There’s a funny and insightful scene in the TV show Seinfeld where Jerry is asking his friend Elaine if she wants to do something. “Let’s go hang out,” he says. She says she doesn’t really want to do anything. He says, “We could go to the coffee shop and just hang out.” Elaine says, “That’s fine; I’ll go to the coffee shop if I don’t have to talk.” It sounds ridiculous – I mean, who goes to the coffee shop with a friend not to talk, especially before the day of the smart phone? – but I thought it was a pretty convicting scene in an otherwise silly sitcom.
It reminds of me when my wife and I moved into our neighborhood. One of the reasons we chose our specific house was because we had the sense that this was a more communal kind of neighborhood, that people actually lived life together there, that their kids played together, that you could go and borrow a cup of sugar (or whatever) from somebody. That was kind of the vibe we got from the neighborhood our house is situated, actually, as kind of the nexus the community, meaning that all the kids play out in front of our yard, people are always stopping out front to chat, etc.
We were so excited about that, thinking it was really awesome. But what I realized a few months after moving is that “Yeah, it’s awesome unless you want to be alone, and then you can’t really go into your front yard.” I found myself hanging out in my backyard because I didn’t really want to always engage with people. I started hanging out in my backyard a lot. Like Elaine, I was thinking, “Well, I’ll go into the front yard if I don’t have to talk.”
I think this has become a huge cultural problem, particularly among men, including men in the church. What I have found is that people tend to have foes and fans but very few people have friends. Too few people enjoy true relationships with other people.
And the reality is that we all need real friends – what I’d call “spiritual friends.” We need spiritual friends who are close to us, who understand us, who will encourage us and counsel us, who will carry our burdens but also get in our face when we’re being disobedient or harmful. We need friends who care about the way we are becoming (or not becoming!) more like Christ.
You need spiritual friends who help you submit to God’s sovereignty. You need people to come alongside you and remind you that God is in control, but also that he’s good. You need people who are going to help you discern God’s goodness and his sovereignty, specifically in your life when things are hard. You need spiritual friends like that.
Likewise you need spiritual friends who help reveal the sin in you that is preventing community. From my time as a pastor and just as an adult, what I have found is that most men do not have friends. They just don’t. Nobody knows them. They may have some buddies or some career colleagues, but they don’t have anybody who really knows their heart — their hopes, dreams and fears.
A lot of men don’t know how to take sound spiritual advice, because they don’t have anybody around them giving it to them! They’ll read up on the latest leadership books or on the latest fantasy football tips, but when it comes to navigating the things that really matter, things of eternal consequence, they are both disinterested in and disconnected from the kind of advice that can heal and protect and empower.
As I mentioned, I’ve seen this danger in my own self, and this is why we have elders in our church. I submit myself to other elders in our church, and we’re in each other’s lives, asking each other hard questions about our walks with Christ, about life with our families, specifically our marriages, how we’re doing with sexual purity. All the hard stuff, the “private” stuff.
We’re keeping each other accountable about these hard matters, because we know just how vitally important it is to have friends who are helping us be the people God designed us to be.
My guess is that many of you reading this need to repent of self-protection and look for opportunities to develop spiritual friendships. I’m not saying you need to open yourself up to everybody. I’m saying that you should ask God to show you a few somebodies to whom you can open up your life. Maybe you have some pride to repent of.
Ask God to help. Ask God to bring that kind of person into your life. Ask yourself where you could create more margin in your life where you could welcome others in. (It isn’t just going to happen.)
Who would you call if everything fell apart? Who would you call in a crisis? Who will you entrust with your heart before the times of trouble hit, that they might even be helping you prepare for it spiritually? You need spiritual friends.