A few weeks ago, I lost my wedding ring. The shiny gold band and I had lasted 13 years together before it seemingly completely disappeared.

During that time there had rarely been a day when it had not adorned my finger and, having lost it, I genuinely felt its absence on an almost hourly basis. I would wring my hands longingly, my eyes scanning every shelf and surface for a glimpse of burnished jewellery. I must have searched under the sofas over 20 times. Just in case it had fallen into the bin, I trawled through the rubbish and searched through week-old chicken carcasses and nappies in vain.

There is something that happens within us when something is lost. Our mind and body are created to respond when they need something that is lacking. And, without exception, in this season of our lives, we are all missing something.

The way we have responded to the absence of the familiar has been interesting over the last year. During the first lockdown, a friend craved a breakfast muffin from a well-known fast-food outlet so much that they decided to create their own homemade version. It was an admirable attempt. During the great live sport famine of 2020, channels ran reruns of 1990s tournaments, sending middle-aged fans into nostalgic overdrive. These innovative substitutions may work for our superficial needs, but what about the deepest needs that we have lost?

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We were not intended to be socially distant. We are created for community. We are formed and forged for friendship.

The reason so many of us, and not just the extroverts, are finding this season tough is that we are made in the image of a God who is relational. The mystery of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the three in one deity, is about more than just personas. At the baptism of Jesus, we see all three interacting in a dynamic, intimate relationship. Inbuilt into every human spirit is a hunger to connect with others, to love and be loved in return. Distance between these connections has been necessarily increased to preserve our physical life and prevent more deaths, but we must acknowledge and lament the deficiency we all feel, which has been created by relational starvation.

But as we grieve the loss of buzzing coffee shops, hugs with best mates, jostling to get to the biscuits at the end of church, heaving crowds in packed stadiums and circles of friends laughing, let us also take a moment to reflect on what we can do now to feed our God-given appetite for relationship. Let us remember that as we do, we are also meeting the need of those around us who are also suffering from the same friendship-frustration. How do we love our neighbour through masks, tiers, and government restrictions? I have a few ideas.

Be intentional and realistic

We cannot possibly be best friends with everyone, but we can make time to walk, run or cycle regularly with a handful, one at a time. In these moments go deep, and be honest, vulnerable and truthful. Pray together. I have been running with a few mates over the past few months, and in hunger terms, each meeting is a life-giving feast of connection.

Be generous and encouraging

For a wider group of mates, small gestures of friendship – a phone call, text message, quick Zoom call or postcard – can bring light to a dark day. We are all a bit more fragile than usual. Discouragement will hit us harder. Kindness will help keep our heads above water.

Remember, midweek matters

Most churches are running online discipleship groups during the week. I can be really tempted, especially after a day in front of a screen, to make the excuse that I am Zoomed-out’ and take a night off. I have to remind myself that the group is not only good for me, but my presence there also makes a big difference in encouraging others.

Smile and reach out

Getting out of the house each day makes a huge difference, and as you walk the streets around you, simply make eye contact with others, smile and say Hi”. I have observed that as I do, almost everyone is desperate to make a connection in return. 

After a couple of weeks, the wedding ring turned up. My two-year-old had hidden it in a Paw Patrol toy. I’ve not taken it off since. The joy of being reunited, and the relief of knowing it once was lost but now is found, mean I treasure it all the more. What if this season of disconnection and social distancing is teaching us to be better friends? What if our connections grew deeper and more meaningful? Christians should be the best friends in the world. Let us cheer one another on and reach out to those starved of relationship in these difficult times.

We cannot possibly be best friends with everyone, but we can make time to walk, run or cycle regularly with a handful, one at a time.