These last six months have prompted me to think long and hard about friendship, conflict, and convictions and how all of it can collide when life gets shakey and unpredictable. And it’s interesting. People have surprised me, both in good ways and bad.
Some who I would have thought were grounded and reasonable have proven themselves to be driven mostly by fear, groupthink, selfishness, and even anarchy. Others have majored in slacktivism, moralism, and shaming anyone who doesn’t speak and act the way they do. Still, others who I might have dismissed as immature or foolish have proven themselves to be stable and wise.
None of this stuff is new. Sin and selfishness have been around for some time now, but this season has definitely amplified some disturbing behavior. And while I’m glad to generally feel situated in the middle of these extremes as a self-professed moderate, this isn’t a post about how great I am (spoiler: I’m not). We all have our flaws, and I would say mine have generally tended toward inaction and a failure to speak the truth when I should have no matter what it cost me to do so. Not in a loud way. Not in a mean way. Just in a true way. But this isn’t a post about that.
This is a post about the people who have kept me sane while the world around me has spun entirely out of control.
In spite of the disappointment I feel when I look at the world, I consider myself incredibly blessed to have people in my corner helping me process, seek what is true and just, and push through the noise toward clarity and focus. I have friends who inspire me toward action, friends who force me to face my fears, friends who challenge me when I’m wrong, and friends who will sit in the subtlest of anxieties with me, understanding every part of it because they’ve felt it, too. I realize not everyone is so lucky to have a best friend who accompanied them through all the weirdest parts of life growing up. I know that what I have is rare. To have even one real friend is a treasure, but I have a handful. And they are like gold.
The crazy thing is, I’ll likely look back on this time as an incredible season of growth even though I’ve spent six months physically isolated from nearly everyone I know. I have a niece and a nephew I’ve never met yet. I haven’t seen my family or sat in a church pew in ages. Still, my friends have made this time rich and meaningful, and they’ve habitually pointed me back to foundational truths. I’m thankful that technology allows a sense of togetherness in spite of the distance.
But friendship like this doesn’t just happen. It’s cultivated and nurtured. It’s intentional. And it requires mutual trust and goodwill for the other. In our era of rampant selfishness, there’s nothing so beautiful as wanting all the best things for another person and knowing they want the same for you. And that everything you put into that friendship is going to pour back out in so many unique ways.
Learn to cultivate
The world isn’t going to suddenly become decent tomorrow. That’s going to take time and the Holy Spirit. But one thing everyone can do right now is to start cultivating one or two deep, meaningful friendships. Work on building trust and mutual respect if you don’t already have it. Then dig deep and ask hard questions. Read something together (start with Proverbs or maybe some Ryan Holiday). Talk about it. Force yourself to think differently. Poke holes in the things you say you believe. Let your friends whom you trust push you to become a better you. And do the same for them. Little by little, text by text, letter by letter, phone call by phone call, let the iron sharpen iron. Learn to say things like, “I never thought of it that way before” or “Man, I still have so much to learn about this.” And don’t forget about this big scary one: “Wow. I was wrong.” The good news is, learning to admit these things is the first step to growing and understanding.
And I’ll say this, just because it’s proven true for me: Don’t assume you know all there is to know about a person. And don’t assume anyone is too different from you that they can’t make a great friend. People will surprise you if you let them.
It starts with us
While we can’t fix the world, we can learn to live grounded, peaceful, rich, meaningful lives even in the middle of this pandemic (or what remains of it), and we can let that influence how we interact with the broader culture. My challenge to you is to think about the people in your life whom you respect and trust the most and find out a way to build something beautiful, lasting, and life-changing. We all have more to offer the world than we currently give. And we all give of ourselves in the wrong ways, too. Don’t throw pearls before swine. Find people worthy of conversation. There’s a time and place for social media, but in our current culture, it will likely bring more strife than peace. Turn it off if you can’t handle it. It isn’t worth the inner turmoil and burnout. Spend your time on things that matter.
When you build strong relationships that are grounded in truth, you’ll start to focus on the right things. And somewhere in the middle of the chaos, you’ll discover a thing called hope. Hope is what happens when we fix ourselves to a strong foundation and build outward in community with others who also want to live justly and love mercy and walk humbly. And hope is what gives us the life and energy we need to press into our vocations with renewed confidence and energy.