I saw this in a small article in this month’s edition of Reader’s Digest:
Over a 30-year period, University of Illinois researchers asked nearly 120,000 people how income, education, political participation, volunteer activities, and close relationships affected their happiness. Reported Newsweek’s Sharon Begley on the findings, “The highest levels of happiness [are found] with the most stable, longest, and most contented relationships.” (Reader’s Digest, October 2012 p. 126)
Imagine that! The most important determining factor in one’s personal happiness is the quality and quantity of long-term friendships. If you’ve read this blog at all, you know I extol their virtues all the time. It is certainly true in my life, that what brings me the greatest joy in life is meaningful friendships. While I enjoy new ones that are just beginning to connect, I treasure those that I’ve had over decades, many tracing back to my high school and college years. And the ones I share with family——Sara for 40-plus years, and my adult-children now in their early-30’s.
Friendships of growing affection, mutual respect, humor, honesty, and integrity are among the greatest wonders we get to enjoy in this age, and are probably a taste of what is to come in the next. It’s no wonder then that the enemy has so many tools in his arsenal to shatter friendships, and why so many of our fleshy pursuits actually sabotage the relationships we desire. Greed, jealousy, hatred, the quest for significance, self-focus, immorality, shame, faithlessness, dishonesty, arrogance, rage, ambition and countless others not only impact the person dealing with these deeds of the flesh, but the also all destroy friendships.
A good friend who has watched my life over 35 years wrote me recently with his insight that a lot of what I talk about always comes back to relationship——between us and God, and between ourselves and others. He saw that reflected in Ephesians where the purpose of God is to transform the world by creating people who can live in his love, and who by loving others become a powerful and subversive force in a self-focused world. This has been God’s purpose from the beginning, to restore a priority of relationships that are full and free and through those relationships to demonstrate his reality in the world. It’s too bad most of Christendom has missed that and been far more preoccupied with building an identity in their programs, institutions, and doctrines that has given us a reputation more for division than a growing unity.
I’ve been reading Ephesians again taking note of how important this is in Father’s heart and how deeply it lies at the heart of the Gospel. It’s not what we achieve that defines us, but how we love that makes us successful in God’s eyes. Isn’t it interesting that social scientists are coming to the same conclusion? We were created for relationship and are most happy in those that are long and enduring. Sin destroys our capacity for relationship by making others our competitors for attention, money, or status instead of drawing us into relationships as friends who can struggle together in the brokenness of this age.
I love the excerpt above because I know there is nothing that will bring you more joy than becoming one who can love freely, without expectation, and end up with friendships rich and deep. That doesn’t mean everyone you love will love you back. Not even close. But in your loving, you open doors for others to come out of their self-focused prisons. And some of those will become close, life-long friends with whom you can share your life.