True friendship

How deep are your friendships? Who really knows you? Do you have friends who you can be truly honest and vulnerable with?

When I am meeting with someone for counselling I usually ask about their friendships. In the midst of their struggles, I’m keen to find out if there is anyone else who they can talk to about these things.

More often than not, the answer is “no”.

Of course there may be people they enjoy spending time with – but not friends who they can be truly honest and vulnerable with.

In life, there are complex situations that require expertise, and sometimes it is valuable talking with someone who has particular knowledge or experience. Nonetheless, it strikes me that many of the conversations I have with people are conversations they could be having with a few trustworthy and wise friends. Often my role isn’t specialised, it’s to be a listening ear, to show a commitment to understand and a desire to see them grow in Christ.

Not only that, I am likely to be involved in their lives only for a limited period of time. But good friendships are those that can last for many years, throughout the ups and downs of life. And so true friendships have the potential to have a much greater influence and provide a much better support in the long run, than I can as their formal counsellor.

But what gets in the way of developing this kind of friendship? The kind of friendship that is strong and deep enough to handle the sins, struggles, and sufferings of everyday life in all its technicolour grittiness?

I am sure there are many things, but one that I have been thinking on lately is the impact of living in a busy and individualistic culture.

True friendship takes a lot of time and deliberate intention. And when time is short, it so often gets squeezed. If you are anything like me, we allow the desires of our hearts, aided by technology, to morph friendship into something that is easier to manage, to control, to contain, to limit.

Instead of true friends, we have Facebook friends!

These digitalised friendships are appealing as they allow us to avoid messy emotions. They enable us to keep our flaws hidden. They “free” us from being burdened by the complexity of reality. And they do all this while still comforting us with the guise of having networks.

But such “freedom” comes at a cost, and such “comfort” proves itself deceitful. As a society, we are in touch with more people than ever before, but we are also more isolated, more lonely, and more depressed than ever before.

Refreshingly, the Bible speaks quite candidly on the subject. Jesus says to his friends: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants… Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:12-15).

Jesus is clear – developing true friendship will require sacrifice and laying down one’s life. Sacrifice of time, energy, self-protection, personal agendas, to name but a few. A tall order, perhaps?

But we are able to live like this because we have been loved like this.

Jesus was not afraid to get involved in the messiness of our world. He was never too busy to invest time in his followers. He did not hesitate to give up comfort and ease, denying himself, even to the point of death, so that he might call us his “friends”. This is not some anaesthetised friendship. This is real, true, and deep friendship. And he calls us to follow in his footsteps.

So, why not plan to spend a little less time with your computer or phone this week, and a little more time developing deep and meaningful relationships? And when the pinch of self-sacrifice is felt, let it remind you of how deeply Jesus loves you and what it cost him to call you his friend.

Dr Joanna Jackson is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist and is the Director of Counselling at the All Souls Counselling Service in London.