Monday, August 20, 2012
Today’s Topic: Choose Friends Carefully
Today’s Text: Proverbs 27:6 (ESV) Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.
According to a 2006 study out of Duke University, our circle of close friends is getting smaller. Over the past twenty years, the number of people we can discuss “matters important to us” dropped nearly a third, from a mean of 2.94 to 2.08. The number of people who said they had no one to talk to about important matters more than doubled, to nearly 25 percent.
A 2012 New York Times article added that this scarcity of close friends has especially impacted mid-lifers. During midlife it’s harder to meet the three conditions required for making new friends—proximity; repeated connections; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other.
The article went on to state:
In your 30s and 40s, plenty of new people enter your life, through work, children’s play dates and, of course, Facebook. But actual close friends—the kind you make in college, the kind you call in a crisis—those are in shorter supply. As people approach midlife, the days of youthful exploration, when life felt like one big blind date, are fading. Schedules compress, priorities change and people often become pickier in what they want in their friends. It’s time to resign yourself to situational friends: K.O.F.’s (kind of friends).
Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T. and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, has spent the last 15 years studying how our “plugged-in lives” have changed who we are. She claims that all of our technological devices have produced a world in which we’re always communicating but we’re seldom having real conversations.
Consider the following quotes from Turkle:
We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places …. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. Connecting in sips may work for gathering discrete bits of information or for saying, “I am thinking about you” …. But connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another.
We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship. Always-on/always-on-you devices provide three powerful fantasies: that we will always be heard; that we can put our attention wherever we want it to be; and that we never have to be alone. Indeed our new devices have turned being alone into a problem that can be solved. When people are alone, even for a few moments, they fidget and reach for a device …. Our constant, reflexive impulse to connect shapes a new way of being. Think of it as “I share, therefore I am.”
“The illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.” Wow! That so clearly describes what is going on in culture today, and it is contrary to what the Creator calls us to, which is intimate fellowship. Within the context of Proverbs 27:6, God reminds us that we need friends that are willing to wound us because the love us. They will speak the truth in love, and we will call them faithful to have done it. But how many of us allow those kind of relationships in our lives? Rather, we prefer the illusion of friends. We can block them if they offend us, and be mad at them if they block us for what we post. We can pick and choose friends who will satisfy some deep-seeded and sinful need for attention, approval, or acceptance. After all, friends are to be used for our gratification, right? Proverbs calls those kinds of friends enemies.
As a result, when the real storms of life begin appear on the horizon and crash in on us with life-altering force, we have no one to talk to. So we’ve created a system of professional help to get us through. In his book Bad Religion, Ross Douthat argues that as families have weakened and true friendships have waned, we have tried to fill the vacuum by relying on professionals. Obviously, many of these professionals truly care about their clients, but this trend also indicates a deeper problem. Douthat writes:
The United States has witnessed a hundredfold increase in the number of professional caregivers since 1950. Our society boasts 77,000 clinical psychologists, 192,000 clinical social workers, 105,000 mental health counselors, 50,000 marriage and family therapists, 17,000 nurse psychotherapists, 30,000 life coaches—and hundreds of thousands of nonclinical social workers and substance abuse counselors as well. Most of these professionals spend their days helping people cope with everyday life problems, not true mental illness. This means that under our very noses a revolution has occurred in the personal dimension of life, such that millions of Americans must now pay professionals to listen to their everyday life problems. The result is a nation where gurus and therapists have filled the roles once occupied by spouses and friends.
We need drastic and dramatic change. We need face-to-face time with friends, like Moses is described as having with God. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. Exodus 33:11 (ESV). I’m not asking you to throw away Facebook or phones, but I am asking you to think about the quality of relationships you have. I know I need to. And today I’m gonna start fixing that. At 11:00 AM I’m going to spend five hours with another man, side-by-side and face-to-face, and we are going to sharpen each other. And I’m turning my cell phone off…or at least to vibrate so if my wife calls I can answer. No Facebook updates. No Words with Friends. No email. Just intimate fellowship with a friend!