Who cares about you? Who is looking out for you? Who will notice when your foot slips or your heart faints?
It appears that not many people can answer the questions above. Phycologists are concerned that the social isolation accentuated by the Covid-19 crisis has aggravated the pandemic of loneliness. The Harvard Gazette reported that more than a third of Americans feel lonely “frequently” or “almost all the time or all the time”, while more than 61% more young adults experience chronic loneliness. The destructive impact of loneliness on social welfare in Great Britain prompted them to appoint their first Minister of Loneliness in 2018.
This isolation level leaves a great many in our world feeling lonely, vulnerable, depressed and often confused. One must acknowledge the irony of isolation in our technology-driven age. We are the most connected generation ever, yet we are the generation that suffers most from loneliness. We are the most informed generation ever, yet most the confused. We are the most entertained ever, yet the most depressed. We are the generation most committed to security, yet we are the generation most paralysed by anxiety.
Our most profound need is not satisfied by a Facebook “friend”, an Instagram “follower” or a casual chat with a colleague. Our greatest desire is to feel significant and secure in a relationship with someone who cares about us. We long for a friend who sees us for who we are and loves us enough to tell us the truth. We don’s live well alone.
I can’t do it alone
The reputation of the well-respected Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias was decimated by reports of his immoral and unethical secret life.
Our need for companionship is not only for satisfaction or significance but also for security. We have seen so many admirable leaders derail because their passion either faded or became misdirected. But human vulnerability is not limited to leaders – we all have are keenly aware of our imperfections, which run the risk of derailing our lives. We need help – we need somebody to keep us accountable for what we do and what we pursue.
To stay on track, I must be clear on what is precious to me – those things that I never want to lose. Also, I must be clear on what is perilous to me – those things will destroy my relationships and reputation and derail my career and calling. The stakes are high.
My own experience highlights the lessons in Biblical history: that I am fallible, that I only see in part, and that, indeed, two is better than one. I need help from someone who cares.
A few years after our wedding, my wife shared the necessity of accountability friendships with a group attending a marriage preparation course. Then she said: “The reason why I felt confident to marry Ross was because of his many close-knit friends; if his heart drifts from Christ or me, his friends will call him to account and keep us safe.” I thank God for those friends. However, over the years, we have moved away from Pretoria and now live in different cities worldwide. Although we still love one another, I have discovered that I need to cultivate accountable friendships with men that I see often and share life with so that they can observe and speak into my relationships, purpose and passions.
Help me guard my heart
I’ve discovered that, to keep my life on track and preserve what I hold deer, I need to “guard [my] heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life.” (Proverbs 4:23, NLT). I need to preserve and cultivate my devotion to Christ. I need to intentionally pursue my calling or direction in life. I must actively cultivate and be attentive to the desires of my heart. I must protect and nurture the relationships of those dearest to me. My relationship with Christ, with my family and friends, with my purpose, possessions and passions – these determine the quality and impact of my life.
The friend who cares must help me to guard my heart, for it does determine the course of my life. And these are the questions that I need my friend to ask me.
[A recording of this post can be found here, starting from 50minutes.]
“my friend, ask me if I’m still in Christ?”
The life of the apostle Paul so inspires me. He was a man with a singular vision who lived his life wholly devoted to Christ. In his letter to the Philippians, he wrote, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21). He poured out his life like a drink offering in service of his Lord, “having suffered the loss of all things to gain Christ and be found in Him… to know Him… to become like Him.” (Phil. 3:8-10)
When I was a student, I was drawn into such a passionate pursuit of the Lord by zealous leaders. Fellowship with them ignited my prayer life, stirring a hunger to read my Bible and to witness the new life I received from the Lord boldly. But this was 20 years ago, and my life is much more demanding and complicated today than it was back then.
I need someone to regularly ask me, “my friend, do you still seek Him? Are you still in Christ?” And when I answer him, he needs to test whether my intentions are grounded in simple, everyday actions that prove my devotion.
“my friend, ask me if I’m still content?”
The longer I live, the more aware I am of my desires for pleasures, possessions, and recognition. John called these “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (1 John 2:16) Similarly, the older I become, the more I hate this sensuality I see in myself, because I see how these unbridled passions destroy lives, families and communities.
Henry Cloud points out that our course and character are set both by what we love and hate. We are drawn to the things we love, and we are repelled from the things we hate. Therefore, he urges, “develop the ability to hate the right things well.”[i]
When I was a young boy, my dad rushed home to kill a venomous snake spotted in our favourite climbing tree. Because he loved us, he hated what could kill us. Now, because I love my Lord, my wife and children, my vocation and my community, I choose to hate everything that might destroy my loving relationship with them.
I want my friend to ask me regularly about the condition of my heart. I need him to urge me to “be free from covetousness, [and] be content with what I have.” (Hebrews 13:5–6) Because loving the wrong things will ruin not only my life, but also those I love. (1 Timothy 6:10-11)
[i] Henry Cloud, Nine Things A Leader Must Do, Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2006, p. 73-75
“my friend, ask me if I’m still on course?”
During tough times we are tempted to look for an easier way. However, the easier way rarely leads us to a life of significance, security and satisfaction. Endurance holds rewards.
Paul’s grit inspires me. He knew that his journey to Jerusalem would result in beatings and imprisonment. Nevertheless, he charged forward, saying that he had no regard for his personal welfare, “…if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus…” (Acts 20:24)
I know that I would be tempted to choose the easier way at times, and therefore I need my friend to ask me, “are you still on course? Are you finishing what the Lord had called you to do?”
“my friend, ask me if I’m still connected?”
The pace and pressures of life is not kind to our relationships. Stress tend to numb our senses and close our hearts. Pete Greig writes that the human soul is wild and shy – like a deer, it only comes out to drink when we become still.[i] We lose the ability to enjoy meaningful connection unless we intentionally become still with one another.
We can easily assume connection in our hurried life because we share a home, a surname or a church group. But staying connected and finding joy in fellowship requires intentionality: disconnecting from the outside world and connecting with the one(s) in my presence.
We can easily pretend to connect with the ones we ought to love. We choose not to give ourselves or share what we have because of our hardened hearts. But Paul urges that ” love be without hypocrisy” (Romans 12:9) – “bearing with one another …forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you.” (Colossians 3:12-13). We have seen how callousness and unforgiveness ruin families, shatter communities and derail a person because of darkened lenses.
I know life’s pressures are hard on my soul. Therefore, I need my friend to frequently ask me, “are you still connected with your wife, your children and your close community?”
Find such a friend. Then be such a friend.
[i] Pete greig, How to Pray, Hodder and Stouten, 2021, p35.
Who do you care about?
Who do you really care about? Whose life matters to you? When last have you asked them the questions that determine the course of their life?
Go on! Ask them the heart questions! Ask them about their relationship with God in Christ. Ask them how they relate to the things in this world. Ask them how they relate to their purpose. And ask them about their relationships with those dear to them. Because if you love them, you want to see them flourish in these relationships.
“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?”
He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?”