It happened to me recently. I got an alert on my iPhone that I had received a friend request on Facebook. I pulled up that person’s profile only to find I didn’t recognize the person’s name or profile photo in the slightest. Faced with only two options (Confirm or Delete), I created a third option – I did nothing. I left their request sitting there.
My wife and I talk about friendship in a “Facebook world” all the time. She lovingly calls me a “friend whore.” According to her, I will accept friend requests from “anyone” (over 1,000 the last time I checked). While I never drop a friend on Facebook (hey, I may need to contact them at some point), she regularly purges her list of people with whom she no longer interacts.
Even before Facebook took over our world, we functioned with different understandings of that word – “friend.” While Facebook certainly blurs that definition, the word “friend” has functioned as a junk drawer of sorts for a long time. “Friend” not only covers those people we spend a great deal of time with, but the people we used to spend great time with but do not any longer. I call someone I like my friend. Someone who has the same hobby as me? My friend. Someone with whom I shared an important experience like college or summer camp? They are a friend, too.
In the midst of this confusion about how we understand the word “friend,” recent experiences have led me to some powerful reminders about what true friendship looks like.
Last year, my wife spent 18 weeks on bedrest, pregnant with twins. I became a single dad of sorts when she was hospitalized for six weeks. And at the end of it all, we went from a family of three to five in about 11 minutes. During this ridiculously long and challenging year, I began to recognize that as much as I teach others on the value of relationships and the importance of community, I struggle with asking for help. As a pastor, it was sobering to learn how much I struggled to practice what I had preached.
When it came to my friendships, I had no problem giving but receiving was something I simply didn’t like doing. When I found myself in constant need, I discovered friends who were ready to help if I would only make my needs known and receive their generosity. People did our dishes and laundry, babysat my son so I could take a nap, and brought our family 3 meals a week for months. In addition to our immediate families who visited from out of town, these generous friends made all the difference for us.
In John 15:13, Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” Friendship involves giving and receiving. Friendship involves an exchange of love, service and generosity. Friendship is not one-way; it’s two-way. Friendship requires touch, proximity, and sacrifice. Friendship is more than just talking about the power of something; it is actually experiencing that something yourself.
If you’re like me and you talk a bigger game about friendship than you actually experience, then here are some good places to start.
1. Be honest about your needs with others. I encourage you to open yourself up to the people around you and let them know about the places where you need their presence. In Acts 2:45, we read a description of the early church. “They were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Did you notice those last four words? “As any had need.” Many times, we do not experience the generosity of other people because we never let them know what we need.
2. Allow social media to facilitate physical friendship but never allow social media to replace it. Some of the giving and receving I’ve been sharing about might be facilitated on Facebook, but Facebook cannot facilitate all of it. When I’m hungry, someone cannot bring a meal to my Facebook wall or Twitter newsfeed. No one can watch my son via an Instagram post. I’m so glad for the offline gifts I received in the last year that no amount of wall-posts, status updates or likes could have equaled. When Paul wrote “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” in Galatians 6:2, he was describing something that happens when two people are together, not simply connected by pixels and touchscreens.
3. Re-examine your use of the word “friend.” My wife’s friendly jabs at me have caused me to edit my vocabulary. When I talk about someone I was close to in college but no longer see, I describe them as “a friend from college.” When I refer to someone I took classes with in seminary, I now say “a guy I knew in seminary.” While this shift may seem like semantics, it has helped me rethink my definition of friendship. I want to be the kind of friend Jesus described in John 15 – where I am willing to sacrifice myself for others. I may have over 1,000 friends according to Facebook, but who do I need to give myself to today? We do not have to let Facebook define a word for us; we get to make that call ourselves.
Today, stop what you’re doing for a moment and consider: Who are your true friends? Do they know your needs? Has your life online helped or hurt your relationships?
We get to build friendships in a Facebook world, but we must build friendships that go far beyond Facebook.
When Scott Savage cackles, people in the next zip code react. Scott lives in Phoenix, where he writes and pastors. He is married to Danalyn (a lawyer) and the father of 3 children under the age of 3. Scott blogs at scottsavagelive.com and you can follow him on Twitter: @scottsavagelive.