When we consider our economic downturn in the United States, we immediately think about lack of jobs and money. As I talk to more people, however, I learn that the glaring casualty from America's recession is a loss of friendships.
One might assume that the prevalence of online networks, such as Facebook or email, would increase friendships and support systems. Just the opposite is occurring, and friendships seem to be in a recession, too. As a pastor, I hear of just how lonely some people really are in their life.
My own unprofessional research finds that loneliness stems from one of three reasons.
One reason is job loss. When people get terminated from jobs, friendships are ruptured and dependable support systems fracture. Many people move to find new work, and new employment brings them into environments in which other employees have little in common with them in the first place. Underemployment dampens the energy and inspiration needed to find new friends.
A second reason is the demand of caregiving. More parents and grandparents take care of children or grandchildren, thus isolating people in their homes and filling up already-too-busy schedules. Add doctors appointments, careers, and the simple act of grocery shopping for ever-larger families, and the time for building deep, tried-and-true friendships becomes extinct.
Third, we live in an aging population. Just look at the obituary section, and you get the feeling that more of our friends are passing away each day. Many are our best friends. Since we do not have time to do community-organized events or get established in a well-paying, predictable job, there is no way to make new friends when we have to face such loss.
With the loss of friendships, we forget that making friends, as challenging as it is, is actually a spiritual discipline that's as important as prayer or fasting. The loneliest among us need a sense of community and spiritual support, and perhaps our yearning for friends is one of the ways God is calling us to befriend others.
Friendship was a part of Jesus' call to discipleship in John 15, when he said, "This is my commandment: that you love one another ... I have called you friends" (v. 12, 15b). Elsewhere, Jesus modeled friendship as a way to rest and relax (Luke 10:38-42). Friendship is not something to surrender, but a way of life to cultivate in order to make it one day at a time.
The notion of friendships has been around since the beginning of time. In the earliest days of creation, God saw that it was not good for humans to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Proverbs 27:9 states that "the sweetness of a friend is better than one's own counsel." David lamented over the death of his friend, Jonathon, whom he loved more than any other (2 Sam. 1:26), and sought to befriend Saul's family as a result.
In the early church, friendship continued to be an important spiritual discipline. The earliest monasteries were founded in order to provide spiritual friendships in the midst of social upheaval. Celtic Christianity saw friendship -- or "anamcara" -- as a necessity in growing closer to Christ.
Perhaps the key to building friendships is not necessarily wishing for more time in the day, but creating a discipline to make time in the day. Unplug the computer and call a friend on the phone. Write a hand-written letter instead of email. Commit to share a meal with other like-minded families once a month. Schedule a vacation with a friend in your Dayplanner as you would a doctor's appointment. Break bread together and see friendship as another sacrament that fosters divine interactions.
You never know, your loneliness-inspired devotion to friendship might be the answer to another lonely person's prayer.
The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.trinityconyers.org.