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30.07.2021

The Soil That Makes Friendship Grow

American author David Brooks has described life as ‘a series of daring adventures from a secure base’. I’ve come to believe that friends are that secure base – the companions who launch us into our vocations and provide a place to return to when things go wrong.

And so it’s concerning that around a quarter of us in the UK have no close friends, a situation only exacerbated by the pandemic. Millions of us lack this secure foundation to thrive.

Our cultural neglect of friendship is partly to blame. Look at your music playlists, for example. Any songs about friendship you find will be lost in an ocean of love songs. While books on marriage and parenting abound, where are the titles on friendship?

Today is International Friendship Day. Unlike Valentine’s Day, however, it will go largely ignored. With romance getting all the attention, friendship is bound to wane.

Mike and Miriam (as I’ll call them) are two data points in that friendless statistic. When we Zoom for the first time, I meet an empathetic couple in their 60s who can’t seem to find friends. ‘We’ve tried three congregations over the past nine years,’ Miriam says, ‘and we’ve invited people round for meals.’ But to date, few of their invites have been reciprocated.

‘We weren’t able to have children,’ Miriam adds, ‘which puts us outside many social circles.’ Worse, when she and Mike have tried to share their pain over this, their vulnerability has been met with awkward silence. ‘We just want to be accepted as we are,’ Mike says, breaking down in tears.

Jesus gave a profound definition of friendship (John 15:13–15), and many Proverbs address the theme. But a fundamental verse about friendship is easily missed because it never mentions the word:

‘Practise hospitality’ (Romans 12:13).

Hospitality is the act of opening heart and home to make space for sincere love to flow (v. 9). It honours the guest above ourselves (v. 10), taking a genuine interest in who they are, and focuses on their needs (v. 13), offering empathy and concern. Hospitable people welcome others into their lounges and lunchbreaks, and reciprocate meal invites, listening for people’s stories, hobbies, hopes. Hospitality isn’t friendship, just the place where commonalities are discovered. It’s where Mike’s love of cinema and Miriam’s love of ballet can link with our own.

With friendship pushed to the cultural margins, it’s well time for its recovery. Because millions lack the foundation it provides, and simple hospitality is the soil in which it can bud and grow.

 

Sheridan Voysey
Sheridan is the author of eight books, including Reflect with Sheridan, and a presenter of Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2. He is currently working on a book about the power of friendship.

Comments

  1. So well said, Sheridan, and so simple to practice, yet life changing.

    By Dr Dave Benson, LICC Director of Culture and Discipleship  -  30 Jul 2021
    • My pleasure, Dave. Love the work of LICC – a pleasure to contribute again.

      By Sheridan Voysey  -  30 Jul 2021
  2. Thank you, Sheridan, for highlighting the gift and value of friendship. Whilst I am in the highly fortunate position of having many close friends whom I value immensely, I believe that ultimately it is our relationship with Christ which is our secure base not human friendship.

    By Diane  -  30 Jul 2021
    • Thanks Diane. Yes, Christ is our ultimate secure base for life and living! But I’ve discovered that without friendship, Christian faith wanes too (Mike and Miriam are struggling in this regard also). We are relational to the core, which requires human connection in addition to divine connection (Genesis 2:18).

      By Sheridan Voysey  -  30 Jul 2021
  3. Thanks Sheridan, great reflection. Be interested to know what you make of the sitcom ‘Friends’! I know it’s not always a model portrayal… but its popularity intriguing in this context…

    By Bruce Gulland  -  30 Jul 2021
    • How many Gen-Xers devoured Friends throughout the 90’s because they hungered for a group of people like that, who they could deeply share life with? The same goes for its growing popularity among Millennials. It shows the longing beautifully.

      By Sheridan Voysey  -  30 Jul 2021
  4. Thank you, Sheridan. Your emphasis on the nature and importance of friendships is really helpful. A lifetime of experience, however, has left me with a slightly different perspective. For so many throughout the world, it’s families — not friends — that provide the ‘secure base’ in life that David Brooks highlights. Friendships are important, and (as you illustrate) often neglected. But ties of friendship often change over the years as different paths in life are taken. Filial relations, however, are much stronger and more enduring. For children to know, for example, that their parents (and extended relations) love them unreservedly and are always there for them come what may, is of incomparable importance. The fact that family structures have often broken down in the West does not diminish the central value of family in a person’s life. Friendships — and involvement a wider community — are certainly important, and add to our joy and life experience — to say nothing of filling the gaps when family relations have broken down. But the true ‘secure base’ in life (after faith for Christians) remains the family. Thank you again.

    By Grayson Carter  -  30 Jul 2021
  5. Hoping you know the book by Stuart Miller, publ. by Gateway Books in 1983, and entitled:
    Men and Friendship, from which I quote:
    A man says, I think people who develop a real friendship are men who have been very badly hurt and unconsciously go to that most exact of human places to heal themselves. In some complicated way, friendship at its most perfect is related to deep suffering and deep illness; the acute horror of being forced into desolation by a society that clearly has little real interest in human values. So when people go toward each other and love each other, there’s a kind of deep, deep medication. Real friendship, them, is a kind of divine act that enables two people to share feelings, to have feelings that life denies continually. It’s a way of outsmarting life, which is continually getting at you anyway, no matter how rich or smart you are…..It’s the one chance you have of getting on top of it. It requires all your belief in the possibility that you can walk on water with somebody because of the sheer electrical discharge of love. It’s a kind of hydrojet you’re on

    By douglas holt  -  30 Jul 2021

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