Much of my research and life work has been rooted in the belief that we need each other to thrive. I was recently teaching a session for a nonprofit certificate program on the value of partnerships and collaboration. The participants commented on the need to be more intentional about their interactions beyond the transactional to creating more transformative moments with others. Yes!
It’s always serendipitous when I discover something that affirms my research and work. The next day, I read an article in the New York Times that shared some data that confirmed the need for a connection. That information follows:
“Somewhere between a third and two-thirds of Americans report being lonely. Loneliness exists on a feedback loop: Fraying cultural bonds, damaged physical health and reduced social contact both exacerbate loneliness and are exacerbated by it, to the point that loneliness lowers life expectancy. Loneliness is a challenging phenomenon for researchers to quantify, but there are telltale signs—and they point to a society losing its way. The number of Americans who report having no close friends at all has quadrupled since 1990, according to a Survey Center on American Life study. An average American in 2021 spent 58% less time with friends than in 2013, the Census Bureau found.”
It’s important to note that the pandemic created much of the distance that we all experienced as a result of our need for safety and health, but as the world has opened back up, our relationships continue to suffer. Social media has provided space to connect, but we are missing opportunities for the energy that occurs when we are present and proximate. Social media can create a persona of who we desire to be and allows us to hide who we really are behind a barrage of photos, quotes, and posts that only show the good times.
We need relationships. We need friends. God designed us to be in a relationship with others. There are many powerful friends in the Bible that reveal the need for relationships: Jonathan and David, Elijah and Elisha, and Ruth and Naomi. These relationships show us what happens when friends provide comfort, constructive critiques, and even coaching.
We live in a time of rampant selfishness, but these relationships remind us of the importance of close friendships for our mental, spiritual, and emotional needs. The relationship between Ruth and Naomi in the Bible demonstrates that Godly friendships are rooted in loyalty, purpose, love, dedication, and perseverance. Ruth tells Naomi: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God,” Ruth 1:16-17. Ruth had the opportunity to leave Naomi, an elder, and go back to her people. Instead, she recognized the pain they both experienced in losing their loved ones and chose to be there for Naomi. Their friendship proved to be a blessing for both of them.
Our need for relationships is essential. Research from the CDC confirms that loneliness and a lack of connection can have severe and even deadly consequences:
Recent studies found that:
- Social isolation significantly increased a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, a risk that may rival those of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity.
- Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia.
- Poor social relationships (characterized by social isolation or loneliness) were associated with a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke.
- Loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. The Bible reminds us of why friendships are important:
- If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up (Ecclesiastes 4:10).
- One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).
- A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity (Proverbs 17:17).
The antidote to loneliness is connection—not superficial relationships, but those that allow you to be yourself where you can be vulnerable and safe. Seek good, Godly, reciprocal friendships that are life-giving. Your very existence depends upon it.
(Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew is the host of the Tapestry podcast and the author of three books for women. She is also the vice president of Community Affairs for the State Fair of Texas. To learn more, visit <drfroswa.com>.)