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We Need Friendship



We Need Friendship: Reflections on the Book “Made for People”

By Brandon Lemons

 

I like to read.  A few weeks ago, I finished a book called Made for People that was both inspiring and convicting.  As I read, I kept thinking of not only how to apply this book to my life, but who I’d like to recommend it to and how to share its message with the people of Friedens. Therefore, one step I’m taking is to write an article about it.  This article isn’t meant to be a “book review.”  Instead, it’s more of a summary with some of my reflections interwoven.  I pray you find this to be helpful, and perhaps even inspiring and convicting in a way that encourages your investment in life-giving friendships!

 

Made for People is written by Justin Whitmel Earley, and its subtitle is “Why We Drift Into Loneliness and How to Fight for a Life of Friendship.” 

 

Made for Friendship

God made us to function best when we are in meaningful relationships with those around us.  This is part of what it means to be made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), since God Himself is relational and has lived eternally in the Trinitarian relationship within Himself of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

 

The early chapters of Genesis show that, as the book is titled, we are “made for people.”  Earley writes: “You are made for people in such a way that you will be lonely if it is just ‘you and God.’ … It is crucial to see that our capacity to be lonely with God is not a sign of God’s insufficiency or lack.  It is a sign of his unfathomable generosity: God designed us to need people.  You cannot experience God the way you were made to until you experience him alongside others.”

 

It could be said that friendship is the essence of the Gospel.  In John 15:15, Jesus said to His disciples, “I have called you friends.”  Jesus calls His followers “friends”!  This is remarkable!  Earley writes, “The friendship of Jesus means that one way to summarize the gospel is this: Jesus knows you fully and loves you anyway.”  The author then bases his “working definition of friendship” on how Jesus relates to us: “A friend is someone who knows you fully and loves you anyway.”

 

Our Culture’s Pull Toward Loneliness

Our 21st-century American culture is working against meaningful relationships.  There are many factors, and the book illustrates the devastating consequences for people’s mental health, their decision-making, their spiritual lives, and even their will to live.  Earley writes: “Without someone else to affirm our existence in the world, we stumble along unsure of everything, doubting the biggest and smallest decisions alike.  What we usually don’t realize is that all that fear and anxiety is not the product of facing difficult circumstances, it is the product of facing those circumstances alone.”

 

The problem is that we must live intentionally if we want to counteract the culture’s pull toward loneliness.  The author uses the analogy of a current of water pulling us away from meaningful relationships.  He says: “you live in a fierce current.  Which means that to do nothing is actually to do something very significant – it is to accept the drift of modern life.  The current of modern life is to become busier, wealthier people who used to have friends.  And mostly you won’t even notice that this is happening.  When everyone is drifting in the same current, you won’t notice anyone moving at all….  One of the recurring claims of this book is that by doing nothing we do something very significant: we drift into loneliness.”  I’ve read elsewhere that as we get older, we tend to have fewer and fewer close friends.  I have seen this happen in my life, which is partly why this book is a great (and convicting) reminder!

 

Fighting for Friendship

Made for People has ten chapters that outline keys for the types of friendship that are truly life-giving.  I’m not going to highlight them all.  If you’d like to learn more, I encourage you to read the book for yourself!  But one of my overarching take-away points is the need to prioritize the pursuit of friendships.  This isn’t hard, but it takes intentionality.  As an earlier quote alluded to, we don’t drift into friendship.  We may drift into having many acquaintances; we may naturally be surrounded by people.  But do people really know us?  Do we really know them?  Is there a commitment that brings the benefits of knowing we are loved, regardless of what happens, and knowing we won’t walk alone through life’s ups and downs?  Again, friendship takes intentionality.

 

The Need for Vulnerability and Grace

The author calls vulnerability “the art of living without secrets.”  It can be hard to share how we are really doing.  This is why people feel isolated, even when they are surrounded by others.  They feel like no one really knows them.  Their interactions are mostly, if not entirely, superficial.  But true friendship goes deeper.  It provides a context for opening up about how we are really doing – even when how we are “really doing” doesn’t seem very attractive. 

 

A primary reason people fear vulnerability in relationships is because it makes us vulnerable to being hurt.  No one likes to be hurt.  And as Earley writes: “No one can hurt us more than our friends can.”  He calls this “a shadow side of friendship.”  For this reason, “you cannot practice real friendship without practicing real forgiveness.”  “Given that all good friends will eventually hurt you, if you do not practice forgiveness, you will either be stuck in a cycle of endless resentment or never have a true friendship at all.”  But a readiness to give grace empowers healthy friendships, as well as healing.  “Grace, as it turns out, is a much sturdier foundation for relationship than perfection. Grace means that the failures of friends can be the cause of our coming together, not the cause of our falling apart.”

 

The Helping Hand of Honesty

I appreciate how Made for People offers correctives for our society’s unhealthy views of friendship and love.  For instance: “Our cultural moment thinks of friends as the people who are nonjudgmental when it comes to our flaws.  We like to keep them around because they ‘accept us as we are.’  But that assumes that ‘who we are’ is the same as ‘who we should be.’  It assumes that following our hearts will lead us to good places.  The only problem is that those are wildly dangerous assumptions.  When the honesty we need is seen as judgment we should avoid, we are in a really bad spot.”  “The loving grace of Jesus finds you where you are but never leaves you where you are.  Here is an apparent paradox of grace: the same love that accepts you as you are can also tell you to change. Because real love is for your good, not for your comfort.”

 

These truths highlight the need for honesty with others – a willingness to say what should be said for another person’s benefit, as well as a willingness to receive input and correction from trusted friends – even when it is painful.  As Proverbs 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”  Friends can truly help friends live healthier, more fruitful lives when they experience an environment of honesty that is rooted in love.

 

Talking is Important!

Shared interests can help a friendship develop.  A cliché that is particularly applied to men is that shared interests are the basis of friendship – that men pursue friendship by doing things together.  I think there is some truth to this; shared interests certainly help!

 

Yet Justin Whitmel Earley also makes a compelling case for the importance of conversation.  He writes: “Conversation is a foundation of friendship.  Seeing conversation as a centerpiece of friendship pushes back on the idea that common interests alone are the foundation of friendship.  While friendships begin with common interests, the kind of covenant friendships that are the subject of this book will eventually turn from love of the common interest to love of the other.”  This is easier to accept for someone like me, who usually enjoys talking; but for any relationship to go deeper, meaningful conversation is important – even though the quantity of words will vary from person to person.

 

Earley gives a practical way to help conversation get deeper.  He says: “Many of my great friends have the same habit. After twenty minutes of conversation, they say something like ‘So, how are you?’ This is a bit of a speed bump, but it separates the casual conversation of acquaintances from the deep, honest conversation of friends.”  In my experience, “How are you?” can be an extremely superficial question – pretty much like saying, “Hey, I see you.”  This is how “How are you?” generally functions as a greeting.  But in meaningful friendships, when there has already been some conversation to catch up on what’s happening in each other’s life, the question “How are you?” is a gateway to deeper levels of introspection, sharing, and caring – if this question is asked with a spirit of genuine interest, patience, a listening ear, and an environment of grace. 

 

Friendship & Technology

It is well-known that technology, and especially social media, is shaping the way people interact.  Made for People provides valuable insight about the use and impact of technology on relationships.  For instance, a common sentiment is that “Technology can give us the sensation of being known when, actually, we are completely isolated.” 

 

I appreciated this distinction, related to social media: “The promise of social media is to be fully seen and fully liked.  But the promise of covenant friendship is to be fully known and fully loved.  The two are very different.”  This is worth thinking about!

 

Here is a helpful way to view technology’s relationship to friendships: “I propose a simple paradigm for evaluating relational technology: view all nonphysical interactions as a kind of snack, not the main course of relationship.  This is as true for Facebook as it is for virtual church attendance.  Use it sometimes in some ways, and it can be a healthy bridge to get you to your next relational meal.  But if you use it to replace the nourishment of friendship and community, you will begin to die of loneliness.”

 

Friendship & Evangelism 

Finally, the author makes a compelling case for the importance of friendship in reaching people with the Gospel.  This fits very well with Friedens’ belief that “The Gospel flows best over the bridge of relationships.” 

 

Earley writes: “In a world where our neighbors do not understand our language [about Christianity], friendship – not argument – will become the place of evangelism.”  “Madeleine L’Engle once wisely wrote that ‘we draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.’  In a cultural winter of loneliness, what if we Christians were the ones building those fires?  What if we invited all the travelers on the lonely road of modern life to stop by and, even if we don’t speak their language, to come over and warm themselves by the fire?  I think that would be a light to the world.”

 

Conclusion

There is much more that I could say about these topics, including the author’s thought-provoking recommendation to let friendship shape our decisions about where to live, how to handle friendships that turn toxic, and different types of friendships based on life circumstances and geographical distance.  If you’re interested in digging deeper, I highly recommend reading the book! 

 

Regardless, I encourage us all to invest intentionally in meaningful friendships with those around us – even starting with just one or two people.  This is something I plan to do, because I have felt the drift of busyness and, at times, laziness, erode the quality and quantity of my friendships.  I want to have meaningful, life-giving friendships, and I pray you do, too!

 

As Justin Whitmel Earley says, “Knowing that you have friends who will be there no matter what – or who at least will try – is truly a different way of seeing the future.”

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