I’ve decided I want to be a doctor. I’m terrible with blood and guts, quite squeemish, and struggle to watch Embarrassing Bodies—but I’ve seen Scrubs. It’s all jokes and hanging out at the nurses’ station with hardly any blood and guts, so it should be fine, right?
Okay, clearly I can’t base my expectations of the medical profession on what I see on Scrubs, nor can I really know what it’s like to be a cop from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or a politician from Parks and Recreation (shoutout to my homegirl, Leslie Knope). As much as I love these sitcoms, I know they are not accurate representations of these occupations.
So then, why do we get tricked when it comes to friendship?
The friendships portrayed in television shows, books and movies are not realistic representations of friendships. Fiction shows us what we want to see, and what will carry the story. If we allow what we see on screen to shape our expectations of friendships, we can end up thinking that true friendship must consist of exciting adventures and daily interactions, being together for every monumental moment.
It’s great when it is. Nothing is more delightful than being surrounded by close friends, people who have chosen to be in your life and have selected you out of all the other humans to be in theirs. There is great joy in shared history, moments of affection and laughter, and the creation of in-jokes. This is what makes university such a special season in life: it’s a time where peers have the perks of being grown up without the responsibility attached. Time can be wasted together in large quantities, and quantity time gives birth to quality time.
But seasons change, and so do friendships. Unless they’re on television.
When we base our expectations on how the group of friends in our favourite television show behaves, we are left disappointed because real relationships are much messier than how we’d like them to be.
Real friendships are messy because life changes. We grow up. We start making decisions independent of our friends, and this changes things. People get jobs in different cities. People go traveling and have different experiences. People get married and start families. People get responsibilities and can no longer while the weekends away with good company. Even when someone feels like they haven’t changed at all, the world around them has and therefore they have too.
Real friendships are messy because human beings are sinful. We are sinful in a way that doesn’t lead to good plot twists but instead sinful in a way that leads us to hurt each other constantly. We don’t handle change well, and we don’t handle sin well. We are not as gracious with one another as we think we are.
If our expectations and ideals of friendship are based on the fictional friendships we witness we will always be disappointed, because we won’t be equipped to handle the way that friendships really are. Our expectations of our friendships will become our idols, and idols will do what idols do best—fail to satisfy and let us down.
When our friendships become idols, they will take our eyes away from Jesus. Jesus is the true friend—he never fails us. He lays down his life for us. He invites us to be in relationship with him eternally. We need to love our friends and nurture our friendships, but they must never take priority over our relationship with Jesus. Jesus must come first.
Jesus is not just the true friend, he also teaches us what true friendship really is. When we are trying to work out how our friendships should look, we must ensure we are turning to the Bible as our guide. The friendships that fiction portrays are appealing and attractive, but are not accurate. When we turn to the Bible to understand what a true friend is, we grow better equipped to be a good friend, able to love and forgive when others hurt us (Eph 4:32; Col 3:13). We understand the importance of speaking truth in love (Eph 4:15, 25), seeking to build others up (Eph 4:12), and helping them to mature in their faith (Col 1:28). We come to terms with the truth of humanity: that we are all broken and sinful (Rom 1, Rom 3). Therefore we are not surprised when our friends fail us, but rather we are slow to anger, ready to forgive and show grace. The Bible not only shows us what a true friend we have in Christ, but it teaches us to be a true friend to others.
That’s the only way we can begin to tell the world the story of what friendship is really for—joyful service together in Christ, an adventure that will last into eternity.