Elizabeth Hoagland

Elizabeth Hoagland is the author of “Let’s Be Friends: What My Sister-Friends Taught Me About Faith, Food and Fun.”

Elizabeth Hoagland believes in the power of friendship. 

Her new book, “Let’s Be Friends: What My Sister-Friends Taught Me About Faith, Food and Fun,” describes the kind of friendships everyone craves—those on speed dial, those who care if you’re sick or discouraged, those who pray for you, share your joy and success but also sit with you through hard days.

Secrets of strong friendships unfolded over 25 years.

“My bond with friends is so strong that we’re considering long-range plans to live in the same senior facility,” Hoagland said. “Over the years we held each other up, kept each other from jumping over the cliff and spoke the truth in love when needed.”

A network of lifelong friends began with an invitation.

As a young wife, Hoagland turned down three invitations to Bible studies before accepting one. Looking back, free babysitting was a big draw. So was the chance to meet other young moms. In that first small group she learned more about people and more about God.

Her circle began to widen as each friend brought a new dynamic that enlarged her world.

You’ll meet some of those friends in the pages of Hoagland’s book. They are not perfect women with perfect houses or lives. They pray for prodigal children, husbands, health issues, grandchildren and aging parents.

“Friendships sustain and support us to the end of life’s journey,” Hoagland said. “We weren’t meant to travel alone.”

The book is packed with favorite recipes and creative ideas to strengthen friendships. When one of Hoagland’s close friends became a widow, they did little things like turning on lights at night so she wouldn’t return to a dark, empty house. The book includes tips for honoring birthdays and taking time to connect. It shows how to include others and make people feel loved.

Hoagland believes everyone should be on the lookout for someone who needs a friend.

“Wherever I am, I’m on red alert for when the Lord wants to introduce me to someone new,” she said. “There’s always someone on the fringes who wants to be included.”

It may be a neighbor, someone who comes across your path, someone struggling with loss or hurt, someone so accomplished that it might be intimidating to think they need a friend. Certainly someone far different than you. It may even be a stranger.

As she began to say “yes” often over the years, strong friendships grew out of Bible study groups, book clubs, buddies who walked together and friends who prayed together. None of it was orchestrated—except by God.

“It doesn’t take much to get together with friends,” she said. “You don’t have to plan anything fancy. Just spend time with other people. Include them in your day.”

Loneliness is a new epidemic with deep consequences. In a Cigna survey of 20,000 people in the U.S., almost half report feeling alone or left out nearly all the time. They feel isolated from others and miss companionship and meaningful relationships. Fifty-three percent say they have no face-to-face interaction with friends or family.

If that’s shocking, consider this: Loneliness has the same effect on health and well-being as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

And it’s even worse for those 18 to 22, who scored as the loneliest generation, second to Millennials, ages 23 to 37.

It can be remedied one person, one invitation at a time.

Hoagland describe close friends as “intentional.”

“They don’t just invite me to lunch,” she said. “They push me to learn something new, to think about something that matters or take action.”

Discussion questions follow each chapter of “Let’s Be Friends” so the book can be used in Bible studies and book clubs.

“Let’s Be Friends” is available at The Living Word bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Carmichael’s Bookstore and online at www.elizabethhoagland.com.