There is a deep longing inside all of us for true friendship. We long for someone who will really know who we are. We want someone in our lives who will accept us for who we are. We need someone who will walk along side us when we are traveling the rougher roads of life. And we desire someone in our life who will celebrate with us when something amazing happens in our life.
The need for friendship doesn’t go away as you get older. In fact, I’d argue that the need for true friendship only increases as life moves forward.
Jane E. Brody wrote an excellent article for the New York Times on the challenges of male friendships. In the article she shares, “Among various studies linking friendships to well-being in one’s later years, the 2005 Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that family relationships had little if any impact on longevity, but friendships increased life expectancy by as much as 22 percent.”
My friendships have changed over the years.
I remember when Mark Winteroth moved in next door to my first house in Carol Stream, Illinois. Mark and I became fast friends. I saw Star Wars for the first time with Mark. Mark would always greet me with a hug when he saw me in my front yard. I remember the time when I was over at Mark’s house for a play date. Mark was in trouble for some reason right about the time we were eating lunch. At one point, Mark let out a huge belch as he was heading to his room for a “time out”. I was eating alphabet soup at the time, and Mark’s burp naturally made me laugh so hard the soup came pouring out of my nose. I don’t know what the letters spelled as they came out of my nose, but it was an experience I will never forget.
When my family moved to Wheaton, Illinois, I was wondering if I would have any friends like Mark. That wondering was quickly resolved when I met my next door neighbor, David Shutters. David’s friendship meant the world to me. I remember getting in trouble with David on more than one occasion. For example, we thought it would be a great idea to nail bike tire tubes to the railing of Curt Brees’ tree fort. Naturally, we then went to the ground and filled our pockets with rocks before heading back up the ladder to the tree fort. You can guess what happened next. We started shooting rocks from the tire tubes to the ground below. It didn’t take long for one of us to break a window in the Brees’ garage. This wasn’t the only time we got in a little trouble all for the sake of testing our boundaries. My friendship with David pushed me outside my comfort zone on many occasions.
When I was 8 years old, my family moved to Lumberton, New Jersey, and I was convinced I’d never find any friends like David Shutters. Eventually, I started hanging out with several boys in the neighborhood – Billy McBride, Brad Zerbe, Stephen Coar, Shawn James, and Brad Kaufman were a few of the guys who made up the Lumberton Hollybrook “gang”. We rode our bikes all over the neighborhood. We played “war” in the woods behind Billy’s house. We played street hockey in the bus-stop cul-de-sac. We played Atari and Commodore 64 games. There was something nice about knowing you had friends to hang out with when you got off the bus at the end of the school day.
I had several friendships that blossomed through my time at First Presbyterian Church in Mt. Holly, New Jersey. Paul Braun’s friendship is one of the best examples of these friendships. Paul was a year ahead of me in school (and he’s probably one of the smartest people I know). We met at church, and I eventually started going over to Paul’s house to play after church. We spent hours and hours together playing basketball, volleyball, and other backyard sports. The Braun house always had some interesting things to play with in the basement. We played for hours with the strobe light waiting for one of the kids to run into someone or something. Paul was known for shocking his sister’s friends whenever they came over to the house. Now, Paul has his doctorate degree in Materials Science Engineering, and he is a full-time professor at the University of Illinois helping the world become a better place through his discoveries and inventions. Paul and I spend many hours talking about the future. In fact, Paul was one of the big reasons I went into engineering.
When I was a freshman in high school, a family moved in across the street. Little did I know how much this family’s move into Lumberton would transform my life. The oldest son in this family was my age, and we first met in freshman AP English in Mrs. Roszek’s classroom. Brian Willem was the nerdy ROTC guy who also wore JAMS coordinates, and I was the “Bible Geek” guy who new all the answers to the questions when we studied the Bible during this class. Soon we realized we lived across the street from one another, and it didn’t take very long before we were having catches in the court, swimming in his pool, and running around the neighborhood. Eventually, I invited Brian to SYNC (our church’s high school youth group). Brian eventually came along, and he soon became a regular participating “member” of the group. I realized how much our friendship meant when Brian sent me a note before we headed off to college. The note read something about how much our friendship meant to him because I had introduced him to Christ. Brian and I are still friends despite the miles and situations that separate us.
After high school, I journeyed west to Grove City College where I studied Mechanical Engineering. Besides meeting my future wife, the biggest part of my Grove City experience was a group called AEX (Adelphoi en Christo – Brothers in Christ). This was a housing group on campus made up of Christian men who have similar interests in extending their faith during their college experience. The best man in my wedding, John Hackworth, was also my roommate for two of my years in this group. The men in this group helped me process my faith for the first time as an independent men outside the umbrella of my family. They challenged my thinking and helped spur me on. This group was also the foundation for my leadership. I was stretched through the leadership successes and failures I experienced as the President of this group.
Since graduating college, I have noticed that friendship is not as easy as it once was. I have friends and friendships, but it takes so much more effort and intentional action to make friendships work as I balance life with a full-time job and a family. Don’t get me wrong, I still have great relationships at work with people I could call friends. I also have a long-standing tradition with a small group of camping buddies who make our annual pilgrimage to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania every Memorial Day weekend for the past ~25 years. (I’m looking forward to hanging out with Brian, Andy, and Jeff this weekend!) I’m also working on building friendships with a group of men who meet together every Friday morning in someone’s basement. We have committed to meeting together for the next 20 years. I believe these friendships will be important for the rest of my life, but I also recognize it will take time to develop these relationships.
I’m challenged by this quote I recently read in an on-line article, “Men can be funny about friendship. They have friends, buddies from high school or college or later. But by middle age, if you really look at those friendships, a lot of them are sort of on the shelf. Work and family take a lot of time and guys can drift into a wider social isolation. That can have health consequences down the line. The U.S. surgeon general says isolation is a bigger American health problem than cancer or heart disease.”
And this is why friendship is such an important topic. This week, I’ll be sending out a few email messages about friendship that will STRETCH your perspective on your friendships, your marriage, and your parenting. If you want to make sure you get these messages, simply fill out the blocks below to get on the Stretched Newsletter list.