This past Sunday at church, a good friend asked me, “How are you?”

I gave her the standard, “I’m good” response, even though I came to church that morning carrying some heaviness. She persisted, “How are you . . . really?” It was like she had radar and could sense something was troubling me.

I decided to share what was really going on. My wife Laura joined in the conversation, and we unpacked the issue with our friend. I didn’t leave that short conversation with a solution, but oddly, I felt lighter afterward. I seemed like that short moment was God’s way of reminding me that He sees my troubles, and He cares. It dawned on me once again that a shared burden is automatically cut in half.

In Galatians 6:2 the apostle Paul writes, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” The Greek word used here for burdens means “a load too heavy for one person to carry.” If you’ve lived any length of time, you’ve experienced that kind of burden. And I hope you’ve had a friend to help take on some of that load with you.

One of the most popular songs in the 1970’s was You’ve Got a Friend by James Taylor. The gist of this ballad was no matter what you’re going through, a true friend is there for you . . . winter, spring, summer or fall.

We humans have always needed solid, safe, caring friends. In Genesis 2:18 God said of Adam, “It’s not good for the man to be alone.” Notice God spoke these words about Adam before he ate the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Before the fall of man occurred, Adam enjoyed perfect fellowship with Father God. They used to hang out together in the Garden! And yet, even in the middle of perfection, God knew Adam needed another human to do life with.

I think 2020 has reinforced our God-given need for friendship. COVID-19; quarantine; national unrest; the media frenzy, topped off by a chaotic election that as of this writing, still hasn’t been decided, has worn us out emotionally as a country. We’re experiencing a 300% increase in reported symptoms of depression among adults in the United States, and a 300% increase in suicidal ideation among adults ages 18-24 in our country.

I suspect many of you reading this post are carrying burdens too heavy for you to carry alone. Yet the combined forces mentioned above have made the nurturing of friendships much more challenging than normal. And so, you suffer in silence.

Here’s a few things we need to know about trying to handle overwhelming situations by yourself:

  • The devil wants to isolate you so he can crush you
  • Depression and anxiety thrive under the cover of secrecy, but diminish when exposed to the light of community.
  • You are not alone. You would be shocked if you knew how many other people are carrying similarly crushing burdens

So what can we do? Continue the losing game of trying to handle our pain alone? Or dare we venture into the uncertain waters of opening up to friends?

You may be thinking, “Being transparent like this is risky, John.”  Well you’re right—every time we open up and let someone know what’s really happening on the inside, risk lurks. We may fear, “If I’m really honest with my friend, what if they don’t understand? What happens when they realize I’m not as together as I project?” News flash . . . they already know!

Being risk-adverse with people is understandable. Honest relationships carry risk. But isolating ourselves carries more risk. One way to minimize risk when it comes opening up our life to another person is to understand what makes somebody good friendship material. Here are a few ideas:

Good friends allow you to hold a contrary opinion without threatening to bail on you

A person who doesn’t always see life the same way you do, but doesn’t require that in order to be your friend, is good friendship material.

They don’t manipulate or coerce you

An individual who has no agenda other than to care for you is good friendship material. Their primary interested is to relate with you, not to control you.

You feel built up after being around them – but not always in the moment

Scripture tells us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend.’ But in general, a good friend leaves you with more zip in your step.

In my new book Unshakable Leader: The Simple Yet Amazing Power of Alignment, I unpack seven friendship shortcuts that help you start and nurture replenishing relationships. But the first shortcut is the most important: Go first. In other words, don’t wait for friends to reach out to you. Take the initiative. Be intentional. Be willing to take reasonable risks with people who demonstrate they can be trusted.

CS Lewis writes: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

If you’re a leader who feels painted into a corner today, alone in your troubles, and don’t know where to turn, ask God to help you find a few people you can build friendship with. Get into a small group of fellow believers who you can develop a trusting relationship with. Be intentional and persistent until you locate friends with whom you can do life.

If you’re depressed and/or anxious, we’re here to help you. You can start a conversation with us here. Your life will be better when lived in the context of healthy friendship.

I’m rooting and praying for you,