Vaughan Roberts, True Friendship: Walking Shoulder to Shoulder (10 Publishing 2013)
The title of this book masks the power and importance of its challenging contents. A more revealing title might be something like, Sort Out your Friendships, Your Life Depends on it! or You Need to Be a Better Friend and You Need Better Friendships!
I could have easily overlooked True Friendship as either uninteresting or irrelevant to me. That would have been a big mistake. This book has been helpful and challenging in highlighting the changes I didn’t know I needed to make in my friendships and relationships. For example, ‘Too many Christians, even those who see each other regularly, relate with very little, if any reference to their shared faith’ (p.22). Vaughan says this in passing, just a few pages in, but I found it deeply challenging. How much of my conversation with Christian friends is about our common sonship?
The book contains only six short chapters, but in each one I felt myself being slapped awake to the seriousness of the issues, and every chapter left me with several thoughts requiring further consideration and implementation. Each chapter also ends with a set of helpful questions suitable for small group discussion or personal reflection.
In chapter one (‘True Friendship is Crucial’) we are reminded that relationship is at the heart of the Bible’s message. Our relationships with God and one another must be restored, and healthy friendship is the key to good relationship. Vaughan spends a little time here on the relational differences between men and women, the single and the married, and introverts and extroverts, but hammers home the importance of friendship for everyone.
Chapter two (‘True Friendship is Close’) moves on to define friendship and sets it in contrast to recent cultural pressures and societal changes, including the physical breakdown of our communities, the potentially shallow and artificial friendships on social media, and the expectation of finding fulfilling life through intimacy with just one other person.
‘True Friendship is Constant’ (chapter three) helps us look at ourselves as friends. It takes us through the importance of maintaining and developing friendships and invites us to consider how we might better handle tensions in our friendships.
The fourth chapter (‘True Friendship is Candid’) encourages vulnerability and openness in our relationships, so that we might learn from one another and grow. Vaughan writes here about our need to respond well to criticism.
We move on to ‘True Friendship is Careful’ in chapter five, and here we’re invited to explore the need for thoughtfulness and sensitivity in our communications, and whether we are too independent or overly emotionally dependent.
Finally, chapter six (‘True Friendship is Christ-Centred’) warns of the temptation for us to be either selfish or self-centred in our relationships, and the danger of seeking in others what we will only ever find in our Saviour. ‘The recognition that even the best human friendships are limited is certainly not a reason to avoid them, but rather is a spur to look beyond them to Christ’ (p. 86).
Vaughan has made it his job in this book to unseat the reader, to tip us out of our complacency regarding meaningful relationships and the nature of true friendships. He writes simply, sensitively and intelligently, but also boldly, about the dangers we may find ourselves in: having many social media connections, but no one who really knows us; buying into our culture’s idolatry of Eros that insists that having one significant, romantic other is sufficient friendship; and failing to maintain friendships with the consequence of being unable to give or receive adequate support.
Throughout the text, the care and sensitivity in dealing with issues and consistent concern for healthy relationships, point to the author's experience in church leadership and pastoral care. He writes with self-deprecating humility, but his alliteration indicates his preaching and teaching pedigree. This is a well-written book, leaving me both wanting more, and having plenty to be getting on with.
For those of you who are certain that all your friendships are healthy and in good order, who believe that you are the best friend you can be, and who have ensured that your friendships are all correctly subservient to friendship with God – you can skip this book. But for the rest of us who struggle with our relationships and friendships, this book will be a great help, equipping us to review them, and to consider where we might make beneficial adjustments.