The support (or lack thereof) we get from our friends and family plays a huge role in our overall health and well-being. Clergy Health’s research shows a correlation between feeling socially isolated and a greater incidence of depression. A 2011 worldwide study found that friends and family are one of the biggest influences on health; nearly half of respondents reported that their social circles had the most impact on their lifestyle choices.
There are so many types of relationships that can produce protective benefits for our mental and physical health, and I imagine that they look different for every person. But I was recently introduced to a type of friendship that I think might resonate with clergy in particular—holy friendships. In an article for Faith & Leadership, Duke Divinity School’s Greg Jones describes holy friends as those who “challenge the sins we have come to love, affirm the gifts we are afraid to claim and help us dream dreams we otherwise would not dream.”
I love that part about “challenging the sins we have come to love.” In my own life, I have plenty of friends who are on my team all the time. But the relationships that I value most are those where my loved ones know me and my values enough to challenge me when I veer from the course. Yes, this might produce some unpleasant conversations, but ultimately, these people make me stronger. They hold me accountable, and yet they appreciate my strengths and are able to help me dream dreams I wouldn’t dare reach for otherwise.
And what about those times where we want to make a significant change in our lives—starting a new ministry, pursuing a lifelong passion, getting our health back on track? Jones encourages, “Change is hard, but when others illumine hidden potential in our lives, and offer ongoing support as we lean into that potential, we discover hope, and are empowered to embody it.”
Discovering hope through holy friendships by Greg Jones (Faith & Leadership June 2012)
Cultivating Institutions that nurture holy friendships by Greg Jones with Kelly Gilmer (Faith & Leadership August 2012)