Friends, Fans, or Followers?
Growing up an only child, my parents constantly encouraged me to make new friends. So I became that child, who’d walk up to anyone my age-ish, and ask them if they wanted to play. Hardly anyone said no, but even if they did, that didn't deter me from pursuing their friendship.
On balance, this strategy served me well: today, I can unequivocally say that I have the best group of friends in the world. But cultivating this tribe didn’t happen by accident. In fact, it required as much cutting out, as it did inviting in. The truth is that not everyone you think is your friend, actually deserves the title. And some are just fans or followers, masquerading as friends.
For years, I couldn't distinguish between the three. But then I listened to a great sermon by Pastor Mike Todd of Transformation Church, who helped clarify them for me. Friends, he said, are those who encourage, invest in, love, and serve you. They’re with you through thick and thin, they’ve seen the worst sides of you, and they love you in spite of them.
Fans are those we most easily confuse with friends. They’re enthusiastic about everything you do, love being in your orbit, and can often be just as, if not more encouraging than your friends. That’s because they don’t actually know you. They like what they see, until they don’t ... and then go running off in search of someone else to idolize.
Followers are those who watch you from a distance, keep tabs on you when you’re relevant, and “unfollow” you when you no longer serve a purpose in their lives. You probably aren’t even aware of their existence, or if you are, you know nothing about them other than what they posted about their last meal (which was probably staged and filtered).
In the months leading up to my 40th birthday, I started thinking more about who I wanted to spend the next forty years “doing life” with. The first forty were relatively easy, compared to what the next forty would bring. And while I enjoyed the company of those I’d befriended in the past, I craved greater intimacy with those I'd link arms with in the future.
So I prayed for wisdom, and, as usual, Jesus provided both an answer and an example to follow:
While Jesus was at the Passover Feast, the number of his followers began to grow, and many gave their allegiance to him because of all the miraculous signs they had seen him doing. But Jesus did not yet entrust himself to them, because he knew how fickle human hearts can be. - John 3:23-24
As I read this passage, I realized that I, too, had picked up “followers” and “fans," who were drawn to me for something they’d seen me say or do. I often sensed something missing in my interactions with them - sincerity, depth, and/or the ability to connect in a meaningful way - though most were amazing people whom I truly appreciated, and in many cases, liked. They were not, however, friends.
So with a tinge of sadness and a sense of relief, I decided to follow Jesus’ example, by separating those whom I could entrust my heart to, from those I could not. As I embarked on this journey, which I called “the Great Purge,” I discovered that it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It turned out my soul already knew who to bring closer, and who to release.
I’m not one to overstate the impact of any singular decision, but embarking on “the Great Purge” literally catapulted me to new heights in every aspect of my life. Distancing myself from “going out” friends, for example, prepared me to meet and marry my husband. Breaking away from divisive people helped me better love those I disagreed with. Saying "no" to clients I didn't believe in enabled me to say "yes" to those I did. And taking a leave of absence from fun but meaningless social engagements created room in my schedule for more time with God.
For thirty-nine years, I'd underestimated the impact that other people have on our lives. But over the past three years, I’ve grown very much aware of their power, causing me to carefully choose who I spend the precious hours of my days with. Today, I have the most incredible tribe a woman could ever hope for, and nothing in this world gives me greater joy than being in their presence.
A friend loves at all times. - Proverbs 17:17
Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things that give value to survival. - C.S. Lewis