A long time ago, I read that most adults in the U.S. only have two or three friends. I was in college at the time, and I thought the data must be wrong. Back then, I saw my "best" friends daily and my "good" friends weekly. I had dozens, if not hundreds of friends. Even now, I have hundreds of "friends" on Facebook, but I don't often interact with them in a meaningful way. Most of my closest friends live far away, and I only see the locals once in a while. We're all busy with kids and jobs and the like. I'm starting to believe that data from the study I read all those years ago.But I was reminded of the importance of friendship this past weekend when we visited Richmond, Virginia, our home for the first four years of our marriage and home of a large concentration of our closest friends. These are friends who help me grow. I become more myself, more the person I am meant to be, when I am with them. And I realized over the course of the weekend that "with" is the key word here. We talked about marriage and parenting and church and abortion and politics–in other words, all the "hot" topics. We didn't always agree. But instead of coming out of the weekend feeling attacked or battered, I felt encouraged, strengthened, grateful. And I realized that it is because my true friends are with me as I think through something. When they express disagreement or ask a question, it is because they are thinking through an issue with me, not trying to attack me or defend themselves. For example, when I told one of my friends about the wrongful life lawsuit (which I wrote about yesterday), she commented upon the tone of judgment in my voice. She urged me to imagine what had prompted the woman's response. "Almost every time we judge, there is truth," she said, agreeing with my concerns about the lawsuit. "But almost every time we judge, there is also hurt." She challenged me to consider how I might demonstrate compassion for the woman in question (and others like her). She was with me as I thought it through.
It struck me that God, the one who says he is with us again and again, also has called us friends. In John's Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples: "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15). Unlike familial relationships, unlike relationships based upon employment, friendship is a choice. And it is a choice to be with one another. Jesus has chosen to be with us, to be the one who challenges us and listens to us and receives friendship from us in return.
In the end, I'm sad to think that most Americans don't experience deep and abiding friendship. And I'm hopeful that I will be one who chooses to be with other people as they grow, that we will choose to call one another friends.