Looking through my Facebook feed the other day, I read an article a friend posted, liked an engagement announcement and commented on a baby picture.
After a few minutes of browsing, I was struck with a thought. These are huge life moments that call for a serious celebration. And yet, as I clicked my little approval of them, I couldn’t help but wonder: How many of these people do I regularly interact with in real life? How many of these people do I really know? (Or conversely, how many of these people really know me?)
In our social-media-driven society, we’re able to instantly connect with hundreds of our peers at once, receiving updates on any number of major life milestones in a matter of minutes.
It’s become customary for us to know one another through a screen, a few sentences and a picture or two at a time. But this idea troubles me, and I doubt I’m the only one. I’m not satisfied with knowing people. I want to be known by them.
Fewer Friends Means Jesus’ Kind of Friendships
When we examine the types of relationships Jesus invested in during His time on earth, it seems He was really only known by 12 people.
Sure, thousands of people knew who He was in the places He was ministering and performing miracles—but most of those people weren’t able to know Jesus on a more personal level, not like those 12 men who were serving alongside Him. Jesus and His Disciples shared many meals and much deep conversation. They cared for their community, and they set a beautiful example in how they cared for one other.
It seems the Good Lord knew what He was doing in keeping His group of most trusted friends at a relatively small number. None of us, no matter how friendly and outgoing we are, have enough hours and energy to offer quality interaction to the hundreds of acquaintances we’ve collected on social networking sites.
Fewer Friends Means Riskier Friendships
Being known is a special kind of relationship achieved through lapsed time and shared vulnerability–and that is the sort of relationship we are designed for, with one another as well as with our Creator.
Our culture can be fairly isolated and individualistic. We take pride in independence. We love being self-sufficient, we love the feeling of accomplishing something on our own without having to rely on anyone else. We want relationships, but without the mess. We want view community as an option, not a need.
Taking a step back, though, we can understand how selfish this approach is, and also how untrue. We need other people. We need people to share in the joys and small victories of the good days. And we need people when the bad days set in.
Fewer Friends Means Deeper Friendships
The days of hurt and frustration are real and sometimes too frequent. Especially on those bad days, we need people in whose presence we are known, people who we don’t have to explain ourselves to.
Being known demands honesty, and that can be terrifying. The more you let people in—the more you trust them, open up to them—the more they’ll see your flaws. That’s the truth associated with knowing someone intimately. And I think this is a common reason why romantic relationships fail, or why friendships fall apart. It may also be one of the reasons we don’t readily allow ourselves to be known—we fear that if we reveal our true selves, there is the possibility we’ll be rejected.
But I believe the risk is still worth it.
Knowing lots of people is great for the breadth of relationships, but it doesn’t contribute much to their depth. We deserve deeper, more meaningful connections than the ones we’re settling for. We’re designed for relationships where we’re a name instead of a number, where we’re seen as people and not as profiles. In the same way that the Author of Everything pursues us, so we should pursue one another.
Have you ever been to a restaurant or a coffee shop and the person working has your order memorized? It’s comforting, isn’t it? We like the feeling of being seen, of being heard, of being remembered. We’re wired that way by the Love who gave us life. But there are so many daily distractions that keep us from investing in each other. How wonderful if we turned off our tablets, put down our phones, and made a deliberate effort to show up and pay attention and love one another well.
Fewer Friends Means Friends Who Value You
From my experience, knowing a lot of people is great, but it’s the friendships in which I am known that matter most. The more I talk to people about this notion, the more I realize how much we all feel the weight of its truth. Whether we’re willing to acknowledge it or not, we all possess a desire to be known, a desire for people to get involved with our dreams and our fears and everything in between.
I want to rip a figurative page from the Gospels and emulate the relationships Jesus teaches us are important, those that celebrate the good and stick around for the bad. I want to cultivate relationships where being known is valued, and where we wash each other’s feet along the way.