Why Is Friendship So Hard?

August 17, 2015

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Jonathan Holmes

Since the publication of The Company We Keep (TCWK), it’s been encouraging to see more being written on the topic of friendship here at the BCC. One of the ongoing questions I’ve received since writing TCWK is in regards to the difficulty of forming friendships in the church.

I’m reminded of an article in the New York Times from Ben Schrank[1] who asked a similar question. In the article, Schrank details his friendship with Dan: photographed as infants together at 6 months old, elementary through graduate school shared with one another, groomsmen at one another’s weddings, mutual family vacations…then suddenly their friendship ended. What in the world happened? Schrank explained:

“There was no cinematic blowup: it just evaporated. I believe I disappointed or annoyed or let Dan down in some way, and he chose to end the friendship rather than to confront me. Dan and I haven’t spoken for over a year, save a cool encounter at that same mutual friend’s holiday party.

Men no longer know how to fight. Don’t get me wrong—we know how to confront strangers when they cut in line at the butcher’s or block the door on the subway. What we don’t know how to do is have the kind of unpleasant talks that articulate feelings to real friends when those friends ignore our wives at a dinner, or don’t think to call us when we are fired. Instead, we either shrug off the slight or end the friendship.”

Towards the end of the article, Schrank surmises about what went wrong, and how it can be put back together. He concludes:

“I would love to say that I am psyching myself up to stop caring about what is expected of me and sit down and hash things out with Dan. I would be lying, though.

Imagine it. I’d have to call (and that’s already a nonstarter because then I’d be using a phone), but imagine anyway. I call Dan and say: ‘I feel sad that we had a falling out. I care about you. I would like us to be friends. What did I do wrong? Come on, yell at me. I can take it.’ Not happening. Dan has two children and a wife, a staff, innumerable obligations; he’s a busy man. I care about him too much to fight with him. So no, I’ll never reach out to him and say all that stuff.

But Dan, if you are reading, let it be known: I miss you, man.”

If you’re curious as to what the prevailing sentiment of the day is regarding friendship, Schrank, I believe, offers an insightful glimpse and microcosm into what makes friendship so hard: self-sacrifice.

In a secular economy of friendship, self-sacrifice has no significant place. Why should it, after all? Friendship is about my needs, my wants, and my desires. Secular friendship is more about compatibility than Christ, more about comfort than cruciform love.

Yet, as you read the pages of Scripture, you see Christ-centered friendships must embody this singular characteristic of self-sacrifice if they’re going to resemble God’s pattern. If the pre-eminent expression of Christ’s movement to us is that He is a Savior who moves towards us in self-sacrificing love and redemption, then why should it surprise us that self-sacrificial love is what best embodies the true heart of friendship?

Recently my wife and I had a conversation, which brought this to surface. I realized in many ways, I had grown slack in this area. I wanted friendships that were more 9-to-5 and comfortable for my schedule. I wanted friendships where generosity was present, but not to the extent where it hurt my bank account. I wanted friendships where there were more joys than sorrows, more laughter than lament.

Unfortunately, many Christians struggle in a similar manner. We want all the benefits of a friendship with none of the responsibilities. We want the success of friendship without the self-sacrifice.

May we reflect and meditate today on Christ who self-sacrificially gave of himself to be in friendship with you and I. And may that spur us on to self-sacrificially pursue friendships.

Join the Conversation 

What role does Christlike sacrificial love play in your friendships?

[1]Ben Schrank, “Can’t Guys Just Learn to Fight for a Friendship?” The New York Times, October 26, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/fashion/cant-guys-just-learn-to-fight-for-a-friendship.html?_r=0. Accessed 31 July 2015.