One of the most common stories from soldiers in my parish who have returned from deployments is how lonely they were. They had certain kinds of friendships but most of them longed for and lamented the lack of Christian friendships at a time when they were most vulnerable to despair and evil.
Sadly, friendships are easier but fewer for most folks. Sure we have those gazillion Facebook friends and our email address book is filled to the brim but we have less daily interaction with friends than in previous ages. My parents have had lifelong friends to surround them in all of life's circumstances -- sharing their joys, bearing their burdens, and telling them truths they did not want to hear. I grew up thinking that I would have such friendships as well. In reality, my mobility as a Pastor and the nature of my calling has left me wanting more and finding fewer of those good friendships I witnessed growing up. In particular I mean friendships with other men.
There is no substitute for a man for the deep friendship with other men. Don't go there. I am not talking about anything more than platonic but that does not in any way diminish the nature of such friendships. Many of the great movies describe the kind of bonds between friends that enables them to weather together the great storms of life and change, to pursue together what one could not do alone, and to celebrate in common what belongs to both more than it belongs to just one.
Think of Lord of the Rings and the great friendship between Frodo and Samwise. In many respects Frodo, though the main character, is no greater or stronger than the friend who shared his journey, who stood with him before his enemies, who rescued him from despair, and who carried him when his strength was gone. It is really one of the best parts of the whole story -- the story of Frodo and Samwise.
It is one of the best moments and scenes in the whole trilogy. They traveled countless miles in a journey greater than they could have imagined and escaped dangers bigger than their greatest fears. Finally they come to the foot of Mount Doom where ring must be destroyed for good. But Frodo has no strength left, and, despite how far they have come, he cannot finish the job. Standing with him, however, is one whose strength Frodo will borrow again. He is the faithful and steady Samwise and he will not quit so close to the end of this saga. He carries his friend and does what it takes to finish the job. Surely Tolkien meant for this to be one of the great moments in the series and one of the great examples and lessons for the reader.
I write this as one who envies rather than enjoys what is written into the fabric of this movie. Such friendships have been too often been left as unfulfilled desires -- much to my great regret. Faith shared in the context of such friendship is faith strengthened, empowered, and equipped for the long haul. Think of the great stories of David and Jonathon or Moses and Aaron or the small circle within the apostles who were there when others were not (Peter, James, and John).
I wonder if this isn't one reason why may regular conversations with my dad have become so special. We talk about anything, mostly about nothing, and yet hidden within those words are the struggles of faith and life. His support is my strength and, like all friendships, my fear is that I receive from him far more than I give to him. If we can do anything within the Church to support, to encourage, and to nurture such deep friendships among those who share the faith, we have done a good work for those who know them. We have provided them with a deep and abiding gift and an awareness of the difference a good friend can make for the lonely way that is Christian faith and life.
As a man, I regret that I have no friends. Sure, I have my wife and kids, but that is it. People at my LCMS church are friendly enough. However, in our society, friendships "end at the front door." People are "too busy" to bother with others on a more intimate level.
As a man, I can attest that I have a lot of online "friends" through Facebook. Such "friendships" are very shallow and trivial. Most of my Facebook "friends" have a couple of hundred other "friends." If I were to "unfriend" someone on Facebook, would they even notice.
I could care less about sitting around the giant LCD TV with a bag of greasy potato chips and flipping through endless cable channels. I am also not interested in drinking countless cans of Budweiser while watching "the big game" as often as possible. The TV room in the typical American house has become a private, obnoxious sports bar. Most men have no other interests.
Most of the men that I know want to talk nonstop about football or baseball - and nothing else. They enjoy eating at crappy chain restaurants and out of gas stations. Larry the Cable Guy is their undeclared role model. How sad.
I can certainly relate to what Anonymous has just said. There is much truth in it.
I have been blessed with a few, just a few, life-long friends. They are priceless to me. They are always there, even if I have not seen them for an extended period. A man that I met at a fraternity rush party when I was a wet-behind-the-ears freshman and he was a last semester senior has been a dear friend now for over 50 years. But friendships like that are exceedingly rare.
I think that most men tend to form friendships with the men they work with. If they retire and leave the community where they have been previously employed (to go back to the home town, or some such), they are suddenly cut off, and can become very lonely. This is a serious problem among older men. As Anonymous said, most men seem to be interested primarily in sports and alcohol, and for those who are not, life can be very isolated.
It is not simply a matter of interest. Most of the men I know are NOT EVEN CAPABLE of having a conversation that does not involve spectator sports. They really do not know how to do it.
Lonely retirees? You just explained why it is so easy to find senior citizens who are active in the church.
At my job, several older coworkers were good friends. They have recently retired. The remaining coworkers are not very friendly and they keep to themselves. I now feel very lonely at work.
Pastor Peters, I love this post. I have been blessed to have several dear friends in this life. We talk about anything and everything and nothing, just as you said. And we may pick up after a month or two or even longer of no communication and it is just as if no time has passed whatsoever. We don't agree with each other all the time; in fact, in one particular friendship, we LOVE arguing with each other. But the affection is deep and life without them would be quite sad indeed. Thanks for the reflections today. They do indeed enable us to climb Mount Doom when we have no strength left!
Thank you, Pastor Peters for this post, and for others too. Specifically in reference to pastors and friendship, our Lord's words are not irrelevant:
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
The friendship of the new aeon is a gift of unfathomable joy which our Lord promises to those who have been called away from such things in their vocation.
Pastor Thomas Pietsch
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