There is a reason why a high percentage of American’s are lonely. The National Science Foundation reported in its General Social Survey that unprecedented numbers of American’s are lonely. One study based on 1500 face to face interviews found that more than a quarter of the respondents had no one with whom they could talk about their personal troubles or triumphs. If family members are not counted, the number doubles to more than half of Americans who have no one outside their immediate family with whom they can share confidences. Why is this so? The answer to that question is no doubt a multi-layered one, one which would by itself occupy many articles and research data. But I want to make a simple observation from my own experience. Relationships are difficult, and generally speaking those relationships which can handle the weight of the deeper discussions of life are the most difficult of all.
Yet it is this very business of relationships to which the follower of Jesus is persuasively called upon to give their most serious attention. Peter speaks to this in 1 Peter 1:22: “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” Pay attention to the weightiness of Peter’s words “sincere love for each other, deeply from the heart.” When I read those words I find them staggering because it describes a quality of relationship that seems so rare, and if the Social Survey mentioned in the first paragraph is true it is rare for most of the adult population of the U.S. And I suspect it is also rare among Christian people.It is the challenge of trust, vulnerability and the necessary persistence over time which close friendship requires that makes it a work which many of us simply will not carve out sufficient time to make a reality. Os Guinness notes “Life fired at us point blank becomes the survival of the fastest. As a Kenyan saying goes, “Westerners have watches, Africans have time.” This is one of the great temptations of our era the temptation to yield to the notion that there simply isn’t enough time to build these kinds of relationships. And it is not only the appearance that sufficient time isn’t available to take our relationships deeper but there are numerous issues which close quarter relationships inevitably bring us face to face with conflict, and the need to communicate about these inevitable frictions that emerge when we seek close friendship with one another. It’s much easier to simply keep your distance. Let things remain superficial and lighthearted.
Yet scripture makes clear that there is something critical to our spiritual growth which is tied to our relationships, “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) In the economy of God, the challenges which occur in our relationships are essential to brining about growth in our character and the quality of our love growth which comes only in this way. It is therefore no exaggeration to say from the vantage point of Scripture that the quality of life in which we must grow is precisely in the area of relationships. According to John’s recollections it was among the last things Jesus said before he was arrested and then executed: John 13:34-35 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
This is one of the reasons why Christianity doesn’t have much appeal to lonely Americans, hungry for friendship. For when Westerners think about depth, Christianity is too often not the place where searching people turn for that substance. Yet, one of the most common images of the church in the New Testament is family, as though God intended for those who might have suffered with poor family life an opportunity to recapitulate the family experience with brothers and sisters who sincerely and from the depths of their hearts love one another. Could this have been what Jesus had in mind when he made love a cornerstone of what was to characterize his movement? A movement of friendships rooted in the Divine friendship?
By : Scott Pursley
Scott Pursley is a Psychologist and the Lead Pastor of Christ Fellowship in Cranford, NJ. Click here to visit the website of Christ Fellowship.