This past Wednesday there was an article in The Wall Street Journal on the problem of loneliness in the modern world we live in. The article said, “Baby Boomers are aging alone more than any generation in U.S. history, and the resulting loneliness is a looming public health threat.” The article goes on to say that researchers have found that loneliness takes quite a physical toll, and is clearly linked to early mortality. It is worse for human longevity than heavy smoking, drinking, obesity, and being physically inactive.
One of the reasons there is more loneliness than ever before is because we no longer recognize the significance of one of life’s greatest treasures: friendship. In this frenetic, technological world we live in, people do not appear to value it anymore. Particularly men.
Former NFL defensive lineman and motivational speaker Joe Ehrmann observes that men are constantly comparing and competing, wondering how they measure up to other men. It leaves them with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Coach Ehrmann mentions a study he read, revealing a sad fact: most men over the age of 35 have no authentic friends. That is, someone close to them with whom they can be vulnerable and share their innermost thoughts and feelings.
In his book, The Question of God, Armond Nicholi Jr., discusses C. S. Lewis’ view of friendship. For years, Lewis was an atheist, exhibited a pessimistic view of life, and had zero friends. Yet, when he became a Christian, his view of life and relationships was transformed. As Nicholi put it, nothing brought Lewis more enjoyment than sitting around a fire with a group of close friends engaged in good conversation, or taking long walks through the English countryside, accompanied by a friend.
“My happiest hours,” Lewis wrote, “are spent with three or four old friends in old clothes tramping together and putting up in small pubs–or else sitting up ‘til the small hours in someone’s college rooms, talking nonsense, poetry, theology, metaphysics…There’s no sound I like better than…laughter.”
In another letter to his good friend, Greeves, Lewis writes, “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me, it is the chief happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to a young man about a place to live, I think I should say, ‘sacrifice almost everything you have to live where you can be near your friends.’
Lewis changed from a wary introvert with very few close relationships to a personable extrovert with scores of close friends and colleagues. George Sayer, a biographer who knew Lewis for some 30 years, and Owen Barfield, a close friend for more than 40 years, described Lewis after his conversion.
“He was unusually cheerful, and took an almost boyish delight in life,” they said, describing him as “great fun, an extremely witty and amusing companion…considerate…more concerned with the welfare of his friends than with himself.”
Lewis clearly understood the value of friendship and was a loyal friend to others, as this was such a high priority in his life.
When you read the book of Proverbs, notice there are several verses on being a friend. It declares you will never be a wise person unless you are able to choose, develop and keep great friends.
Dr. Tim Keller says friendship can bring something into your life that neither your wife nor children can bring. The reason is that friendship is not of biological or sociological necessity. It is the only love that is absolutely deliberate, never pushing itself on you like a family does.
What you find is that in a busy frenetic culture, good friendships are squeezed out. In fact, the book of Proverbs is clear, you will not have the life God wants for you without good friends.
Dr. Keller continues to reveal that friendships today are much more difficult to come by, because we are such a highly mobile society. We have less time to forge friendships. People move frequently, are traveling for business or pleasure, and have second and third homes. Without realizing it, modern people relegate friendship to a place of low priority.
When you see the devastation of loneliness, it becomes quite clear that friendship is life-giving, it is a major factor in experiencing the joy and happiness we all yearn for.
There is no doubt in my mind that friendships have to be intentionally pursued. A wise rule to remember is that to have good friends you have to be a good friend. You have to be transparent and willing to speak honestly into someone else’s life.