When my children were young, I marveled at parents of teenagers. Or maybe I pitied them? Their children had lost their innocence, grown more independent, and faced the temptation of drugs, alcohol, and sex. Parenting a teen seemed like a daunting experience where success required the perfect balance of masterful skill and blind luck. I was very aware that my kids would face unique challenges I couldn’t even imagine when I was a teen – life is different now. On more than one occasion I was told by other parents of teens the most important decision my kids would make when they reached teen-hood would be choosing who their friends are. A “make or break” proposition that I wasn’t convinced a teen is capable of comprehending. Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33)
Fast forward a dozen or so years and the fact is I have enjoyed parenting teens very much. It has not been as scary as I feared. It has been gratifying to watch them mature and develop socially and emotionally. I enjoy having conversations with them, and seeing them self-reflect and problem solve. I am very proud and thankful for the choices my kids have made regarding their friends, and I credit the parents of my kid’s friends for raising fine young men and women. You know who you are.
That isn’t to say my kids haven’t had some issues to work through with their friendships. Comparison, judgment, pressure, and the desire to belong have all come into play. I have had many a long conversation with each of my kids about friendships. I am sure I will have plenty more. I am certainly not an expert and can only share what I have learned from my experience. And one way or another, conversations about friendship always seem to end up with me reflecting on my own friendships and how they had evolved over the years.
Friendships are important to me. I derive a great deal of pleasure and strength from being around my close friends. I am comfortable with being vulnerable with my closest friends and accept the risk that comes with it. I like it when others return the same to me. I prefer having a smaller number of close friends rather than numerous casual acquaintances. Friendships can be hard for me to initiate because of my quiet and reserved nature. I often wonder if I am being a good friend and worry about whether my friendships will stand the test of time.
In elementary school, my friends were those boys who lived in my neighborhood. I was fortunate enough to live near several boys about my age and we all loved to do the same thing – spend countless hours playing outside. When you are young and foolish, you assume you’ll be friends forever. Although we were all similar in age, none of the neighbor boys were in the same grade as me and consequently we grew apart. I haven’t been in contact with any of them in nearly 30 years.
In middle school my friends became the boys in my class who I played sports with. Competing alongside each other created bonds that I thought would endure. I was mistaken. And in high school I only had a few close friends who remained. My closest friends in high school weren’t neighbors or teammates, but rather kids who I felt I had a deeper connection to. We shared something in common; values, beliefs, or habits that were meaningful to me. Unfortunately, I don’t see or talk to any of them anymore for no good reason other than we just stopped putting in the effort. You do not reap what you do not sow.
I went to college not knowing a sole. My freshman year was uncomfortable and lonely; I traveled home many weekends. My sophomore year I forged some strong friendships with three other boys who lived on my floor in the dormitory. We became roommates and remained friends throughout college. We shared, learned, and laughed together experiencing some very formative milestones. After college, we went our separate ways. I haven’t seen or talked to two of them in over 20 years, and one I have only talked to on a handful of occasions.
So, to review, I haven’t maintained any friendships from my youth! My closest friends today are people who I didn’t know more than ten years ago.
There has been a certain transiency and relevancy to my friendships. Why is that? Are we too busy for friends? Is it simply laziness? Are we too judgmental and intolerant? Or does it have a little something to do with being a male? Perhaps men are not good at friendships? We are good friends when it comes to fantasy football, beer pong, and moving couches; but not so much when it comes to listening, vulnerability, or compassion. And maybe that is okay? Or maybe, just like God desires, our friends deserve a chunk of our time each day where we talk to them, pray for them, do things for them, or just be with them. After all, if you don’t put any work into the relationship you cannot expect the relationship to work for you.
My friends today have sprouted from my own kid’s friendships, church, current neighbors, and volunteer work I am involved in. I often wonder if I will still be close to my current friends ten years from now, or will I have a different friend group? I do know that I am older, wiser, and more mature. I love myself more now than I did 20 or 30 years ago, and subsequently can love others more. I cherish the joy of friendship and put much more work into my friendships now than I did in the past. The point is this: “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)
I cannot predict how long my kid’s friendships will last or who their friends will be when they are older. All I can do is trust that they will make prudent decisions based on the values they were raised with, and share with them the universal truth that if you want friends you need to be one. That’s how it works.