I set a goal a couple of years ago: to spend time regularly with my friends.
I was inspired after an evening with my friends Ken and Jonathan. We sat in the backyard around a fire being eaten by mosquitos. It felt like I didn’t have to impress either one of them. I could just relax and enjoy God’s good gift of friendship. I came home feeling refreshed, wondering why I didn’t make time for my friends more often.
I returned home determined to make more time for my friends, and then I got busy. Who has time for friends when life’s so busy? Besides, I have enough friends on Facebook.
But friendships — real, in-person friendships — aren’t optional.
The Importance of Friendship
The Bible is full of friendships.
It’s full of examples. Naomi had Ruth. David had Jonathan. Jesus had his disciples, including his three closest friends (Peter, James, and John). At the end of each of his letters, Paul sent greetings to his friends and partners in ministry. One gets the impression that Paul never went anywhere without making a friend or two.
It’s also full of wisdom, particularly in the book of Proverbs. “There is no book, even in classical literature, which so exalts the idea of friendship, and is so anxious to have it truly valued, and carefully kept,” wrote Scottish pastor Hugh Black.1 You can count on friends in hard times (Proverbs 17:17), find friends that will never abandon you (18:24), count on them to tell you the truth (27:6), and be sharpened as you spend time with them (27:17).
It’s also full of commands which only make sense in the context of friendships. One day I made a list of all the “one another” commands of Scripture: love one another (Romans 12:10), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), etc. Scripture’s full of them. They’re not optional. They’re commands. By extension, friendships aren’t optional. The only way we can keep these commands is by cultivating friendships in our lives.
Friendships really matter in Scripture.
Learning to Make Time for Friends
Why do I find it so hard to make time for friendship?
Deep down, I think I treat friendships as if they’re optional, not required. When life gets busy — which is always — I cut back on the optional activities in my life so I can focus on what’s not optional. As a result, I cut back on the very thing I need the most: the friendships that God designed for me to enjoy.
The first step for me, therefore, is to remind myself that friendships aren’t optional. When life gets busy, it should make the list of obligations I can’t ignore. If anything, I need friendships, even more, when life gets crazy.
For me, making time is the key. I recently got together with a friend who’s moving out of the country. We already had to reschedule once due to illness. The week of our appointment, I felt tempted to cancel because I felt so busy. I also had to drive a long way to go and see him.
But I didn’t cancel. I made the long drive, even though I was tired. We sat on a patio and talked for a couple of hours. I felt refreshed and encouraged. Driving home, I thanked God for the gift of his friendship, and resolved to keep making time for my friendships. I expect that I’ll continue to struggle, but it’s worth it.
The ancient theologian Augustine wrote. “Two things are essential in this world—life, and friendship. Both must be prized highly, and not undervalued. They are nature’s gifts. We were created by God that we might live; but if we are not to live solitarily, we must have friendship.”
He was right. Cherish friendship. Treat it is essential, not optional. Guard it in your schedule. Fight the temptation to cancel because you’re busy or tired. And then enjoy the gift.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop feeling busy, so I’d better learn to prioritize friendships in the midst of the busyness, because friendship isn’t optional. It’s part of how God designed us to live in this world.