I grew up going to Christian Youth Summer Camp. The ongoing joke was that camp concluded each year by playing the Michael W. Smith neo-classic “Friends Are Friends Forever” while everyone cried and hugged their new best friends forever and swore to write to each other. Which of course never happened. (And yes, I grew up before cell phones and social media. I get it. I’m old.)
The song turned into a joke for a lot of reasons – mostly the misappropriation of the song by the camp leaders to manipulate an already-emotionally-charged environment. I wasn’t actually friends with any of those people I met at the camps. I liked them. They were (and I’m sure still are) great people. But we’d known each other for at most four days. We were acquaintances.
Despite what the song promised, those summer camp friendships weren’t real friendships.
Last week, the internet practically exploded with a different sort of Friends frenzy. Buzz erupted that the now-classic 90s sitcom Friends would return for a reunion episode – or possibly entire season. But the rumor was crushed by the sitcom’s co-creator Marta Kauffmann when she told Entertainment Weekly,
I’m going to clear this up — it’s not happening. Friends was about that time in your life when your friends are your family and once you have a family, there’s no need anymore. (emphasis mine)
You probably already knew that I’m not a big fan of sitcom theology, but this deserves special attention. Kauffmann’s remarks about the kind of friendship, indeed the kind of personhood embodied on Friends is telling. A person’s friends are not essential to their core being. Rather, a person isn’t fully human until they’re married with children. Friends, according to Friends’ creator, are fundamentally inferior to – and different from – family.
According to Kauffmann, even though Ross and Rachel and Monica and Chandler and Joey and Phoebe might still have some stories, the Friends don’t have any stories left to tell together. Their collective story is over.
The philosophy behind the most popular sitcom of the last generation says that friends are good enough until you get a family. But once you have a real family, you don’t need those friends anymore.
Such a shallow picture of friendship is as false as those summer camp relationships.
Nothing could be further from the biblical picture of community. Friendship is not a place-holder, a stop-gap until we find actual, meaningful, lasting relationships. In fact, friendship – characterized by self-giving love – is the core of the Christian faith. The practice of Christian friendship is the foundation of the Church and the way we participate in and invite others into the life of the Trinity.
In premarital counseling, I warn couples against buying into the Friends myth that now that they’re getting married they don’t need a community of friends anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing could be more toxic to a marriage.
Friendships don’t end at Marriage. They change, but don’t end.
Fortunately, this sentiment about friendship seems to be changing, at least in popular culture. Marshall and Lily get married in the second season of How I Met Your Mother (which many consider to be the Friends of my generation). In episode 18 of season 2 (“Moving Day”), Ted moves out to give Marshall and Lily space. But the couple realizes they need Ted, The beginning of their relationship doesn’t signal the end of their friendship with Ted – or Barney or Robin by extension. (For more on my take on ‘sitcom theology’ check out this post)
Will the Church change our tune, or will we continue to believe the Friends myth? We need our friends. We need our community. Whether we’re married or single, we need to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
That song had it right. When it comes to those who follow Jesus, friends really are friends forever.