Yesterday morning, I visited my parent’s church and heard a sermon on Focus; in other words, it was about not getting distracted from the goal of having a relationship with God. The main story in this sermon was that of Samson from the book of Judges — his hair shorn, he did not realize that the Lord had left him. I wonder if we would realize if our relational ties with Christ were broken?
Last week, two of my best friends came for a visit. Both these girls used to be daily companions and confidantes. Now, we see each other once or twice a year. One of them, Dr. Haman (she’s earned the right to have her title associated with all her ideas — and she’s a communication scholar, so, it works for this post), said interpersonal communication research shows that we can only maintain close, personal, relationships with 5-7 people. That’s one of those things I *know* from experience, but wanted to see the research for myself. I found what appears to be corroborating evidence here.
That makes sense to me. I don’t have the energy to maintain too many close relationships in my life. I’m grateful for those two friends that do not have to talk to me every day to be there for me, provide emotional support for them when necessary and have fun while we’re together. Other than that, there are a few relationships I cherish enough to devote my full effort, the relationship with my children, for instance. I can, offhand, think of 5 very important relationships to me. I won’t write them down, but that’s five off the top of my head, and let me tell you, none of those five are omnipresent. I need to make the time to maintain at least one more very important relationship.
My proverb reading from last week also had something to say on the subject. Proverb 18:24, “A man who has friends must show himself friendly, and there is a man who sticks closer than a brother.” Let’s break it apart, somewhat. The more friends one has, the more time and effort is required to cultivate those friendships. In friendship terms, Dunbar’s number, or, the number of friendships we are able to maintain (based on talking to them once a year) is at 150. You may have more “friends” on facebook, but your you can probably only sustain around 150 of these, even superficial relationships, according to Dave Pollard. I think this proverb speaks to that, as alternate translations seem to say that a man with many friends is somehow self-destructive (NIV) “A man of many companions may come to ruin…”
It costs us to be a friend. That’s why there are only a handful of people with whom we can reasonably maintain active, engaging, supportive relationships. We, as humans, though, crave close, personal relationships. We’re looking for that one caveat to which the proverb alludes, that friend that sticks closer than a brother. We want to cultivate the Support Circle, those 3-5 people you would seek help from in a crisis. Presumably, those 3-5 members of our support circle also seek help from us.
Here’s the thing, I’ve heard about having a close, personal relationship with Christ, maybe my whole life. I think, on one level, it’s right on the money and on another, it’s not.quite.there. Too often, a close, personal relationship is like that between me and my girlfriends — a semi-annual meeting and renewal, as if no time has passed, a phone call now and then and a wistful smile when thinking of something that reminds you of your friend. I don’t want to be that way with Jesus. I do not want my relationship with him to be one-sided, I feel like I need to DO something, not just feel something. I’m not insinuating that we are saved by works, but that my love for Christ compels me to action. I must confess my love, seek out time with him, perform tasks that demonstrate my love. Those are the things that create long-lasting relationships, instead of temporary acquaintances. I want him in my Support Circle, but I want to contribute to the relationship, to pull my relational weight.
Who’s in your 5? Is it time to re-evaluate the priority list? Maybe, we should trade-in a few of our Dunbar-number friends for a meaningful, lasting, cultivated and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t miss out, as Samson did for a time, on a strong, viable friendship because your other relationships take precedent. I think that number 5-7 is right on the money. God has put people in my life to enrich that life, but the most important relationship, between him and I, is the one that too often gets neglected. I do not want to assume the Lord is with me, I want to maintain a quality relationship with him.