Mouths wide open, eyeballs as big as tennis balls, and a general feeling of blanket offense was the response of my congregation when I told them Americans are terrible at friendship. But as the first tidal wave of prideful denial receded, I began to see some heads nodding. The truth of a cultural blind spot, revealed, began to draw out a good desire for loving, true friendship to become the norm.
If you want to get something done, culturally, Americans are the folks you want on the job. They work more than almost any other country in the world and they applaud getting a job done. While working, Americans are generally pretty friendly with one another. They say, “Hi buddy!” and “Howdy pardner!” (well maybe not that last one), but as soon as the project or job is over it’s a friendly, “See you later!” and contact is cut off. Generally, in their mind, there’s no more work to do so they just move on.
Do you see how this attitude undermines friendship? Friendship enjoys another person for who they are, not what they do. When you have a whole culture that engages with friendship based upon tasks, it’s pretty easy to bypass actually enjoying someone for who they are as a person.
In this weird time when so many of our church members are forced to detox from their lives being wrapped up in what they do and are faced with the person in the mirror every morning as simply a human rather than a worker, it provides a great opportunity for despair, but also seeking self-understanding.
Many people in your church don’t know true friendship. For so long they substituted actual friendship for working relationships they enjoy. In this unique time, we are faced with a serious opportunity to forge true friendships now.
But how? How can the American culture learn true friendship when they have neglected it for so long? Let’s look to our perfect example, Jesus. In teaching the crowds about his purpose in coming into human history, Jesus tells them,
“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” – Luke 7:34-35
There’s plenty here, but it seems like Jesus’ exhortation to the crowd was to step away from the preconceived expectations they had for the Messiah and to take a look at Jesus for who he truly was, “a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”
Notice that Jesus, who could have identified as a friend of those who appeared to “do the work of the Kingdom,” actually befriends those who seem to be doing the opposite. He enters into relationship with people who have nothing in common with him and aren’t even on the same mission, simply for who they are. He engages their lives and enjoys them.
Perhaps the clearest example in Scripture is that of Zacchaeus, the little, thieving, sell-out-to-the-Romans, and traitor-to-his-people man, who Jesus demands relationship with by eating at his home, much to the offense of those who felt they should have been on Jesus’ friendship list.
Connect and Help Make Connections
Pastor, you can use this opportunity to help facilitate true friendship by reaching out to those who are isolated and alone. You can connect folks in your church, in creative ways over technology, for no other purpose than to enjoy one another for who they are in this shared reality rather than because of their commonalities in work or ministry. And, you can do this for yourself also.