They say you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it. Due to a mild case of COVID, I recently quarantined at home for a couple of weeks, and I waited even longer to return to church — just in case. While I was stuck at home, several friends from church texted to ask how I was doing or to share movie suggestions for my time in isolation.
I was touched that they thought of me, and grateful that we could communicate even when apart. But I was so ready to be back at church and see them again in person.
No substitute for the real thing
No matter how technologically advanced our society becomes or how far our Wi-Fi can take us, there is simply no substitute for face-to-face interaction. When I went to the small church my parents helped start, I remember the evenings we invited one of the newer church families over to our house for dinner. Even though we saw the family every week at church — and it was a very small church — we learned so much about them and grew much closer when we spent time together outside of church. We had entered into each other’s lives in a deeper way.
In the Bible, both Paul and John described their eagerness to see their friends face-to-face, and Paul and his traveling companions even prayed for the opportunity to personally visit the Thessalonians. Our virtual options may have changed the landscape since first-century Israel, but no pixelated screen can replace in-person socialization.
I haven’t always been close to my fellow church members. A couple of years ago, I spent more social time with coworkers, and was much closer to friends from work than I was to friends from church. But due to a job change and COVID restrictions, I began spending far less time with my former coworkers and more time with people from church. Now a little over a year later, I can tell a difference. For no reason other than seeing each other less, I have clearly grown apart from people I used to be much closer to, all while growing closer to the people I have started spending more time with.
A few ideas for getting face time
But getting together in person doesn’t usually happen organically. It typically takes some planning, foresight and flexibility. I enjoy meeting friends at a local restaurant or coffee shop, but sometimes we all need fresh ideas. Here are a few to think about:
- Invite a friend to join you in something you’re already doing. I came across a social media post earlier this year about friends inviting each other to “errand hang,” or do grocery shopping or other seemingly boring errands together. When you look over your schedule, think about if a friend would like to join you for any of your scheduled events or to-do list items.
- Go outside. Take a walk at a nearby park or nature area. Bring a snack or two along for a mini picnic.
- Work on a project together. Make a meal for someone you both know who has a new baby or a hospitalization in the family.
- Do seasonal things together. Ask a friend or two to help you decorate for Christmas (or un-decorate in January). One year a friend joined me for Christmas shopping at local small businesses. Another year the same friend and I drove around town looking at Christmas lights while we talked.
Sometimes in-person is impossible
Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful for virtual communication and the role it plays in relationships. After all, I was not seeing any of my friends face-to-face when I was home with COVID. Technology made communication happen when seeing people in person was not possible.
Virtual communication is also hugely helpful for long-distance friendships. My best friend and I have lived at least two hours apart since we were kids, and without email, phone conversations and texting, we would have struggled to stay close. But even though we live hours apart, we both know we need to prioritize seeing each other in person when we can. When I travel to her state to visit her and her family, I get to enter into her life in a way I can’t through phone lines (or however texts get transported).
Worth the effort
This holiday season may be very busy for many of us, and it can be hard to fit in yet another thing. But consider making the time to meet up with one friend this coming month — or two if you feel like your schedule will allow it. Maybe this is something to think about as we approach the traditional season of goal-setting and resolution-making. Consider setting aside the same time every week (or every other week) and meet up with different friends each time. Our friendships are worth the extra effort.