Today marks 25 years since the much-loved TV show called Friends first graced our screens and spawned generations of Central Perk-loving, Smelly Cat-singing, ‘How-you-doin’-greeting fans. With the famous orange couch from the coffeehouse on a world tour this month (including stopovers in Dallas, Dubai and Delhi), syndication reportedly raking in $20 million for each of the six main characters every year to date, and the sitcom enjoying prime position as the second most-watched show on Netflix today, it’s clear that the fever around the show that once bagged 62 Emmy nominations still runs high.
Fans have been hollering for a reunion ever since the gang trooped out of Chandler and Monica’s apartment for the last time in 2004. You have to ask: what was it about a sitcom in the 90s that made it so iconic one only needs to yell “Pivot!” to make everyone laugh again?
Wesley Morris, writing for The New York Times, offers a clue. Friends wasn’t fantasy during its original run half a century ago, he posits, but maybe it is now. That kind of camaraderie between grown men and women who are steadfastly, unflaggingly there for each other, sans judgment, through both highs and lows, is the kind of life-affirming companionship most of us can only daydream about today. Our lives just don’t have the same theme song.
The camaraderie on Friends is the kind of life-affirming companionship most of us can only daydream about today
Friends we thought we’d grow old and die with have fallen by the wayside. Those who promised to never forget us are but an autograph in a high school yearbook. Those who knew us at our most vulnerable are no more than strangers with memories. Indeed, no one told us it was ‘gonna be this way’.
But this isn’t a commentary on the often fickle nature of friendships. When bosom buds become yet another chapter in our past, it’s not always a terrible plot twist to an otherwise wonderful tale. Friends will come and friends will go, and we need to be thankful for every season. But what doesn’t change is that we are all, on some level, in a state of constant yearning for the perfect BFF.
That’s because good friends are hard to find. The kind who would defy a murderous father or forsake their throne for you (1 Samuel 20:32-34). The kind that would stop at nothing, not even at removing the roofing tiles of an overcrowded house in order to get a paralysed pal to a Great Physician (Mark 2:3-4). These are few and far between. So we choose to suspend our individual realities and jab ourselves in the arm with 20-minute episodes of shows like Friends instead.
The sitcom is just that though: a TV show… not so much art imitating life as art showing us what we’d really like life to look like, laughter track et al. The irony is that, as Christians, we find everything — absolutely everything — our hearts desire in Jesus. Unbreakable, unbeatable friendship included. But we give Him a hard pass.
We’d much rather desperately ping a friend’s phone in times of panic than turn to the One who’s always listening. We’d sooner reach for human opinion than rest in heavenly wisdom. We find more joy in fair-weather friends than the One who promises to never leave us, nor forsake us. We’d rather engage in GIF wars than open His Word to listen for His still, small voice. And we gladly clear out schedules for hangouts and sleepovers, but offer Him who died for us a careless apology-prayer peppered with false promises to do better the next day.
We gladly clear out schedules for sleepovers, but offer Him who died for us a careless apology-prayer peppered with false promises to do better
We want friends who will encourage us, get involved in our lives, accept us as we are and be brave enough to tell us the truth about ourselves when we need to hear it. Well, Jesus checks all those boxes and infinitely more. He’s never going to break our hearts by moving to another time zone or continent. Never going to sleep through our SOS calls. Never going to tell us that He has His own problems, that He can’t help us, forgive us, or ‘see us anymore’.
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends, He once said (John 15:13). Then He laid down His life for His enemies (Romans 5:10).
Can we be more ungrateful?
Our problem is what it’s always been: we are given to exchanging the truth of God for a lie, the Creator for the created (Romans 1:25), the glory of the immortal for a mere shadow of His goodness.
Many of us have been blessed with good friendships, even godly ones. Few may even be able to claim the rarer blessing of having the same friends-like-family for decades. But do we realise that the best earthly companions are all weak and fallible echoes of the most faithful Friend of all? Two is great company when Christ is in it.
An acquaintance once said she found Jesus too holy to approach, and therefore preferred to pour all her petitions out to His mother, Mary, instead. Nothing in Scripture supports such an idea. If anything, the Bible is replete with invitations to freely and boldly approach the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), to draw nearer to Him (James 4:8), and to call on Him for He will answer (Psalm 50:15). James 2:23 says Abraham was called “a friend of God” and Exodus 33:11 notes how the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, “as one speaks to a friend”.
Cultivating a friendship with God doesn’t require a PhD in holiness, only our availability. Isn’t that how we build every other relationship? But our ‘get busy living’ culture has woven productivity so intricately into our sense of identity that the idea of being still is anathema and making time for Him holds even less appeal.
What would happen if we did choose the road less travelled though? What if we blocked a part of our schedules every day to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8)? What if we stopped having Him play third wheel and shared life with Him instead, listening and talking and loving and growing? We’d find the never-failing, all-fulfilling friendship we’ve been dreaming of (Psalm 16:11, Revelation 3:20).
And it wouldn’t be on a TV screen.
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