“Genuine friends are rare treasures. However, the Lord created us for meaningful relationships; it’s difficult to flourish if we live in isolation. By design, we are made to share life with others, as well as to give and receive love”.
Sounds like one of those cheesy Hallmark cards doesn’t it? The kind that you find on those cards that make you wonder: “who buys these?”. Well, I’m glad to tell you it isn’t one of those. The above passage comes from a devotional by Dr Charles Stanley, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Atlanta. He’s in his eighties now so even if you don’t really like his sermons, believe them because he has lived them.
He goes on to say: “Surface friendships don’t satisfy this need. But unfortunately, many people never experience anything deeper. This is why so many individuals are lonely–even if they’re always surrounded by others.”
We live in a world that values the fleeting friendship, where I can “friend” you just as easily as I can “unfriend” you. A concept I have found so difficult to come to terms with. I spent many years avoiding social media like Facebook because I felt they encourage those kind of relationships, the fleeting kind. Unfortunately we are surrounded by technological gadgets that improve are lives in so many ways but can also lead to a deep and devastating anti-social kind of life that hampers our development and restricts the joy that we are meant to derive from our walk here on earth.
“Self-sufficiency is prized in the world, but it isn’t God’s design for His children”, that man, Dr Stanley again. Let me take you on a bit of a personal journey. Until recently, up until a year and a half ago, I consciously and unconsciously withdrew myself from all forms of friendships. Just to give you a clue, through my walk in life I have not kept in touch with any of the people I met through my school years, primary school, high school and even university. I can hear those of you that know me saying hold on a minute here, we know you have friends, where do they come from? I’ll come back to that a little later. Here’s my point, I have interacted with a lot of amazing people in my life. Men and women who, when I look back, would have contributed richly to my journey in life. But I have managed to work them all out of my life. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s doable. In medical circles it’s called social withdrawal. When I first read that term I had pictures of someone refusing to attend a “social function”, like a school reunion or something. But having lived it I know it goes deeper than that.
Without realizing it you “avoid” people you know in situations where you shouldn’t. Where people club together because they know each other, you unconsciously choose to associate with “new” people. The associations you form with the new people are not deep, they are fleeting, and you form more of these kinds of friendships as you go along, and by the end of your high school or varsity you realize that you have no compelling reason to get in touch with any of those people, because no lasting bonds were formed. You move into a work situation and form new “friendships”. Again, you form fleeting ones. You hang out together having fun activities but that’s just it. You know when the going gets tough, there’s no one amongst those “friends” you can call on. But life goes on and you appear to be having a normal life. You think to yourself, I’m a self-sufficient man, why do I really need all these people for?
It then extends to family to. You have family around you, parents, brothers, sisters, cousins, the lot. But you don’t really have intimate relationships with any of them. You keep a world of your own, one which allows you to make up your own rules, you take offense without letting it show, you keep grudges without appearing bitter. Soon you are convinced there’s a conspiracy against you(by people you love), and before you know it, you conclude everyone has it in for you. Family and all. In my case I was convinced my dad had it in for me. Why? I don’t know. Your boss too, or even your partner. So inside, you keep wishing you could “escape it all”. Either get a job so far away from everyone or live so far away from “them” all. All this whilst appearing to interact normally with each one of them. I didn’t succeed in getting the job in Durban or Cape Town, I came pretty close. But I succeeded in keeping everyone at more than an arm’s length.
Life being life doesn’t really give you the the chance to be successful at being self-sufficient. It throws you the curve balls that it throws at everybody. Only, you don’t have the luxury of turning to genuine friends for help and comfort. You cannot turn to family because you think they don’t understand you or your world. So you feel so alone in the world, yet you are surrounded by people. Lonely, but not alone. And you hit a brick wall. What you decide to do is anyone’s guess.
So, back to why I’m taking you down this depressing road. I’m living with clinical depression. I’ve lived with it all my life without knowing it. Last year, it was finally diagnosed and I’m on treatment for it. It hasn’t cost me only in terms of friendships but a whole lot more, a rich and fulfilling life. The reason I’m telling you this is because I feel if I had known about it much earlier in my life I could have had it treated earlier. So, I have this insatiable need to tell others about it. Like a life mission. To let others know that it’s not normal to think life is a solo venture. You need friends in your life, genuine friends. (So, as I blog, I will keep coming back to the theme of clinical depression because it’s one very close to my heart).
So in the past year and a half I have consciously started cultivating genuine friendships in addition to the e few people whom I could not get rid of during the dark years. Genuine friends who don’t care that I shut them out, lied to them and misled them. I don’t have to mention them, they know themselves and for them I’m eternally grateful.Thank you. I now consciously interact with people, befriend people and am slowly going back where I can, reconnecting with those that once played a meaningful role in my life but had become casualties of my condition.
Dr Charles Stanley asks the question: “Do you have someone with whom to share your joys and sadnesses, strengths and weaknesses, fears and pain? Thankfully, Jesus is the best friend we can have. But He also desires that we have close relationships with others. What can you do today to build this type of friendship?”
My question to you is a bit extreme and this is deliberate. People don’t readily agree that something like this could happen to them but if you read this far you might as well answer the question: If life was to throw you a curveball today, and it hit you so bad that you thought life was not worth living, do you have a person that you know you can call, and they would not judge you, or ridicule you or call you faithless? If you don’t, start working on it today, life is a team sport.