Why Can’t We Be Friends? (Five Words to Help You Alleviate Loneliness)

Why is it that we can have 1,000 friends on Facebook and still be lonely? Why is it that we can have several forms of social media but still feel disconnected? Professor of Psychology at George Washington University, Todd Kashdan, mentions two large studies that found that 1 in 5 of us have consistent, perhaps even chronic, feelings of loneliness. A lot of us are lonely!

I’ve been a pastor for 21 years. Those 21 years have been some of the best years of my life, but the most lonely years of my life. In high school and college, I had a huge friend group. In ministry I am constantly around huge groups of people; they are friendly, but very few of them become meaningful friends. In high school and college, I knew what I was doing and with whom almost every weekend. Adult-ing is different. It is often disconnected. I would say my experience is not isolated to ministry. Many of us feel we have left our best friends behind. But what about now? We need friends. Why don’t we have friends?

Just after David took down Goliath he faces what I believe to be a make or break moment in his story. In the latter part of 1 Samuel 18 there is some harsh language to describe how King Saul treated this rising star who had just conquered the giant. To summarize it all with one word; awful. And this awful episode in David’s life would not end quickly. It was a long season on the run that would only end with Saul’s death. What was it that sustained David through such an awful season? Friendship.

Fortunately for David, as awful as Saul was, it was Saul’s son Jonathan that befriended him. While the language of Saul’s treatment of David is awful, the words used to describe how Jonathan became David’s friend are awesome. In 1 Samuel 18:1-5 I find five words that can help us forge great friendships and alleviate those disconnected feelings of loneliness; and those words are not Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Snapchat. These are 5 words that help us get face to face with others and fulfill the deeper longings of community we have as humans. These are 5 words that I believe will help us be friends and make friends.  

To do this, I want to share with you an excerpt from my new book Pulse in which I dive deeper into this critical connection Jonathan makes with David.

Word #1 — Knit

The Bible says the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David (1 Samuel 18:1). There is something within people, especially men, that leans toward isolation but longs for brotherhood. But making those connections with other people doesn’t always come easy. It requires intentionality. Sometimes you have to fight against your isolation instincts and work at getting to know people. That’s exactly what Jonathan did for David.

When the text uses the word “knit,” it means that Jonathan extended himself and initiated the relationship. David had lost his circle of familiarity when Saul took him from his family. Jonathan replaced what was missing in David’s life by making him a part of his own family.

Great friendships are like pieces of a puzzle. No one buys a puzzle and opens the box only to find that every piece is perfectly square. That would be boring! Instead, the box is full of misshapen, disconnected pieces. Each piece has parts that are extended and parts that are missing. Extended from one piece is something that connects perfectly to what is missing from another. Jonathan rescued David from isolation and loneliness by connecting with him and becoming the brother that David was missing.

Thankfully Jonathan welcomed David, but too often, we approach people as if it’s their sole responsibility to welcome us in. We expect them to be interested in us, draw us in, and do all the work. While it’s certainly nice to be shown hospitality and be welcomed in, loyalty really begins when you are just as interested in getting to know others as you are in them getting to know you.

In serving the church as a pastor for over twenty years, I’ve known many people who came into the congregation for awhile but then left. Often they say, “We just couldn’t connect.” I’ve always wondered how it’s possible that a human being could find no commonality with any other person in a congregation of several hundred people.

From that experience, I learned that just because you are there doesn’t necessarily mean that you are in there. People don’t connect by merely being around each other in a room. People connect by extending themselves, making themselves available, and inviting others to come in. In knitting himself to David, Jonathan didn’t wait for a connection to happen. He was intentional and made sure it would happen.

Words #2 and #3 — Love

In describing Jonathan’s acts of loyalty toward David, the word “love” is repeated twice (1 Samuel 18:1; 3). It means the same thing each time it’s used, but the repetition says something profound.

By definition, the word, as it’s used in this text, speaks primarily of affection. It is the energy that moves one person toward another by means of kind, benevolent action. In the first use (v.1), love motivated Jonathan’s action of knitting his soul to David. In the second use (v.3), love deepened the relationship between them from mere connection to covenant: “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul.”

When it’s first applied, love takes the initiative. It breaks down barriers and wins people over. It creates a climate of connection. The action is unilateral—only from me to you. But once there is a connection in place, the deepening of the relationship requires repetition. Just keep loving people. Over time, genuine affection and love become bilateral—between us both. At this stage, your love causes you to get to know me, and my love causes me to get to know you. This is the hard work of forging a friendship. It involves not merely looking for fun times, but the willingness to exercise forgiveness and work with the flaws of the other person. This is when iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).

When you’re reading the text, it appears as if Jonathan and David forged their friendship in a matter of moments. But the repetition of the word love and the mention of making a covenant indicate that the deepening of their relationship occurred over a period of time.

Dr. Jeffrey Hall, a communications professor at the University of Kansas found in research that it takes 40-60 hours for someone to become a casual friend. It takes 80-100 hours for someone to become more than a casual friend, and it can take as much as 200 hours of time spent together for someone to become a close friend.

By way of application, let me suggest that you work hard at forging friendships with other men. We all want to be liked and receive everyone’s attention, but we often fail at extending ourselves and doing the more difficult task of learning to love. True loyalty, however, is willing to do just that. So give it time and give it your all.

Word #4 — Covenant

The word “covenant” speaks of fraternity and alliance. It’s what you experience whenever you’re on a team. Teams have a common set of values and a unified sense of mission. To be on a team doesn’t mean merely liking your teammates; it means you have their backs.

In 2016, I logged over 3,200 miles on a bicycle. Cycling is one of my favorite things to do. Because of my schedule, I usually have to go at it alone, but on the rare occasion that I ride with a group, I can tell a significant difference in both speed and distance.
When cyclists ride in a line, the front tire of one bike is only inches away from the back tire of the next bike. This arrangement creates a break in wind resistance that can increase speed by as much as 15%. This is the same principle as drafting in a NASCAR race. And, because the cyclists are working more efficiently, their endurance is bolstered, which means they’re able to cover more distance.

A loyal friend is a draft partner. He helps you do life better because he’s got your back, and you have his. David and Jonathan were in covenant with one another; their lives were in agreement. They were riding in the same line (so to speak). It didn’t matter who was out front, they were on the same mission and moving in the same direction.

Covenant loyalty means you’re not worried about “what’s in it for me.” It means that you are not defined by your individuality but by your place in a community. It means that “us” always takes precedence over “I.”

Word #5 — Robed

Verse 4 paints a picture of the most remarkable moment in the sequence. Jonathan was the king’s favored son and the commander of the army. This being the case, his robe would have been splendid, unlike anyone else’s. Yet we read that “Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt” (1 Samuel 18:4).

When Jonathan placed his royal robe on David and gave him his armor, belt, and sword, it meant that David was no longer an outsider. He was now dressed as the king’s favored son. We don’t know for sure whether Jonathan knew about David’s earlier anointing and call to be king, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that in this action, Jonathan surrendered his destiny to David.

Jonathan’s act of robing David was both selfless and sacrificial. In our culture, this kind of true loyalty is hard to find. We live in a self-seeking culture where many people are only interested in their own success. Unlike Jonathan, they are unconcerned with investing in the success of others.

David was already popular with the people. After all, he was the warrior who took down Goliath. But because Jonathan loved him, became his “drafting partner,” invested in his success, and arrayed him in his own royal robe, David got a promotion. The reaction of the people to what Jonathan did is significant: “And this was good in the sight of all the people and also in the sight of Saul’s servants” (1 Samuel 18:5).

Loyalty helps the new guy find his place in the company. It helps a new student find his place in the school. It helps a new family make an easier transition into the community.

Loyalty can also help your friends find their rightful place in the lives of others. Just to prove this point, if you develop a deep friendship with someone, investing in his life and cheering for his success, you might very well help him be a much better man. As a result, he may also be a much better husband and father. Your loyalty doesn’t merely forge a friendship between two individuals, but it also helps your friend find his rightful place in the lives of his family members. In this way, loyalty breeds more loyalty.

If there were ever a video that could demonstrate the impact of others doing for someone else what Jonathan did for David, it is this video of a young man named Gilbert, a student at Somerset High School in Somerset, Texas.

The most powerful moment of the video came at the end, where we see the entire group, including Gilbert, raising their hands and reciting a chant together. Those students didn’t just buy shoes for Gilbert, they robed him. They connected with him. They loved him. They gave him a place with them and promoted him in the eyes of his fellow students.

That’s the friendship that alleviates loneliness.


What do you think are critical components of forging true friendships in such a disconnected culture?


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