Friends are a great blessing from God. We see many examples of close friends in the scriptures, from David and Jonathan to Paul and Timothy to Jesus and his close circle of three – Peter, James and John.
After reading Michael Haykin’s new work on friendship, Iron Sharpens Iron, I was contemplating what it takes to have a good friendship. There are two requirements for deep friendships that I found helpful to consider – an openness to be known and time invested in the friendship.
The Problem of Shame
Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, humans have had difficulty with being known. The first thing Adam and Eve did after the fall was to sew fig leaves together to cover their nakedness with some (probably fairly shoddy) clothes (Gen 3:7). But the clothes weren’t enough because we then see them hide themselves from God to avoid his knowing gaze (Gen 3:8).
The scriptures make it clear that the nakedness of Adam and Eve pre-fall was OK with the man and his wife because they felt no shame (Gen 2:25). It follows, then, that the reason Adam and Eve clothed themselves after the fall was because they felt shame. They were no longer happy to be fully known by God or by each other.
Ever since Genesis 3, we have struggled with a tension in our desires. Every human, at one level, wants to be known. It would be a wonderful world if we could be honest and open about our joys, our desires, our sorrows and our struggles. Imagine being able to let people in to see the inner workings of your heart. Surely there is a part of you that would love for that to be the case. I know there is in me.
But at the same time the idea of being transparently open scares the willies out of me. There are parts of my heart I don’t want people to know. There are shameful thoughts, embarrassing worries, weird joys. If I were to open up to people, they might laugh at me, look down on me, mock me.
A common view today is that a true friend is someone who accepts and affirms you exactly as you are. Close friends are those who are not going to judge you or think that anything about you is not good. Shame is dealt with by ensuring that nothing is actually thought of as shameful.
The Christian view, on the other hand, is that sin and shame and guilt are real and are valid. Adam and Eve and all their descendants have something to be ashamed about. But Jesus, through his life, death and resurrection, has dealt with that shame. He took our shame upon himself (Heb 6:6) so that all those who trust in him will never be put to shame.
“And he who believes on [Christ] will by no means be put to shame”1 Peter 2:6
Christians can stand before God knowing they are accepted by him and loved, their guilt being nailed to the cross (Col 2:14). And because we are viewed as righteous in God’s sight, we can be known by each other because our shame has been wiped away (James 5:16, Acts 19:18).
A Willingness to be Known
In order to have a deep friendship we need to be willing to be open. We need to be open to being known. Without that openness, we can only ever have a superficial friendship.
I am not saying that we can only have deep friendships if we are completely open with someone. I’m not saying that a friendship is only deep when each person knows absolutely everything about the other.
Instead, I’m saying that there must be a willingness to be known.
I think that we can be willing to be known thus far and no further. We create corners of our life that are off limits to everyone. We might have particular friends who we are happy to be known by in certain areas, and another set of friends who we are willing to be known by in other areas. Or we might not be willing to be known at all by anyone.
A deep friendship is formed when there are no theoretical corners of the soul that are off limits.
Time Invested in Friendship
You can be willing to be open with someone but still not develop a deep friendship because you just don’t spend any time with them.
It is by hanging out together, talking together, going through life experiences together, seeing a friend in difficulty and in success, it is by being in regular close contact that two people become close friends.
Different life circumstances open up characteristics and corners of the heart in a friend that you might not have known about before. Walking with a friend through these times is one of life’s great joys. It is a privilege to view the soul of another human through trials and triumphs.
To be known also simply requires information to be communicated. The human heart is a deep and complex thing. It is impossible to know the desires, struggles, concerns and idiosyncrasies of your friend without time. Things need to be said. Topics need to be discussed.
Deep friendships require time.
Build Deep Friendships
Much more could be said about friends – the importance of choosing good friends, the joy of friendship, our cultures view of friends, things that hinder friendships – but for now, I hope these two components of a deep friendship encourage you to be willing to be known and to spend time developing your friendships.