“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their hard work. If either should fall, one can pick up the other. But how miserable are those who fall and don’t have a companion to help them up!”
Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10
The Bible makes it clear again and again – God’s people were not made to be alone. It is full of stories of great friendships – Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi, Elijah and Elisha, Paul and Timothy, and a number of others. We even have the consideration of Christ’s love being of the kind that means laying one’s life down for one’s friends.
Many of us found it easy to make friends in our youth. After all, we were thrust into years of doing life together with a number of other children our age in school, whether we liked it or not. Eventually, we found others who we thought were interesting enough to pass the time with, and some of us even ended up with lifelong friends as a result. But friendships seem to be a lot harder to make once we hit adulthood, as the opportunities for regular social interaction with people beyond our family and coworkers become slimmer and slimmer.
A joke that has been passed around Christian circles recently says that Jesus’s first real miracle was making 12 friends in his 30s!
But even though real friendships in adulthood might be harder to find and more precious to keep I in our adulthood, friendship may be the key to keeping us happy and healthy as we age, according to an article on the subject from Generations, a magazine published by the American Society on Aging.
If you’ve raised children (or remember being a child yourself!) you might recognize the tendency we all have to listen to our friends more than we do to members of our families. This is because we usually develop friendships with people who are most like us in age, values, interests, and attitudes, people have. For many of us who have kept up one or two life-long friendships, we often take the wisdom of their words as though they came from somewhere within ourselves. And considering how long they’ve known us, it’s easy to understand why!
Even as our lives shift and change, as they inevitably do as we age, the need for the core elements that friendship provides – “companionship, mutual support, reciprocity, affection” – remains a constant within our lives. In other words, we never outgrow the need we have for our friends. We needed them to help shape us and sustain us in our youth and we need them even more as we age. We are more inclined to lean on our friends rather than our family for words of comfort, or for much-needed direction. We are far more likely to confess our worries or weaknesses to our friends or go to them when we need help.
And the scientific research backs up the warning from Ecclesiastes! Indeed, those who do not have a companion to help them up when times get hard or to buoy their joy when things are good are in worse shape than those who do. According to a study carried out by Rosemary Blieszner, the author of the Generations article in question, older adults without meaningful friendships tend to be more withdrawn, socially isolated, fall more often, and experience higher incidents of heart disease, depression, and cognitive impairment.
As we move towards Labor Day, consider using the holiday as a time to catch up with a friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Or have a meal with one you see regularly. It may prove to be one of the best things you can do for your health and your spirit.
Rev. Lauren Evans
Chaplain to Retired Church Workers
 Blieszner, R. “The Worth of Friendship”, Generations, Spring 2014, 26.
 Adams, R.G., and Blieszner, R., 1995. “Aging Well with Friends and Family.” Aging Well in Contemporary Society. American Behavioral Scientist 39(2): 209-24.