My best friend as a child was a girl named Tiffany. We’d have sleepovers, talk about boys, climb trees and do our homework together. Surprisingly, we never got in fights, and she’d usually let me win as we raced our bikes down the unpaved, West Texas roads. Tiffany was the best friend a girl could ever have.
And did I mention? She was imaginary.
Growing up the daughter of a small town preacher, we moved around frequently. By the time I was in high school, I had attended seven schools. It was easy to keep to myself, seldom investing in real friendships since I never knew when our family would be packing up and moving … again.
At the ripe old age of 26, I realized there’s quite a stigma associated with adults having imaginary best friends. In an attempt to pursue some kind of grown-up normality, I decided it’s time to begin breaking out of my self-imposed isolation. It was time to seek out this seemingly elusive Christian buzzword—community.
The decision to embark on this journey couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. My husband and I lived in Kansas City and were heavily involved in our church. We had recently concluded that although we were constantly surrounded by other believers, we felt very alone. Early in the year, the prospect of moving to Dallas entered our lives. We decided a fresh start is exactly what we needed. In March, we packed every inch of a rental truck and headed down I-35, bound for the thriving suburb of Sachse, Texas.
We had both accepted jobs at a large church in the Dallas area. Walking into the auditorium at the church for the first time, I probably had the same reaction a lot of people do: a subtle gasp followed by a quiet "wow" stated under my breath. All this while slowly gazing from left to right, trying to absorb the fact that the 5000 seats in front of me could hold 5000 people—none of which I knew. And in the back of my mind I kept thinking, "How in the world am I going to find true friends in a church that is five times larger than some of the towns I grew up in?" Yet, before I could worry about the how, I needed to convince myself of the why.
The wisest men in Biblical times, Solomon, wrote in Ecclesiastes 4:10-12:
"If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. And on a cold night, two under the same blanket can gain warmth from each other. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer" (NTL).
By the time Solomon wrote this, he was probably in the later years of life and had pretty much experienced everything life had to offer, including both loneliness and companionship. He does an excellent job communicating why friendship is important.
A friend picks you up when you’re down.
"If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble."
If you’ve ever slipped on a patch of ice, you know how fast you fall. Without thinking, you reach out for the closest object to steady yourself before your tailbone and the ice become one. Life throws unexpected tragedies our way without warning and instinctively, we reach out to whatever is closest to us at the time. If nobody is there to catch us, we can expect to crash hard into the ground. People also need us to be there to catch them when they begin to fall. You might pick up a few cuts and bruises in the process of breaking their fall, but you’ve helped a person from hitting rock bottom.
A friend provides warmth.
"And on a cold night, two under the same blanket can gain warmth from each other. But how can one be warm alone?"
Although this verse can be taken literally, it probably applies more to our culture figuratively speaking. There’s no denying the world we live in can be cold and heartless. By turning on the news, we are exposed to senseless acts of violence, injustice and poverty. But most of us don’t even have to watch the news to experience this. We face the emotional coldness of our world every day, in our jobs, in our social networks, even in our families. A true friend offers us the emotional warmth our souls hunger for, and that in turn gives us the emotional strength to endure the cold.
A friend fights with you.
"A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer."
In the movie Gladiator, Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, is faced with battling Rome’s finest warriors to the death. Fighting alongside him is an entourage of foot soldiers. Maximus gathers them in a tight circle, back-to-back and shouts, "Stay together! Whatever comes out that gate, stay together!" However, one gladiator gives in to the temptation to fight alone. He leaves the ring and is slain. Maximus knew they would be able to protect each other more effectively by staying as close as possible. And he was right.
Although our battles aren’t against Amazonian warrior princesses, we are attacked from all sides constantly. Our marriages, families and integrity come under fire. Friends not only watch out for each other, they help each other defeat each and every adversary that enters the arena.
King Solomon knew what he was talking about when he expressed the need for people to have friendships. The next step is taking this wisdom and applying it to my daily life. I’ll be the first to admit: it’s difficult to develop true and lasting friendships. In a society where everything is built for instant payoff, an authentic relationship takes time to develop and nurture. Trust has to be formed, and then built upon. There’s often pain that comes with the growth, and walls that have to be torn down so others may join in on the journey. But as I walk down this journey, I hope I can do it with a couple of warm-blooded friends by my side, leaving the imaginary ones behind.