I learned a lot about friendship the past few years during a painful season of pruning that God designed to build character and shape my/our calling. During this time I was often depressed, disappointed, and confused. I had little to give others in friendship, but seven men in particular gave to me anyhow. They invested huge quantities of time to listen and to encourage my hurting and confused heart. They didn’t judge, they always affirmed my value and character, and spoke of hope for a better future without using cliche. I can’t imagine surviving the season without them. Now it’s incumbent on me to give what I received (II Corinthians 1).
Male friendship seems to be rare, yet when it’s done well the participants describe it as priceless. Why is it rare? What makes it priceless, and how can a guy develop such relationships? First let’s consider why fewer than 10% of men report having a close male friend.
Individualism and the Anti-dote
I think intentionally dependent male friendship is rare among American men because we have been conditioned by the philosophy of rugged individualism ; the belief system that success is a function of self-reliance. As westerners we laud and admire self-made and self-reliant men, but in reality such independence isn’t Biblical. Rather, the members of the Body of Christ are designed and positioned to serve and support each other, according to the gifts they’ve been given,
I Peter 4:8-10, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms”(NIV, emphasis mine).
The value of sacrificial friendship becomes apparent when a man is down and out; when he is feeling defeated, hopeless, and doubtful about his worth and purpose in life. Scripture points out that a man alone in such circumstance is to be pitied,
Ecclesiastes 4:10, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (NIV).
The men who made time to befriend me were a lifeline. Their friendship preserved my life, marriage and ministry. While I’ve named seven in particular, many more reached out at just the right time to speak a word of hope, affirmation and encouragement to persevere (these seven stand out because they were especially non-judgmental and refrained from unsolicited advice-giving).
Perhaps your life circumstances aren’t desperate, at the moment. But they might be at some point. Will you have friendships in place to help you up when your life gets tough? That will probably depend on whether or not you make a proactive investment to ask for friends, and to be a friend. The time is now.
Friends are Friends Forever
In the early 1990’s Tim Schofield took a risk by telling me that he needed a man like me to be a regular part of his life. “I need you in my life. If the feeling is mutual, I wonder if you would be willing to make our friendship a priority by dedicating time to really know each other and to help each other to grow and mature in relationship with God, our wives, children, etc.?” I accepted the invitation and enjoyed a deep 10 year friendship. While we’ve released each other to invest in other relationships per a geographical separation that precludes regular face to face contact, we remain “go to” friends who could unapologetically call each other at 3am if needed.
How Any Man Can Grow a Great Friendship
Worthwhile things in life usually require sacrifice and risk. Tim led me into an invaluable friendship by doing both. Expect to sacrifice and invest if you want a circle of great friendships.
1. Identify a guy (or two or three) that you respect
2. Identify the qualities that you respect.
3. Risk telling him/them that you need guys like him in your life.
4. Tell him/them that you are willing to invest time and effort in friendship.
5. Give what you would like to receive, for example:
5. Define what friendship done well will look like, for instance:
a. Time spent in conversation about relationship with God, wife, children
b. Setting and sharing goals and accountability to grow.
c. Sharing and challenge about career and ministry
d. Enjoyment of recreational activities
6. Be proactive.
a. Ask for time together; put it on your calendar.
b. Suggest things to do together, and keep your appointments.
c. Dependability and reliability is huge. Are you known as a man who keeps his word, even when it hurts?
Fulfilling Your Destiny and Finishing Well
The bottom line about essential male friendships is about fulfilling one’s life purpose with integrity over the long haul. Think about the men that have enabled Tiger’s philandering or alleged doping by Lance Armstrong. Were these men friends to marvelously talented athletes and cultural icons? No, true friends would have checked these guys by confronting them about the short-sightedness of their fleshly ambitions and they would have advocated for integrity.
One can never have too many friends; true friends willing to invest time and energy in your life, and open to receiving the same in reciprocal relationship.
Finally, here is an instructive quote from an influential mentor, Jim Duffee, M.D.
I went to find a friend, but there were no friends there,
But when I went to BE a friend there were friends everywhere!
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