Thursday, April 18, 2013

Friendship: ‘Species’ in Danger?

Friends. Somehow they don’t seem to be what they used to be.

If you ask someone, “What is a friend?” you might be surprised at the responses you get. This used to be an easy question, but today the answer’s become muddled, thanks to technology and social media.

In these days of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections and text messaging, we’re in contact with more people than ever. In an instant, with just a few pecks on a computer or smart phone keyboard, we can have hundreds – even thousands – aware of our every thought, our every move. And often they reply back to us, offering reactions, suggestions, even snide comments. But are these really friends?

The popular and now-syndicated sit-com, “Friends,” seems outdated by the current network of virtual friends. In “Friends,” guys and gals hung out together, enjoying one another’s physical proximity. Together they experienced many of life’s highs and lows, and were there to offer or receive comfort and support whenever needed.

Today, physical presence is not essential to “friendship.” It’s common to see people standing or sitting with flesh-and-blood friends, ignoring them as they tap out messages on their phones and tablets to people nowhere in the vicinity, often ones they’ve never met face to face.

There's something about a true friendship that
social media cannot begin to replicate.
Thinking back over my boyhood and college years, friends were important. We shared our joys and struggles, but more importantly we were just there for each other, talking about whatever came to mind. These people became an important part of us, at least for a season.

It’s not that I’m opposed to Facebook friends, following other people on media like Twitter, or composing a text instead of making a traditional phone call. Times change, and it’s good to be able to connect with people in an ever-expanding array of communication alternatives.

But there’s something to be said for the old-fashioned kind of friend, the person you were happy to see, who was glad to just spend time together, talking, joking, bickering, whatever seemed to fit the moment.

The Bible has a lot to say about friendship, even though it was written centuries before Facebook would become a factor in human discourse. For instance, Proverbs 17:17 talks about the constancy of friendship: “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”

Proverbs 18:24 points out the value of being selective in the choice of friends: “A man of many companions comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” And Proverbs 27:6 observes a true friend is not afraid to speak the truth: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted….” Other translations express it this way: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”

Jesus made perhaps the most profound statement about friendship when he said, Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13). How many of your Facebook friends would do that?

I appreciate the advantages that social media offer us today, being able to communicate with people we could contact in no other way. And it’s an interesting means for becoming acquainted with people we’d never encounter otherwise. But I greatly appreciate my “live and in person” friends, those individuals I can see across a table, look in the eye, say what I want to say – and know they want to listen.

To each of them, to borrow a phrase from the theme song of “Golden Girls,” another sitcom about friendship, I say, “Thank you for being a friend.”

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