I was at a friend’s birthday dinner when news broke that Matthew Perry, famously known for his role on the TV show “Friends,” died at 54.
The person sitting beside me saw the news first. I heard her gasp, but before I could ask what was wrong, she showed me the article on her phone. Word got around quickly, and soon we were all Googling the news in shock, hoping it had been a fake headline.
But alas, it was not.
According to law enforcement, Perry was found dead Oct. 28 in the hot tub at his home. The investigation is still ongoing, so there is no official cause of death, but authorities do not suspect any foul play. No drugs were found on the scene.
Since his death, my social media has been flooded with content remembering his life, especially his role as Chandler in “Friends.” Fans are saddened; he has offered them moments of joy and laughter through the television screen for years. For many, “Friends” is not just the title of a show, it represents the role Perry has played on and off screen in their lives.
Some are even sharing favorite quotes from his memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, which takes readers through the story of Perry’s life from childhood to acting to addiction, near death and sobriety.
However, Perry did not want to be remembered for his role in “Friends,” but for the role he played in helping others get sober.
From 2013 to 2015, he ran the “Perry House” out of his home in Malibu, functioning as a men’s sober living facility. According to some whom he helped to get sober, Perry made a profound impact on the recovery efforts of many people he came across. Although the sober living facility has been closed for some time now, at the time of his death, he was in the process of starting a foundation for those struggling with drug addiction.
It seems like the crux of Perry’s everyday altruism was deeply rooted in being a friend to those who needed him most, taking his hit TV role to a whole new level.
“Having friends brings us joy, motivates us to be our best selves and teaches us to appreciate community.”
Since learning of his death and having some time to consider the ways he embraced community throughout his life journey, I have been reflecting on the importance of personal relationships. Aside from being a fun or exciting part of our lives, friendship can be a spiritual practice (although we do not often think of it that way). Having friends brings us joy, motivates us to be our best selves and teaches us to appreciate community.
And when we go through our darkest times, friendships keep us alive.
Whether they are close friends, our favorite co-workers or casual acquaintances, community helps us get through life. Friends catch us when we fall, hold us accountable, congratulate us when no one else notices our accomplishments and listen when we just need to vent. Without these big and small support beams, we would be crushed under the weight of doing life alone.
And as we embark on our spiritual journey, community with other Christians is especially important. Having the support of other people who believe in the God you seek a relationship with, affirm your beloved nature as a child of God and are also embarking on a spiritual journey in connection with God makes it easier to be a Christian.
Although it is, of course, not easy to keep the faith and live it out fully each day, having a community of friends who will be there for you throughout your struggles takes some of the pressure off. No one expects you to be the perfect Christian who can do this alone, because that is impossible.
“This sense of friendship as a spiritual practice is not a new idea.”
This sense of friendship as a spiritual practice is not a new idea, either. Yet, amid our busy and bumbling lives, we often forget to intentionally be with other people. We tell ourselves we will be social next week, or we will finally start looking for new churches after the New Year. We snoozed our alarm today, but we’ll go to Sunday school next week.
Yet somehow, our lives, stricken with work, school and personal responsibilities, get too busy and we forget to make time to spend in community.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 1939 theological monograph, Life Together, examines the importance of being part of a community of Christians. In his chapter “The Day Alone,” Bonhoeffer acknowledges we cannot avoid ourselves. There are times when we must face things alone, following the voice of God as we discover what is next in our spiritual journey. However, he warns readers loneliness can be destructive if not balanced with relationships.
“You are called into the community of faith;” he writes, “The call was not meant for you alone. You carry your cross, you struggle, and you pray in the community of faith, the community of those who are called.”
God calls us into friendships with one another because it is good for us. We are edified by the joy, laughter, stability and accountability that close relationships provide. Life is not designed to get through on our own. Intentional friendship is a spiritual need.
Mallory Challis is a master of divinity student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity and is a former BNG Clemons Fellow.