We often use the wrong words to define relationships. Take Facebook for example. I have 4,993 “friends” as of the date I’m writing this post. Statisticians and sociologists and people who study these kinds of things say that I can- at most- manage 200 relationships at once. And that’s just relationships, not real friendships.
That means that, clearly, I can’t manage 4,773 of the relationships on any level at all. Yet these are my “friends.”
You may have noticed the same trend in your profile. You have all of these people to whom you’re connected. But who are they, really?
Now, I’m not arguing we should go on an “unfriending” rampage. I’m simply stating the obvious: just because someone is labeled a “friend” doesn’t mean they are. It just means, well… they have a label. A title. Not a role, but a title…
Solomon, the wisest guy who ever lived (you know, the guy who saw two women arguing about who the baby belonged to, so he suggested, “Cut the baby in half!” in 1 King 3:16-28?) described friends in the following manner >>>
Those are just a few ways in which Solomon describes friends. In reality, you can’t have too many people like that in your life. It simply requires too much of a commitment and energy- if you’re going to be a good friend AND have some good friends.
A professor of mine from seminary recounted his brief teaching stint in Asia to our class one day. He sought to get to know some of his colleagues, so he asked another professor with whom he was working if they might like to go to dinner with him and his wife.
“Let me think about it?” the man politely replied.
My professor was somewhat confused- they’d gotten along extremely well around the school. It seemed like they could genuinely be… well… friends.
A few days later that professor gave him his answer: “We can’t do it,” he said. “My wife and I discussed it. We already have enough friends.”
“Enough? You can’t have too many right?”
At least that’s how one of the gas in my classroom responded to the story. He was just voicing what we were all thinking. Do you really cut people off? Do you really have less friends intentionally?
Especially in a culture that moves towards “more is better” in every area of life.
Especially in an environment of unbridled accumulation.
“He was taking the offer of friendship seriously,” our professor told us. “He was incredibly gracious around the school, he wasn’t awkward in the least. He was kind and showed me around the school, helped me navigate my way through a different country...
“But he and his wife, in large part because of their heritage and cultural, understand that real friendship is a commitment.” Then- “No, it’s more like a covenant, a pledge...
“If you’re going to do it right, you can’t have that many true friends.”
I think we get it. We understand the concept.
I mean, if I offered you five brand new $1 bills or 500 shiny pennies which would you take?
I don’t like carrying change around in my pocket. My kids know they can find it in the “ash tray” of our car, so they swipe it for gum balls and video games.
I have a jar in the corner of my bedroom where I drop pocket change. Every few years, I let my boys dump it and roll it. They can keep whatever is there.
Surprisingly, there’s always $30, $40, even $50…
In other words, the change still has enormous value. It has the same value as the paper versions of the currency. You carry both differently, though.
All people have value. The same value. That’s not the issue here- even though, understandably, people sometimes want to make it one when I argue that maybe we should have fewer friends with deeper connections and then call the other relationships what they are- great acquaintances that add immense value to our lives.
You see, like the Asian professor knew, you can’t carry hundreds of deep friendships anymore than you can carry hundreds of copper pennies in your front pocket.
My guess is that after reading a few of the verses above from Solomon- which, really, just brush the surface of what true friendship is like…
… then after reading the analogy of the money (same value, just two different ways of carrying)…
… you probably think something like this: “Geez… if that’s what true friends are like, IT REALLY IS difficult to actually maintain too many of them… a lot is required.”
You’re right. Friendship is a lot of "give." A lot of it…
(The flip-side is that it's also a lot of "take," a massive amount of benefit.)
I think we inherently know this, though. And we know that our “friends” on Facebook, for the most part, aren’t really friends. This doesn’t mean Facebook is bad- it's an amazing tool for connection, right?!- or that most of those people don’t contribute to our wellbeing in some sense. It just means that surface-level connections of any kind don’t match the description of friendship Solomon starts sketching in Proverbs.
Because of this, we actually change people’s titles- even though their roles haven’t changed at all.
We refer to acquaintances and even “pseudo-acquaintances” as friends, right? I mean, how many times have you met someone in real life and then had that awkward exchange that goes something like, “Hey, I think we’re friends online… aren’t we?!”
You see, we’re “friends” online but we don’t even know how to interact in person. That’s clearly NOT friendship. That’s acquaintance-ship.
So, we come up with a new name for REAL friends- the kind that match the actual description we see outlined in the Bible. The term “friend” doesn’t do the relationship justice, because we’ve diluted the word so much, so we refer to these people as FAMILY.
Yet they’re not really family. Family is a group of people related by blood or marriage or legal contract (i.e., adoption). Family isn’t friend AND friend isn’t acquaintance.
You see how confusingly weird this can all get? The language has become blurred, such that we don’t really know how to categorize people anymore.
We lean, now, towards having many and shallow relationships rather than having fewer & deeper interactions.
Jesus came for the entire world. He loves the entire world (John 3:16). Read the biographies about Him that were written by four radically different men…
… these men ALL say Jesus served everyone. In fact, the more broken the person was, the more likely Jesus was to extend Himself to them. The more they’d been shunned and ostracized, the more He seemed to go out of His way to pull them close to Him…
He empowered everyone who came to Him. Why? Because everyone has value. Immense, immeasurable value.
Nonetheless, Jesus spent most of this time with 12 men and a handful of women that traveled with them (see Luke 8:1-2). It was to this group that He said things like, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15).
It was this group- not the masses- that He took the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing that He was about to be betrayed.
Even beyond this, He routinely pulled away to invest in three (i.e., Mark 9:1-2).
Notice the chart below (it comes from the Advance presentation / book- hence, the page numbers):
I’ve outlined three types of relationships-
Let me be blunt. Most of us gravitate towards “fan” relationships. That is, many times we don’t want friends, we want fans.
Here’s the problem with them: These are one-way relationships whereby people offer praise and admiration to you, but don’t require anything from you. Friends, on the other hand, do. So do family members. Both of those categories are “give and take.” Sometimes, you soak up; others time you put out.
As well, fan relationships are easy; friends and family relationships are not.
Why? Precisely because of what we just mentioned. Friends and family require something of you. They insist that you’re present. That you contribute. That you continue talking and walking in grace and honor EVEN AFTER the stage lights are off.
A lot of people on Facebook who regularly like, share, and comment on your highlight reel (that’s what we share online, right, not the “real” stuff, but a sanitized version of the real PLUS the greatest twist of the good, correct?) aren’t friends. It’s not a two-way relationship.
They’re fans. It’s one way.
You may think they “get you,” that they understand…
You may be tempted to soak your much needed praise and affirmation from them alone (we all need a big dose of positivity, so nothing wrong with getting that EXCEPT, well, when we get our affirmation from “far away” places, we’re less likely to interact up close at home in such a way that we garner it there.
Why does this matter?
First, it matters because you can’t build a “who” with people that aren’t legitimately close to you- in a two-way relationship. Your “who” is your “inner circle”- not the people who live on the perimeter of your life, regardless of how many texts, tweets, or PM exchanges you have with them.
In other words, fan relationships can never take the place of friendship. These relationships will come up short every time.
Second, fan relationships can’t bring the correction we need, those tough conversations that can only happen in the midst of trusted friendships that enable to us become the people we’re created and designed to be.
For those of us who lead at any level, this is incredibly important. You see, at some point you’re going to find more and more success in life. And, when you do, you’ll have a stage, you’ll have some power, and/or you’ll have a position of influence.
I’ve noticed this about success: it amplifies who you already are. Suddenly, every great thing- and every flaw- gets just a bit louder.
I’ve got a friend named Scott. No, let me label it the right way. He’s an acquaintance who’s cell number I have. I can call him if I have a business question or need something, but he’s not in my inner circle and I’m not in is.
He and his wife have had some amazing business success. They used to be $100,000-plus in debt; now they generate far more than that each month. They’re huge givers.
Turns out, they always been generous. When you’re a $100,000 in debt, no one really sees the generosity, though, because you don’t have that much to give. That characteristic was still there, though… they were still giving, it just happened to be a struggle to give a lot less...
You see, their success didn’t create the generosity, it simply magnified it. It gave it a bigger stage to shine.
Incidentally, Scott has long hair. And a huge beard. He looks like Chewbacca with clothes on.
Most employers would think that his beard and his hair are not appropriate for most professional jobs. Now, he’s successful, though, and he doesn’t have those constraints. So, his choice of grooming has gotten amplified. It was always there, this desire to look more like Grizzly Adams than a "suit." Success has simply amplified the grit that was always there.
By the way, in the pic below, that's Scott on the left. The guy on the right, Jay... one of the great leaders. Authentic. Transparent. Pure. What you see is what you get.
And though he's more straight-laced than the more ragged model on the left, when I see him I think of integrity.
Even if and when it's hard.
Even if it does against the norm.
Even if it costs him.
Success didn't create that for him- it simply amplified the honor that was already there.
We often toss phrases around like this: “Success changed them.”
Let’s be real. Success doesn’t change us. As in Scott’s case- and in Jay's, success simply allows what was beneath the surface to become visible.
Sometimes, the stuff that gets amplified for us is “bad” stuff, though. The character flaws. The pride. The not-paying-attention to our family while we chase bigger goals.
Our blind spots…
That’s why we need people- friends- who can help us become the people we’re destined to become. It’s those friends that continue calling out the best- like the generosity, and the gifts, and the abilities. It’s those friends, too, who knock off the rough stuff.
So who’s in your inner circle? Or, to say it another way, who is on “your bus,” that analogy we use to describe those closest to you?
Well, look at the graphic here…
Notice that some of your family members will never be fans (they will never be proud of what you’re doing- or even like you!). Some of them won’t be friends (sometimes this is because of time and distance, sometimes this is because of hurt and pain).
Notice, too, that all of the people in your inner circle ARE fans (they cheer you on) AND they’re friends. Some of them are family…
Check out the post on the bus- on having the right people in your inner circle: https://www.overflowfaith.com/blog/who-s-on-the-bus
Read the post about the rubber band- and how the tension of the best relationships pulls us to being the people we’re designed to be: https://www.overflowfaith.com/blog/the-rubber-band-relationship-thingamajig-from-advance-another-illustration-showing-you-how-relationships-make-you-the-best-version-of-you
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