Life Is Not a Solo Sport

by Mike Baird via Flickr

by Mike Baird via Flickr

At first glance, running a half marathon (or writing about running a half marathon!) would seem to be a strictly individual endeavor. Whether you picture me enduring mile after mile a lone figure during a training run (which I have done) or up at 2am feverishly typing away on my iPad when inspiration strikes me (as I am doing right now!), it seems like strictly solo work.

Is my running a solo sport? Is my writing? Far from it! If I were just relying on myself, there is absolutely no way I would have crossed the finish line of my first race, or my first book, or my first anything worth doing in this life.

The Blessings of Friendship

I admit it: I need my friends. I need them everyday. I need them in every way. They are not a good option or an added bonus to my life: they are absolutely essential. I wouldn’t even try living life without them. My bottom line: life is not a solo sport. I need the blessings of my friends.

My friends give me encouragement. I can’t count the times when I had decided that it just wasn’t worth the effort to train to run 13 miles when I would hear someone ask how my running was coming. It seemed like there was always someone there when I needed it. I’ve had the same experience while writing this book– every time the project would just seem so overwhelming, a patient would tell me how blessed they were by my writing and ask if I was writing a new book. Without the encouragement of our friends, none of us would make it to our finish lines.

I don’t know about you, but I am also constantly in need of guidance. It’s so easy to get distracted and get your priorities off course. That little side path looks like a good idea, but if you keep following it you will end up in the middle of nowhere or worse. A good friend will know just what to say or do to get your perspective back on track.

Hope is hard to come by without faithful friends. When things look bad, and you start looking down that tunnel with no light and no end ( “Why am I doing this to my body? Am I crazy to be trying to run 13 miles? This is just never going to work. What’s the use anyway?”) it takes flesh and blood, someone you trust & who genuinely knows you & cares for you, to be able to look you in the eye and say, “You can do this. I believe in you.”

In the same way, strength & courage to persevere are what friends are for too. If I had no friends cheering me on, what would have kept me going when the way got tough and I could have just stopped? There is a force I can tap into more powerful than any Powerade or runner’s energy snack, and that is the power of true friendship.

When things don’t turn out as I planned, it takes a true friend to give true comfort. Comfort that truly heals a broken heart doesn’t come from a bottle or a burger or a book (even one written by a brilliant physician!). Real comfort comes from someone who really loves you, and no way else.

And at the finish line (& everywhere in between), who do you want to share joy with but your friends? When we achieve that goal we have strived for, how much sweeter it is when shared with the people who have encouraged & strengthened & comforted & been with you every step of the way? Why would I ever want to cross a finish line without the joy of true friends?

The Blocks to Friendship

When you think about it, why would you ever want to live life as a solo sport? And yet we often end up “running solo” more often than we would care to admit. Friendships are essential, and yet seem so hard to develop. Why is that? Maybe you can identify with some of these blocks on the road to friendship—

Pride: We’ve all felt this in our hearts– “Ewww— look at him, look at her. I mean, they’re, well, I just don’t think they’re my type.”–which is to say (whether we voice the words or not) we think we’re better than them, maybe just a few rungs up the ladder, in looks or intelligence or status or maturity or whatever. If you think they have nothing to offer you— they probably don’t. They have better things to do than spend their time with a prideful person. My advice: get down on your knees, and take a hard look at your heart. It needs an attitude adjustment before you’re ready to be a true friend.

Shame: Being a friend means being real. It means admitting we don’t have it all together, that we’re not the Superman or Wonder Woman we want to portray to the world. Well guess what– no one is. There’s hardly a day that goes by in my office that the tissue boxes in my patient rooms don’t get used. We’re not made of steel, and life can be hard, and that goes for everybody. So let’s drop the facade, drop the shame & the pride, and be willing to admit to another needy, imperfect human being that we need them as a friend.

Fear: Everyone has experienced looking for a friend and getting an enemy instead. To be a friend means to trust someone & become vulnerable. Sometimes that trust is richly rewarded, but sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes out of malice, our trust is betrayed. After you’ve been burned, it’s hard to reach out again without that fear of being hurt again. There’s no solution to this one: the only way to not get hurt is to never open yourself up. We aren’t meant to live alone. We have to keep telling ourselves that it is worth the risk.

Busyness: We live lives of frantic busyness, filled with work, filled with distractions. Our culture doesn’t lend itself well to making deep, rich friendships. Forming friendships take time, and lots of it. I don’t have any truly treasured friends that I have not invested dozens of hours in their lives. And I don’t mean dozens of hours just being in the same room belching during a football game either– I mean hour after hour talking about things that matter– hopes & dreams & faith & fears. I mean hours spent hiking down a forest path, enjoying a relaxed meal, or working on something with true value & purpose together. It takes time to forge the bonds that allow you to get past the pride & the shame & the fear to a oneness that can freely give & receive.

Which brings me to the last block to friendship: isolation. You add pride & shame & fear & busyness all together, and you get the scourge of our society: isolation. Isolation is a horrible malady, draining the life and vitality from our bodies and our souls. But isolation is the natural path we all drift towards unless we specifically fight against the pride, shame, fear & busyness in all our lives.

The Best of Friendships

Looking over my lists of the blessings of friends and the blocks to friends, I can see that both lists also apply to the best of my friends: God. Yes, I know it’s a cliche to talk about God as being your best friend, but when I take an honest look at what a friend is and what I receive in friendship— love, encouragement, guidance, comfort, strength, joy— what relationship gives me those things more than my relationship with God? Every day He loves me, guides me, strengthens me, comforts me. There is not a moment where He is not there to talk to, listen to, share every part of my life with.

Unfortunately, the same blocks to human friendship apply to how we relate to God as well. Our pride and other sins keep us from acknowledging our need for Him. Our shame keeps us from coming to Him when we’ve screwed up. Our fear that maybe He doesn’t love us or won’t care for us makes us hesitant to fully trust Him. And oh yes, time in His presence, which we each need daily to renew & deepen our friendship with Him, is usually the first thing to get crowded out when our schedule gets too busy. The end result is increasing isolation from God, instead of the increasing intimacy which we so desperately need.

With both human friends & with God, we can run two paths in life: the natural path of isolation, which certainly seems easier to follow, but leads to despair and a meaningless existence. Or we can choose the hard path of forging real friendships, which can be long and hard, but is full of rich rewards.

Which path have you been running? I challenge you to run the path of reaching out and forming real friendships that will bring strength & hope & comfort & joy, both for you and your friends. And I challenge you to truly treat God as your best friend, get beyond your blocks, open yourself up to His love & care, & invest the time daily to make His friendship the most precious one of all.

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