Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection July 8, 2018
"Friendship and Loneliness" by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
On Sunday, June 24, I preached about having friends (the live sermon can be reached at the church Facebook Page - under “posts” or on my personal Facebook page at Thomas Aldworth). I wish to add some further thoughts in this week’s Advance.
To ask people if they are lonely is a fairly foolish question. All of us - by our very nature - are lonely creatures. We have wonderful moments of community and intimacy, but we are still set adrift on a very large ocean. It is no wonder that we often run aground on the shoals of addictions and self-protective narcissism.
We have a great need for one another -- a hunger for human contact. None of us can make it through life alone, even though some of us try. Sadness and sometimes anger are the emotions swirling within each of us when we admit the precariousness of our condition. Isolation leads to bitterness -- a poisonous mixture of hurt and regret.
Friendships are struggles. The self-revelation necessary for the forging of a friendship is difficult and dangerous. Sometimes we find it easier to sit in front of our televisions and pretend we are not alone. Loneliness is like a perennial low-grade fever. We know we are not well, but we are uncertain of the cause of our malady. Loneliness in one sense uncovers a hole within the human soul. This hole can never be finally filled regardless of our frantic attempts to do so.
Yet loneliness is a gift given to us by the One who shaped us as we are. It pushes us into contact with one another. It makes us merge into the human family. Isolation is not what we are made for. If we do not learn this truth, then we are truly in trouble.
Sometimes in our society we idolize the loner. We see this in the myth of the cowboy -- the one who doesn‘t need anyone else -- only a horse. This myth has crippled our national psyche. Loners choose a path that can only end in disappointment and despair.
We need each other. This is the most vital truth I know. If we fail at finding friends in life, then we become the most miserable of God‘s creatures. We need people with whom we can share our hopes -- our dreams. We need friends who will cherish our loyalty to them.
Many of us opt out of friendship-making because we suffer occasional betrayals. Friendships can surely bring pain and turmoil. Yet what choice do we have? The human heart grows hard in the absence of intimacy and caring. When did it become “cool” to appear impervious to the need for human warmth? Isolation breeds addictions and violence.
Friendships take time, require time. To develop a friendship means time on the phone -- time for meals -- time for movies -- time for walks. Many of us today seem to be out of time. There is no time left in our daily life. We are starved for time. As Jacob Needleman rightly notes in his book, Time and the Soul: “We are all living in a culture that traps us into doing too many things, taking on too many responsibilities, facing too many choices and saying yes to too many opportunities.”
So we often find ourselves without the time friendships require. Friendship is about attention. Yet attention is hard on those of us caught in our race against time. We are time-impoverished, so we find ourselves cut off from our lives. Being cut off from our lives is what loneliness is all about. The busier we are, the lonelier we can be. Isolation is a side effect of our frenetic pace. Isolation happens when we fail to give adequate attention to anyone or anything.
If I am to be a friend, I must give my full attention. If someone wants to be my friend, he or she must bring to me that same full attention. The insincerity of divided attention destroys many friendships and many marriages. We think we can do two or three things at the same time. We imagine we can really talk to our spouse while watching television or reading the newspaper. We assume we’re being present to someone just because we happen to be there physically. How many parents have taught their children the lie of half-hearted attentiveness? Isolation results from the illusion of attention. Loneliness shatters this common-place illusion.
Friends provide us with the sacred opportunity to tell the truth. We spend so much time lying to ourselves. Friendship is the context in which we can fully trust the truths residing in our hearts. Without friends with whom we can share the truth of our lives, we cannot grow as human persons. Friends are a special grace -- given to us by the Source of All Grace. The time required to form solid friendships is time well-spent -- as sacred as time spent in worship.
Yet we should keep in mind Rule #2 from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life which was the basis for my sermon on June 24: “Make Friends with People Who Want the Best for You.” A thought from Peterson: “If you have a friend whose friendship you wouldn’t recommend to your sister, or your father, or your son, why would you have such a friend for yourself? … You are not morally obliged to support someone who is making the world a worse place … You should choose people (as friends) who want things to be better, not worse.”
May we all be blessed with God’s gift of good friends!