As Ringo Starr sang on the Beatles’ hit single from 1967, many of us get by with a little help from our friends. But when we’re trying to overcome feelings of brokenness and inadequacy, not just any friends will do.

That’s when Dr. Gregory Jones, dean of the Duke University Divinity School, says we need “holy friends”—people 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.” They are, he says, the ones who help us discover what Paul’s first epistle to Timothy calls “the life that really is life.”

Because these holy friends are able to see us in ways in which we might be too afraid to see ourselves, they can help us break free of our tendencies to “spin” our sins as positives. For example, when we have neglected obligations to family and God in favor of career advancement, they can challenge our excuses that we’re simply “career-oriented” or “devoted to work.” They can also champion talents and abilities we’ve been reluctant to talk about because we’re afraid someone might actually ask us to take the time and effort to use them for the greater good.

And perhaps most importantly, they can help us to dream bigger when we’ve gotten comfortable and complacent, to seek better, more meaningful lives when we’ve let sin and shame convince us we don’t deserve them. And once we’ve allowed them to open our minds in that way, Jones says, we’re more able to see how we can be holy friends to others in need.

What does “restoration” mean to you?

It means living into the calling that God originally created us to live and recovery from the brokenness of sin.

Sin and brokenness are topics that bring with them a great deal of shame. How does one overcome that shame and take that first step of reaching out to a “holy friend”?

The friendship implies mutuality, and it’s also why I emphasize the importance of the dreams and the gifts. If it’s just about narrating brokenness or shame, people are going to be wary about doing that, and it’s going to be really hard. But if you’re saying, “Hey, I see gifts in you” or “I see God at work in your life” or “I see possibilities for you,” that’s different. That’s when we’re drawn toward a vision or a dream and someone else tries to call it forth. Then we’re much more likely to say, “Yeah, I want to live in that dream, but here’s what’s holding me back.”

So you flip it around and turn it from a negative to a positive—rather than “Here’s the sin and brokenness I’m trying to escape from,” frame it as “Here’s what I’m trying to get to.”

When you have those dreams, when somebody says “You’re a really gifted person,” and then you say “I want to live into that, but I also have this other burden that’s weighing me down”—if you really get inspired by a possibility, you’re not going to be thinking as much about how you’ve got to lug around those chains that weigh you down.

That positive reframing can be difficult, though, in our current society—the political polarization, the materialism, and now the constant depressing news we get about COVID-19.

Yeah, I think it is. Really, the whole process depends on trust, and we live in a culture of cynicism and distrust.

How do you break free of that culture?

It just takes time. You don’t immediately start your first meeting with a holy friend by saying “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” or “What’s the biggest addiction you have?” You start by having a meal together and just talking about some things that aren’t likely controversial or polarizing or fracturing—maybe you talk about kids or baseball, or you share with each other a memory of when you really experienced the power of God’s grace, just something that connects people to each other. Something you see suggested in many devotionals these days is keeping a “gratitude journal,” just thinking of five things you’re grateful for each day and write them down. You can do that in a friendship setting, where you begin to shift your orientation from being cynical to being hopeful or full of grace.

There’s kind of a paradox to how social media has affected our ability to do that. We have more connections than ever before, but many of them are a lot more superficial.

It also coarsens the language of our conversations, makes it rougher. As a lot of social media and electronic communication has become more anonymous or disconnected, I’ve noticed, in various responses to Twitter feeds, chat rooms, and that sort of thing, people saying things and saying them in ways that they’d never do to another human being face to face. It diminishes accountability: I can go online and pop off in a way that I’d never be able to in the real world. I’m not at all a Luddite or opposed to social media or other kinds of communication—they can be a very helpful supplement for face-to face relations, but they’re a very poor substitute. What we’ve tended to do is really diminish the importance of tending relationships. At a pivotal point in the gospel of John, Jesus says to his apostles, “No longer do I call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I call you friends.” That’s an extraordinary description of how relationships are supposed to be.