Friendship and Connection

Sunday, September 11, 2022
Featuring: Rev. Richard Maraj
Week #3 of the 4-Week Series, "The Foundation of Fulfillment"

Click HERE to download this transcript.

Click HERE to view Rev. Jimmie Scott's guided meditation during the service.

So an American, a Frenchman and a Russian are having a debate about Adam and Eve's nationality. And the American says, "Adam and Eve were absolutely American because they loved their freedom. They had everything they could ever want in the Garden of Eden, and they still pursued the one thing they were forbidden by God to have. And to love absolute freedom so much; they must have been American."

And the Frenchman said, "No; no! Adam and Eve were French! They wandered around naked, loving each other all the time. And they loved each other so much they defied God to have the forbidden fruit, because they wanted to celebrate and show each other their love. And to love so strongly and deeply, they had to be French."

"My friends," the Russian said. "No clothes; no shelter; two people having to share one apple; being watched and being told that this is paradise; they were definitely Russian." [Congregation laughs] And so ... Alright.

So this week I was reading about an epidemic that is affecting our physical, mental and emotional well-being. And it's not just in the United States; studies are being done on this particular epidemic that is affecting us in the U.K., Australia, and Germany. And it's an epidemic that causes suffering and damages our lives more than we realize. And that epidemic is loneliness.

It may not sound like a big deal, but it is a far bigger deal and having a far bigger impact than we realize. Robert Bollinger from the Harvard Medical School said that loneliness kills, and its impact is as powerful as smoking of alcoholism. Do you know that almost 25% of Americans say that they're always or mostly feeling feelings of loneliness. Over 60% of Americans say that they feel lonely from time to time.

And it's really concentrated in the older population: between 25% and 60% of older people. And some are severely lonely.

And the thing is that loneliness is getting worse. Because the lonelier we are, sometimes we stop connecting with the people we did connect with. And we actually get more and more lonely and more and more isolated.

And the other not so great thing that's surprising is that young adults are feeling senses of loneliness. Wouldn't you think that, with all the social media and the stuff, that we'd feel more connected? That we'd feel happier and closer to each other? And while we're technologically closer, we're not emotionally closer. That presence of being together physically ... actually we're feeling more and nore disconnected socially.

And so ... Do you remember the Beatles song, "Eleanor Rigby"? You know: "All the lonely people; Where do they all come from? All the lonely people; Where do they all belong?"

The thing about loneliness is it's kind of like two aspects. One's physical. When someone's physically not there. You now, missing someone to have a meal with. Missing someone to hold their hand or to chat with them or go on a walk or a trip or a vacation. But the worst part of loneliness is the emotional part of when you actually feel that you're alone. That you feel left out. You feel that you don't fit in; that no one understands you. "No one gets me; no one loves me; no one cares; no one is really there for me."

Chronic loneliness is shown to be bad for our health; it's linked to weakening our immune system. It affects our cardiovascular health; it increases cardiovascular disease; stroke; depression; dementia; cognitive decline; and even shorter life spans.

And part of the reason I think it's that way is that life is about energy. We all have a certain vibration that we put out. And to isolate and feel lonely and alone, we actually miss out on the exchange of that energy and that frequency: physically, mentally and emotionally.

And it begins to wither our joy. Wither our peace. Wither our experience ... we feel emptier and lonelier because of it.

Everybody knows Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Besides food, water and safety, the next for a creative, fulfilling life is love and belonging. The desire to love and be loved, and to feel a sense of belonging, is a vital part of us having a happy and fulfilling life.

And it includes our inter-personal relationships. Feeling a sense of intimacy; closeness; and feeling like we belong to the group. That when we feel that sense of love and belonging, that is what increases our well-being and feeling like we're living a happy and fulfilling life.

Today we're in Week #3 of a 4-week series entitled, "The Foundation of Fulfillment." In our culture, we're kind of conditioned to go after happiness: seek happiness; pursue happiness. But the thing with happiness in that sense: it can be very fleeing. When we get what we want, we're happy; when we don't get what we want, we can be unhappy. And this article I read said the best way to be happy is to stop pursuing happiness and start finding fulfillment. Because fulfillment's a whole 'nother layer and depth of a sense of purpose and values and priorities. It's about creating; it's about making a difference; it's about overcoming ... so that, when things aren't happy, you still feel a sense of purpose. You still feel fulfillment that you were working towards something greater and better.

In Week #1 we looked at "Faith and Values" as a foundation of fulfillment. Last week we looked at "Forgiveness and Letting Go" as another foundation of fulfillment. Today: "Friendship and Connection."

In the Book of Job, Chapter 2, it says, "When Job's three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard all about his troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together in agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him."

Can you remember a time in your life where you were struggling; your heart was broken; or things weren't going well; or you were just down about things? And you had a friend come and comfort you? Or encourage you or support you? Or hold you? Or believe in you? Or remind you of how fabulous you are when we sometimes forget?

It is amazing how powerful the difference a friend can make in helping us get through the tough time. And there are also times where it can help bring out joy in us and the silliness in us. But the value and the power and the difference friends make is incredible.

One I was growing up, my best friend's name was Vivian. We met when we were 12 years old at a summer camp, and then we ended up going to middle school and high school together. He was from the Caribbean; I was from the Caribbean. We both loved basketball; we ended up being the starting guards of our high school basketball team together.

Vivian's step-dad; they did not get along well. So he spent a lot of nights over at our house. He practically became a member of the family. They used to refer to him as "the 11th Maraj" because he was there so much. [Congregation laughs] Coincidentally, his birthday -- which was 10 days before mine -- was on the same day as my parents' anniversary. So it became a tradition to celebrate my parents' anniversary and Vivian's birthday at the house. He even got to request what food we were eating that night for his birthday! [Congregation and Rev. Maraj laugh] And so we really ... We were roommates in our first year of college. I mean, it was really a really special, special relationship.

When my father died many years ago, it was in January. Winter in Canada. But even worse, it was a horrible ice storm on the day that he was being buried. And it was so dangerous; people were falling. It was really not a great, great experience. And four of my brothers were pallbearers, and Vivian was in my place, being a pallbearer for me.

And while they were having the service up there, all my family's holding each other. About 10 minutes into it, Vivian walks away and walks down towards me. And I was on the driveway, and just standing holding a door, because the ice was so slick and dangerous. He walked all that way slowly and right to me; didn't say a word. Came right in front of me and put his arms around me and just held me.

And it was really cool that he would realize how tough it was for me, not just to lose my dad, but to not be with the family at that moment. And still to this day, it's one of the most touching and comforting experiences I ever had a friend do to help me and support me through a tough time, and to be there for me.

I want you to think about your best friend, and maybe a time that they helped you and supported you and got you through a tough situation. Of, in general, think about all your friends; what role do they play in your life? What difference do they make? And I guarantee, I bet it is a huge difference and significant difference.

The fact is: every single one of us needs friends. It is a vital part of a fulfilling life. And whether you call them your pal; your buddy; your BFF; your soul-sister; or your brother from another mother ... [Congregation laughs] Whatever you call it, that category of friend!

And what's cool about friends is: you build that relationship yourself. You inherit the family stuff, and that's cool, too. But you create your friends. Your build your friends. You develop those relationships.

Jesus spoke about love, and he specifically also spoke about the love of friends. And even of his disciples he said, "I have called you friends" to show how vital it is.

Could you imagine your life without your friends? Could you imagine what Jesus' ministry would have been without his 12 friends? Nobody does this alone! And friends play a vital and important role in helping us and supporting us. They make such a difference in believing in us in those times that we don't. Friends touch our lives and make our lives better in many ways!

I looked up some quotes about friends -- little definitions of friends. And here's how it goes.

"A true friend is someone who remembers your birthday, but not your age." [Congregation and Rev. Maraj laugh]

"Best friends don't care if your house is clean; they care if you have wine!" [Congregation laughs]

"Friends buy you lunch; best friends eat off your lunch." [Congregation laughs]

"You drink too much; you cuss to much; you have questionable morals. You're everything in a friend I ever looked for." [Congregation and Rev. Maraj laugh]

And the last one is: "Nothing is better than a friend, unless it's a friend with chocolate." [Congregation laughs] So uh ...

Friends play a big role! They make a huge difference in our lives! They've even done studies that show that friendships -- have a friend; having that kind of close, intimate, caring relationship with someone -- increases our level of happiness; reduces our level of stress; increases our self-confidence and our self-worth. It helps us cope with traumas like divorce or illness or the loss of a loved one.

And friends also can help us change for the better and avoid bad habits and bad relationships and other things. They play a huge and wonderful role.

In the Book of Proverbs it says -- 27, Verse 9: "A sweet friendship refreshes the soul."

And in the studies that the Harvard Medical School has done on this they write, "Close relationships, more than money or fame -- are what keep people happy throughout their lives. Those ties protect people from life's discontents; help to delay mental and physical decline; and are better indicators of social class; money; IQ; even genes for having a happy and fulfilling life."

In many ways, you can say one of the most important life skills -- and one of the most important skills for having a fulfilling life -- is being good at developing and nurturing and keeping friendships.

Most of us ... Sometimes we have our one or two friends, but don't keep cultivating and nurturing new relationships. And it's good to have quality friends -- two or three that you can call in the middle of the night and will literally always be there for you. But apparently studies show that quantity -- having more friends -- is actually important. That the higher number of friends that we have, actually we become more resilient; we become more satisfied and joyful in our lives; we get down and don't stay stuck as easily. So it's really an important and vital thing.

So how many people would agree that friendships are important in a happy and fulfilling life? How many people would agree with that? How many people agree that it's good to pursue them? Okay; yay! But here's the interesting thing. Here's a phrase I'm about to say that teenagers say about friends -- 20's, 30's 40's, 50's, up to 70 years old say about friends and how to get them. And the line is: "Why is it so hard to find new friends?

We value this thing; we know how important it is. We've had them before. And yet we find it hard to find new friends. Am I the only one? Or has anybody else ever felt that? I mean, we've felt that and fought that! And the question is: Why? Why do we think it's hard to find friends when they're so valuable and make such a difference in our lives?

Well, I think the number one is that: to develop a friendship, you need to be vulnerable. You need to reach out. You need to risk rejection or not being liked, or it not working out. Or risk maybe looking foolish.

Another one is that it takes time. One: we tend to be busy and busy with our technologies and looking at our phones and doing all those kinds of things. And then the other aspect is that it actually takes time. We're impatient! We want that instant gratification thing. We want the love-at-first-sight with friends to happen to ourselves, instead of knowing that we have to invest time. We have to put effort. We need to put effort into it.

When Jesus talked about, "Love one another," and when he talked about, "Do unto others," the whole idea was about that it's important that we express love, that we share love. And when you think about it, developing friendship is about expanding into a different aspect and area of love.

I would say that us finding friends -- and connecting with people -- is an important part of our spiritual life and our spiritual work. Because it's digging deeper, and being vulnerable, and sharing more of ourselves and our love ... and it absolutely makes a difference. It circulates and creates more love; more connection; and more sense of love and belonging.

In the Book of Job it says this: "After Job prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortune, and gave him twice as much as before." And the point about this is: When you spread love; when you express love; when you send it out to others, good things will circulate. Not just in your life, but in life itself, we begin to create a momentum of good.

How many people would like to increase your number of friends? Or your feeling of connection, and deepen that circulation of love in your life? To me, it's an important thing.

There's a definition of loneliness that it is "the distance between your satisfaction with your relationships and connections now and where you'd like it to be."

So think about the kind of relationships you’re having now -- the feelings of connection you have, and friendship -- and think of: What would you like? What would you like it to look like? How many friends would you like? What kind of feelings would you like to have in your social network?

And I think that's an important thing. Everybody knows I'm a huge believer in intention. And for any area of your life, using the power of intention and vision is important.

So in terms of friendship, what would be your intention? Here's my intention: I want to have three new friends before December. And I'm only going to start with one, of course, but that's an intention. And how about a connection vision? I would like to have a social circle where I feel safe; where I feel joyful; where I feel loving; where I feel supported; and where I also feel like I'm supporting and contributing.

The power of intention! Whatever area of our lives we want to improve, I always say intention is the place to start. Create an intention and a vision.

And so the thing about friendship is one aspect of love, and another aspect of love I want to talk about now is connection. How many people have read or heard of Brené Brown? Everybody? Okay, so here's what Brené Brown says. She says, "Connection is why we're here. Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard or valued. We are wired to connect with others. That's what gives life purpose and meaning. And without connection, there is suffering."

Connection is so much easier than we realize if we're willing to put ourselves out there a little bit. One of the things I find amazing: When we teach these membership "Unity Basics" classes, 20 or 30 people come in. And they don't know each other that well; the room's really quiet. Then we have them do a little thing where they introduce themselves; say where they're from; how long they've been in Unity. And I like asking a question like, "What was your favorite vacation spot, and what's the one you're looking forward to going to that you've never been?" People share this, and then suddenly two or three people are like, "Oh, the two of you are from Iowa?" Or, "Both of you started Unity just this year?" Or whatever it is ... Or both of you have been to Hawaii and you want to go to Paris.

And then suddenly the room energy shifts. People are relaxed; they're calmer; they're more talkative; they're more playful. And it is amazing how easy it is to create connection if we're willing to put ourselves out there a little bit.

My brother told me about this interesting research project they did about connection. And so what they had was a group of people -- two groups of people. And they had to read a little passage and then answer a few questions about it. And they got some information about them before.

With one group, they made sure that, in that little passage, they had something in common with the person. So they would write it, and the person's name would be Richard. Or they were born in April. Or they were a basketball fan. There weren't a lot of things, but they would put for each person; they would customize it. And in every single case, the people who had a little connection factor in there were more engaged; they gave fuller answers; they spent more time with it than people who didn't.

And the point I'm trying to make here is: We feel connection even with a story on paper that we feel more engaged. And could you imagine if we did that more in life, how much more fulfilling; how much more connected; how much more joyful; how much sense of belonging that we would have?

And so here's what we're going to do. Here are eight suggestions for you to make friends and deepen your current connections.

Of course, [in addition to the] intention and vision.

The first one is: You've got to reach out. You've got to risk. You've got to ask for coffee. You've got to say, "Hello." You've got to sign up for the class. You've got to go to a meeting. You've got to volunteer. I mean, you have to reach out and make some connection. I mean ... [Phone rings] Could you tell them I'll call them back? [Congregation laughs]

Einstein said, "Nothing happens until something moves." That we're the ones ... Like, we have all this loneliness, but we're the ones who have the power! But the question is: Are you willing to step out of your comfort zone? Are you willing to reach out? Are you willing to make that connection? Are you willing to ask?

And I think this is one of the main reasons we have a hard time developing new friends, is because we're a little scared; a little afraid; and we don't want to put ourselves out that way.

I'll bet every one of us wishes we could just buy a friend. You go to Amazon; pick out your friend ... [Congregation laughs] And they deliver the to your front door the next day. Wouldn't you like that? But that ain't the way it works! We've got to put it out there a little more! So that's number one.

Number two is: You've got to take interest in others. It's important for us ... You might not be interested in what they're interested in, but be interested and excited that they're interested in something!

I remember many years ago, I was on a plane. And next to me was a young girl; her name was Canda. And I asked what she did, and she was studying a PhD in mathematics. My first thought: "Who on earth would want to get a PhD in mathematics?" [Congregation laughs] But what I loved was her passion: how excited she was. And I learned about certain applications a PhD math major would use. And you have to show interest in other people. Because if we really want to make that connection, part of it is wanting to hear what they’re about; what's interesting to them; what makes them tick.

The third one is: We need to listen. You know, that is not a skill that we do particularly well. Somebody once said that we're either speaking or waiting to speak; we actually don't listen. People say, "Hey, I don't have a good memory; I can't remember the person's name." Well, we probably weren't listening in the first place. [Congregation laughs] I mean, it is really, really true; learning to listen is one of the most powerful things that will change our lives to feel a connection to others.

Paul Tillick said, "The first law of love is to listen." And I always like to say that, if you were to take the greatest commandment -- to love God with all your mind, soul and strength and to love others as we love ourselves ... If you flip that, you could say the first commandment is to, "Listen to the Lord, thy God, with all your mind, soul and strength and listen to others as you listen to yourself." I guarantee, if we all worked on our listening skills, it would transform our lives, our families and our communities.

Number four is: To be vulnerable. It's, at some point, to share something about yourself. Sometimes you see somebody admit they're scared or feeling insecure or something; your heart opens up to them. And the thing is: Are we willing to put ourselves out in that way and be vulnerable?

And this isn't to vomit your entire story with them the first time you meet them! [Congregation laughs] I mean, you don't want to ... But there are times you know that it's an important thing for you to be vulnerable. It's important to be honest. If we listen inside, we know when those times and situations are. The question is: Are we willing to put ourselves out there and be vulnerable and share? Be more authentic and real?

The next one is: Eye contact. I mean, having eye contact makes us feel a connection. It's important that you don't look around while you're engaged with someone; it makes the feel like you're not interested. But eye contact is an important thing; it's a wonderful connecting point. And something I think we're losing with all this isolation and disconnect is that we aren't really making that heart-to-heart and eye-to-eye contact.

The next one is: Offer something specific. Like, if you want to do something, say, "Hey! Do you want to meet for lunch next week? Or do you want to watch a basketball game or baseball game?” Get specific! Of course it can adjust, but sometimes putting something out there specific is a good and important thing.

Next one: Smile! Everybody smile. I mean, a smile is such a thing! I bet you the people you like most in your life just coincidentally happen to smile a lot! I think the whole idea about smiling just kind of breaks down any barriers and walls, and we just let people right in. And it's a powerful gift; the gift of sharing your smile.

And then the last one is: Remember their name. [Congregation and Rev. Maraj laugh] Because one of the sweetest sounds to anybody is to hear their own name, and to know ... Like, did you ever walk into a store and you go in there for a second time, and the person says, "Oh, hi, Richard!" Or, "Hi, Mary!" I was like, "Wow! You remembered my name?" What a cool gift that is to give someone: to remember their name the next time that you see them. It shows that you care. It shows that you're listening. It shows that you're engaged.

Dale Carnegie wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. It was a huge seller! The book is still a huge seller today! Because to win friends and influence people isn't just to be a successful sales person; it's how to be a successful human being. It's how to have a rich and fulfilling life.

It doesn't sound as big a deal, but making friends and opening ourselves to connect with others is one of the key ways to transform our lives. Because it's an aspect of sharing love, the greatest gift; the greatest commandment; the greatest power; the thing we all yearn and seek more than anything else in life. And we have the opportunity to do it by developing greater friends.

There does not need to be a loneliness epidemic! The good news is: We have the power -- if we're willing to put it out there and put ourselves out there a little more -- of changing and transforming our lives and our experience of it.

So if you want to increase love; increase joy; and if you want a greater level of fulfillment, start by working on FRIENDSHIP and CONNECTION.

God bless you all!

[Congregation applauds]

Copyright 2022 Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center/Rev. Richard Maraj


Location and Contact Information

Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center

1500 E Greenway Pkwy
Phoenix, AZ 85022
Phone: (602) 978-3200

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