We need friends. Life and leadership is about people. It is about relationships. You cannot be emotionally healthy in a vacuum. Most of us only have a few friends, people we can count on, people with whom we are doing life. In fact, if you have one or two, you are blessed. A lot of people don’t have any intimate friends. In this episode we explore the importance of friends in overcoming depression, how to find friends, make friends, and strengthen our connection to them.
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Friends: Why You Need Friends, How to Find Friends, How to Make Friends, How to Keep Friends
Depression is a real thing for leaders. We experience depression sometimes, and at times, during our journeys, we’ve significantly experienced depression. Some of the perils of leadership, and particularly spiritual leadership, that make us vulnerable to depression are…
… we sometimes feel very alone and lonely, even with people all around us because we are leading or giving and not engaging relationally.
… we sometimes feel pressure to produce, and we take responsibility for downturns, conflicts, and “slumps” and often take these things personally.
… the importance of the mission leads us to believe that what we are doing is more important than the things that bring health. Because of our sense of mission we may neglect our own family and self. We see rest, personal growth, and enjoyment as secondary to our mission.
… we are the answer man or woman. We regularly and consistently tell people how they ought to live their lives, based upon the bible. We offer solutions in weekly messages, counseling sessions, small groups, and in writing. When we struggle with the same things we feel like an imposter and a failure.
… we cannot compete. Before the internet and satellites our measure was our community and colleagues. That was hard enough. Now we stand on a world-wide stage and we feel measured against the entire world. This fuels feeling of insignificance, inability, and failure.
… we experience the adrenaline of a victory, of accomplishment, of good things that have happened, and then we crash to the ground in discouragement. Like Elijah, when we come to feel we are making real progress, that things are going well, we are quickly reminded of our failures and defeats.
… we live in the public eye and criticisms, both earned and unearned, are freely directed toward us.
There’s a lot of other reasons leaders feel depressed and even suffer from depression. The list goes on and on. We want to take the next few episodes and deal with a few things necessary to live emotionally healthy lives. Our first topic is relationships, having friends.
Why do we need friends?
The Book of Ecclesiastes emphasizes our need for friends when it says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, ESV)
We need the encouragement and help of friends.
Life is Lived in the Context of a Relationship.
Life and leadership is about people. It is about relationships. Discipleship is about transformational relationships. You cannot be emotionally healthy in a vacuum.
If you are married, hopefully your spouse is your very best friend. The intimacy of that one relationship, and the health of that relationship (a topic we should probably hit again) is essential to our emotional health. Beyond that, we do need other people in our lives for perspective and encouragement.
Most of us only have a few friends, I mean people we can count on, people with whom we are doing life. You are not unusual in the number of intimate friends you have if you only have a few.
In fact, if you have one or two, you are blessed. A lot of people don’t have any intimate friends apart from their spouse, if they have one.
Leaders, and most of us, have people around them a lot, but we can be lonely with people all around us.
One of the things I’ve done for the past 16 years is network pastors together into small groups. We all have a need for connection with people we trust, who have similar experiences in life, and who we are not leading. I’ve observed much in this endeavor, and a main take-away is that people have to decide the want to connect, and they have to make a commitment to connecting, or they will not be connected.
We need connection with…
- People we trust
- People who have similar life experiences
- Peers we are not leading
Admittedly, going back the small group network we built, some of our groups have been lame. The fit, the match didn’t work, people didn’t want to go because it was awkward (wow, it is liberating to talk about this now that I’m not leading it), or because the others in the group just did not “get it” or had nothing to contribute.
On the other hand, we’ve had some very strong groups that were effective in connecting and supporting one another. I’ve seen groups meld together and develop lifelong and healthy friendships. Odd thing, even in the strongest groups, there would always be one or two people that could have connected and they decided not to. I get it, life, baseball and football, kids, commitments, busy schedule, I get it—but they chose not to connect.
We have different levels of friendship.
I don’t want to name my friends, but I have a few levels of friends in my life. I have a few hundred people who are my friends. I recognize them, I enjoy seeing them, our encounters may involve a wave from across the room, an occasional email communication that usually involves something other than just saying hello, a text, a quick hug or handshake. I like them, they like me, if the need arose to have a conversation we would be available to one another and we know it.
I have 20 or 30 people that I can count on. They love me, I believe they would help me, we connect for a few minutes every once in a while, and I always love seeing them. We’ve been through some stuff together. We’ve been to a retreat together, we’ve been on the same team for a while, we sat one night late into the night sharing life and challenges. They are my friends, but I only see them when we happen to run across one another, or we are prompted, for some reason to contact one another.
I have 3 or 4 close friends who I’ve done life with on some level. For whatever reason we connected as brothers (they all happen to be men). Honestly, one of them died 8 months ago and I feel that loss deeply because here’s the thing. While I have (or had) 3 close friends, they all fulfill a very different role in my life. Dan, the one who lives with Jesus now, was unique in that we did life together every day for a number of years. We got into revelations and topics that I simply have not had the time to get into with the other guys. Losing him, there are some things I could talk to him about, because we had context, that is just lost.
They guys who remain are like my brothers. They are like adult brothers who live in different cities. We have made a commitment to connect, we are okay with it when its been too long, and we do some of our life together.
To be emotionally healthy, we need friends on all three of these levels.
Where or How Do We Find Friends?
Seems like a simple question for which we should all have an answer. Kindergarten should have taught us this—right?
What if I have no friends? Sometimes I feel that way. Sometimes I feel alone. I remember a time (actually it was “times” because it happened (and happens) over and over again) that I was discouraged because here I ma building a network of relational connection for ministers, and I am not in a group, there is no group to be in, and I hurt and I’m lonely.
To have friends you have to be a friend. So, when I think of the friends in my life, where did they come from? Some insight, for those of you who have no friends, can be gained here.
It Takes Time to Make Friends
Of the few hundred people with whom I feel a connection, most of those connections happened one at a time over a few decades. I met them at church, we served on a board or a committee together, we attended the same meetings and connected, I met them at a conference a retreat or a convention. Some of them we served on a team together.
To Have Friends You Must Engage
Here’s the thing, you have to engage. You can’t sit on your back porch and make friends. You have to walk through the neighborhood. You have to go to denominational meetings, even when the program is a waste of your time. You have to volunteer for boards, projects, and teams where you will meet people. All of these things are an investment that accumulate.
Of the 20 or 30 people with whom I have a deeper connection, all of them were people with whom I worked or connected with some consistency. You don’t connect with everyone, but when you make a felt connection, take note and follow up.
Of the 2 or 3 men who have become close friends, I enjoyed being with them and made an effort to stay connected, they felt the connection as well and made an effort from their side to stay connected. You know, some people are weird to me and I don’t want to connect with them. You can’t force it, but when you sit at a table with someone, and the conversation is easy, you laugh, follow up. Either a connection will happen or it won’t. Either it will stick or it won’t. Hey 2 or 3 or 4 friends over a few decades, it is rare, and we have to know that, but you have a responsibility to nurture it or it will never happen.
You Have to Sacrifice Something to Make a Friend
You have to sacrifice time going to meetings, serving on teams, etc. You have to sacrifice yourself and your time connecting with them. Problem is, a lot of people don’t want friends until they hurt, and since they’ve not made an investment in friendship… guess what? They don’t have a friend. Sad. Too late.
Friendship is a selfless and long-term play.
You have to make deposits. It’s like the parable of the sower in the Gospels. He threw seed all over the place in the hope that some of it would take root and grow. The seed that fell on good ground grew. The seed that fell on rocky ground died. You’ve got to cast ton of seed to get a few plants.
Throw your seed in good soil. I’m going to make intimate friends from among the people, usually but not always, who have the same values and worldview as I do. Where can I connect with people like that.
Not all of your seed will grow. I’ve met thousands of people, and yet I only have a handful of friends. Some of that is because of connection, some of that is because of commitment, and some of it is because of proximity. There are a lot of factors that discourage deep friendships.
Put yourself out there, look for mutual connection, and yes, be led of the Spirit of God in selflessly connecting with others. Friendship is like most other things, it just happens as a result of a string of connected occurrences. Watch for it.
The Greatest Barrier to Friendship
Time. We are too busy. We don’t have time to make an investment. And its not only us who find time a challenge, everyone else does too. Most deep friendships form early in life. Losing my spouse at age 52 was a challenge. Many of the friends we had together… well, it just didn’t work any longer. Finding new friends in your 50s is a challenge because we have kids, grandkids, tons of commitments, and we have a lot of existing relationships, so we often don’t have time to nurture new relationships.
Look For People Who Need to Connect
How do we overcome this if we find ourselves on the lonely side of the equation? We look for other people whose lives are not saturated. People who just transitioned in some way, people who are in new situations where they are lonely.
Go to the Newbie Gatherings
Some of my life-long friendships began with some sort of new-comer orientation. We were the newbies and we were thrown together in one room for a meeting. None of us had established relationships with the bigger group, so we gravitated together and friendships grew. Go to the newbie orientations! Pay attention. Connect.
Calibration Tools… Calibrating Our Lives and Lifting the People We Love and Lead
- Do you already have the friendships you need? If so, what do you need to do to strengthen the connection?
- Depending upon your stage in life, where can you find opportunities for making friends with whom you may find mutual strength and encouragement?
- If you are dealing with depression, on any level, or you feel lonely and unsupported, who are the people in your life who could help you? How do you need to reach out to them?
- Who are the safe people in your life? These are the people you need to invest in. Go back to episode 68 and listen to Embracing Healthy Relationships: Do You Hang Out With Safe People?
When we are lonely and disconnected, that is when we are most vulnerable to depression.
We have a lot of friends in our lives, yet sometimes we feel lonely, but the stronger connection to those friendships, the stronger we will be.
Walking through the darkest times of my life, somethings my friends could not do for me. I had to learn to encourage myself, I had to learn to live a new life, I had to learn to be alone when I was alone. Sometimes we want our friends to do for us what we are going to have to do for ourselves. But I can say, my friends helped me stay connected to emotional health…
… they brought perspective when I could not see it
… they were a safe place and safe people to express my doubts, fears, pain, and authenticity
… they listened when all I needed was someone to listen
… they reached for me when I was falling
It is true, two are better than one, because when you have a friend, and you fall, there is someone to reach for you.
I love my friends… thank you!
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