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Thursday, 25 October 2012

If you asked our daughter if she has a "best friend," she would immediately name a girl whom we used to live across the street from. They had spent many afternoons playing together and many nights of stay-up-late sleepovers. They even have matching shirts that proclaim that they're BFFs. Since we moved three hours away, they don't see each other as much, but still stay connected through email and letters.

But Hannah has also made friendships with other girls in Allendale. And she has friends from our church back in Greenville that she gets to see when we have a weekend visit, or during student ministry retreats. While she enjoys their friendships, she is not tightly connected with any of them.

Is that a good thing? I wonder. Is it better to have "best" friends, or is it better for kids (and adults for that matter) to have a larger group of friends?

For the sake of perspective, I have to recognize that I come to this issue from the experience of never having a "best" friend before my wife. I never felt a need for in-depth friendship. I'm not saying I was right or wrong; it's just how it was for me.

Having a "Best" Friend

To be honest, I regularly felt (and sometimes still do) a bit envious when I hear others talk about the close friendships they have, or when I see (through the window of Facebook) so-and-so's latest weekend with old college pals.

There is something in me that yearns for community and intimacy with others. That desire for community has been crafted in us; we are relational beings created in the image of a relational God (Genesis 1:27). We are created for community -- for mutual love, accountability, and encouragement (Hebrews 10:24-25).

But two cautions come to mind:
  1. Don't let community with others take the place of your community with God, even a fraction thereof. No horizontal relationship (friendships, marriage, etc) can ever meet our deepest needs and expectations. 
  2. Don't let your spiritual maturity be dependent on human community. What will happen if and when those friends are no longer around you? What if you move, or have a falling out? If you find it hard to make new friends, you might have been overly dependent on that "community."
 

No "Best" Friend(s)

As I said, this is my background, so I can speak a little more from experience. While part of me felt like I was missing something by not having closer friendships, I also saw it's advantages.

Not being overly-connected with a few specific friends made it easier for me to fit in when I was around a variety of people. In elementary school, high school, and college, I had friends from all kinds of groups -- athletes, preps, academics -- you name it.

But what I had to realize was that I was missing out on community. There were certain seasons in my life (especially after college) where I knew I needed to specifically had to move towards other men. Sometimes it was asking a man to mentor me, and sometimes it was asking a peer to get together monthly to talk about life. Since 2000, I can think of at least 5 men that I met with regularly, for a season (usually 1-2 years,but one was for about 6 years). I look back on those times with fondness, knowing that they gave me community that I sorely needed.

Friends Are Great, But Jesus Is Better

There is nothing wrong with you or your child having a best friend. In fact, it can be a great thing, and to not have intimate community can be a sign of independence and pride. Rick Warren wrote,"The person who says, 'I don't need the church,' is either arrogant or ignorant." (I quoted this in this post about being a part of a church family.)

But consider whether that friendship is centered around the gospel. In Community Is Formed and Sustained by the Gospel, authors Tim Chester and Steve Timmis caution us to not try to "do" community:

Sometimes people place a big emphasis on the importance of community and neglect the gospel Word. Community then becomes a goal toward which we work. But Peter says human activity cannot create life that endures. An exclusive focus on community will kill community. It is only the Word of God that creates an enduring community life and love.

Here are a few questions for you to ponder (and to help your child think through):
  • For those who do have "best" friends: 
    • When a trouble comes up, do you first turn to God or to friends?
    • Are you content being alone? When was the last time you had a time of extended solitude?
  • For those who don't have "best" friends:  
    • When a trouble comes up, do you first turn to God, or do you first try to solve the problem yourself?
    • When was the last time you were vulnerable with someone else, by sharing your dreams and hurts?
"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."  Proverbs 27:17

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**image courtesy of lorenkerns via flickr

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