewis wrote about friendships, and one remark stood out in particular. Lewis said that few value friendship because few experience it. Is Lewis right? Do very few of us experience friendship?

My own experience tells me that men struggle with friendships far more than women do. I’m sure there are exceptions, but through the years, that has been my observation. So men struggle with friendships more than women. And, sadly, most pastors struggle more than most other men.

So, here I am, a man and a pastor and I am often lonely and longing for real, Christ-centered friendships. What am I to do? What are you to do, pastor/Christian/friend, if this is how you are feeling? Here are four suggestions.

1. Resist making friendship your idol. Friendship is a kindness from the Lord. It is a good gift for which we should give thanks. God gives good things to his people! Friendship is one of those good things.

Yet, while friendship is a wonderful gift it makes a terrible god. The god of friendship will never satisfy the longing you feel or calm the restlessness of your heart. Only God can do that.

Making friendship an idol is a great way to push your friends away and strain your relationships, as you get clingy or jealous or demanding, or allow drama to creep into the relationship in other ways.

The answer is to press hard after Jesus Christ first, not friendship. You cannot allow your desire for friendships – or your loneliness – to grow into an idol in your heart, robbing your joy and leaving you empty.

Jesus never leaves us empty. Keep that in mind.

2. Nurture the friendships that you do have. While I was writing this post, I ran upstairs from my basement to make a quick cup of tea. While en route, my 15-year-old playfully tried to box my ear, my wife hugged me, and my 9-year-old asked if I would sit with her while my tea steeped. I also spent a minute figuring out my plans to drive to a neighboring town tonight with a young man for an archery competition.

It is easy to not put those kinds of relationships within our “friendship category” (my son, my wife, my daughter and a guy about 30 years younger than me), but that is exactly what they are – friends! My wife is my best friend on the planet, and I have never enjoyed a deeper relationship with anyone than the one I enjoy with her.

My son is growing up and we almost look eye to eye (if I am being honest, he’s a bit taller). We will be friends, I hope, for a long time. That little girl of mine who likes to sit close is my little buddy, which is another word for friend. And friendships don’t have to be squarely within our age demographic (I know this from the other end. One of my closest friends in life passed away two years ago from Covid19, and he was about 30 years older than me).

All that to say that we often lament not having deep and meaningful friendships, while at the same time not considering the friends we have and nurturing those into deep and meaningful friendships.

That longing for deep friendship should prod us to nurture every friendship we have. Those feelings should not cause us to merely long for friendships we don’t have.

3. Seek after new friendships, and decide that you will “fail falling forward”. There is a tendency in me to withdraw the moment I don’t feel the warmth of friendship from someone, or suspect that a person does not like something about me (or just me in general). My very counter-productive tendency is to retreat and give up on the friendship. It would be better for me to press in all the same. Who knows what the Lord may do?

Many times, it is just the surface awkwardness that we have to overcome, not deep issues making real friendships impossible.

So work at this! Friendships are hard work. Work at them!

4. Don’t buy the world’s lie that men can’t have deep friendships (or that pastors do not have friends). It is not true. There are plenty of biblical examples of real men nurturing deep, lasting friendships with other men while loving God supremely, and keeping everything healthy.

Men, think hard about friendship, and press into real, God-glorifying, brother-edifying friendships with those God has placed in your life. Don’t take one single friend for granted. Friendship is too precious, and too good a gift.

And remember, there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24b).