Quotes and content inspired by Shasta Nelson’s “Friendships Don’t Just Happen: The Guide to Creating a Meaningful Circle of Girlfriends” Turner Publishing Company. 2013
“Almost 50% of Americans have virtually no close friends outside of one relationship, leaving us vulnerable after a divorce, breakup, or death.” (46)
This statistic echoes what I hear and see in many of my pastoral care interactions inside and outside the church.
Loneliness is an epidemic hindering our personal and global health.
So this Lent I felt called to focus on friendship.
Friends are angels God sends to us to nourish and encourage us.
In our scriptures today we hear about angels that came to support two very important people in the Bible.
Scripture: Matthew 4:1-11 & 1 Kings 19:5-8
You don’t need to be Jesus tempted by the devil in the desert or Elijah fearing for your life
to appreciate how friends can nourish and encourage us when we need it.
Jesus and Elijah faced real temptation and trial, yet God sent them angels.
The angels did not take away pain, but they did offer support along the journey.
I believe God uses friends to be as angels to us: to support us along life’s journey.
How friends support us will differ, depending what circle they are in at the moment.
It’s unfair to expect a contact friend to suddenly drive us to to work every day or to share with them our deepest struggles.
It’s unfair to expect one committed friend to understand every aspect of our lives (Aine, dance friend).
Fostering a variety of friendships is necessary for our health.
Friends matter for our physical, mental and spiritual health. They help us along on our life journeys.
Hill Study conducted at the “university of Virginia where students were asked to estimate the steepness of a hill as they stood at the base with a weighted backpack. Those who stood with a few estimated less than those who stood alone. Additionally, the longer the friends had known each other the less steep the hill appeared.” (45)
Friends make life’s challenges more manageable.
Numerous studies show that with friends we recover from surgeries faster, get sick less frequently, exhibit less stress, and are happier.(45)
Dr. Olds, a psychiatrist, points to friends as a key factor in longevity, right next to exercise. (44)
Brigham Young University did a longitudinal study that concluded that “low social interaction can be compared to the damage caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day, being an alcoholic, or not exercising.”
Interestingly, “many studies reveal that friendship has an even greater effect on health than a spouse or family member.”
In conclusion, Friendships increase our survival by 50%! (9)
I think part of those statistics is that like biblical angels, friends bring support and encouragement during life’s challenges.
Friendships also strengthen our souls for life’s challenges.
It is through friendships that we develop our capacity to forgive, to love, to find peace, to rejoice, to ask for and receive help, to share and give help,
Friendships are A place to learn how to trust people with our shame, fear, and anger- as well as our hopes, our gratitude, and our strength (67)…(69– gymnasium for the soul) friendship is a place to love and be loved.
Throughout Lent we will look at many of the spiritual skills friendships develop in us,
These spiritual qualities help us navigate the ups and downs of life and
are important to our personal well-being, as well as the well-being of our world,
Not to mention they develop us as disciples of Jesus.
This Lenten focus on friendship is not just for our personal well-being;
friendship also helps our world move towards the kingdom of God:
Love on a personal level and one a global level.
Friends matter for the health of our world.
Shasta Nelson has a theory that “Friendship can save the world.”
Friendship helps the world become more like the reign/Kingdom of God.
Yes, friendship across difference is key to world peace.
As Shasta says, if we can’t do relationships with people we love, then what hope do we have of doing so with people who live on the other side of the world? Who have different religious or political view? (69)
This is not just about having a black/gay/Jewish friend or colleague, a contact or common friend. Having a diverse group of contact or common friends is nice, it’s a step passed segregation…but there is a way to go. In these circle of friends you don’t need to talk about the deeply painful parts of life. A common gay friend you goto he gym with won’t share the trauma of being kicked out of his family for his sexuality.
For friendship across difference to go deeper, to a community or committed circle, takes some deeper learning and commitment.
In college my girlfriend was Jewish. we talked about religion a lot, but she made it clear that she didn’t want to be responsible for teaching me about Judaism or about antisemitism. She didn’t want that burden– it was tiring work for her. She wanted our time to be on our relationship, not her having to explain everything to me. She wanted me to go learn for myself. So I took classes, read books, watched movies. The more I learned, the better able I was to understand what her life was like, how she saw the world – why certain words or actions struck a cord with her, but didn’t with me. The more I learned, the easier it was to sit with her when she was struggling after an anti-Semitic action. The more I learned, the more she felt comfortable sharing and the deeper our relationship could go.
I agree with Shasta Nelson that friendship can save the world,
But it takes more than simply having contact or common friends who are different than us.
Just as our personal lives need friends in every circle,
Our world needs diverse friendships in every circle.
This week are two learning activities to help develop interracial friendships.
Today’s Lenten Luncheon will be led by Rev.Chip Hurd, a pastor driving down from the Springfield area, to lead an interactive program about different types of racism.
Wednesday’s Movie Night is a documentary on the kkk that has a streak of humor.
Both will give common language and insights into racism in our world today.
These programs are not about guilt or shame, they are about deepening understanding so friendships can go deeper and really be there for one another, to nourish and encourage…not brush away with platitudes or judgment or blank stares.
God sends us friends, for our personal journeys and for the betterment of our world.
May we not be afraid to seek and nurture diverse friendships in every circle. Amen.