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As we enter the holiday season and near the beginning of the new year, it is a great time to focus on improving relationships.

In this age of Facebook and other forms of social media – or even email and texting – it is easy to think that digital interaction with others can build close relationships. The fact is that there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction with friends and family members.

I was grieved recently to observe the actions of people at two nearby tables while having brunch. One table was a father with his two children. The children were about eight and eleven. The whole time they were seated and before their food came each of them was on their phone. Even while they were eating, there was no conversation at the table.

Similarly, at another table was a group of four high schoolers. Once again, as they waited for their food, they all were working on their phones. As they ate, there was very little verbal interaction. It made me wonder why they were there as a group. Honestly, I couldn’t help pondering if they actually knew how to talk to each other face-to-face.

It also reminded me of a personal incident about 25 years ago when I first joined a local accounting firm as the head of consulting. During the first week, the managing partner invited me and two other partners to lunch.

After we ordered our food, one of the partners took out the daily newspaper and the three partners each began to read a section of the paper. I soon interrupted them and suggested that if we were going to eat together it would be nice if we talked to each other. To their credit, they put away the paper and we had a wonderful lunch getting to know each other better.

There are some benefits to social media. It actually has a few very positive attributes. But it is no substitute for personal contact and face-to-face interaction. Social media can be a great way to keep in touch with others and texting can be fun at times. But you cannot develop true and lasting relationships without frequent personal interaction with friends and family.

My best friend from grade school and I made a commitment to get together regularly last winter. We met for breakfast or lunch or got together about fifteen times this year. This contrasts with meeting face-to-face about 2-3 times annually in the previous years.

The result has been that our friendship has blossomed. We are closer now than we have been in years. We can share anything with each other and we have once again become very close.

Bottom-line, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact to keep relationships growing. You can stay in touch and keep up with another person’s life via Facebook, email and other social media platforms, but without actual contact, your relationship will plateau at best.

I am struck by a teaching from Andy Stanley who suggests that we should do for a few what we wish we could do for many. In the context of this article, it means that we should look at our contacts and pick out a few friends and family members who we will commit to spending regular face-to-face time with.

Last spring my counselor said that he has learned that relationships are the most important thing in life. I have learned this first hand because of my health problems in 2017. When you are confronted with the possibility of your own mortality, it is relationships that come to the forefront.

During the holidays, make a commitment to work on a few of your relationships with friends and family. Invest time in these relationships. Focus on a few people and make an intentional commitment to spend time with them during the holiday season.

Similarly, as we move into the new year, pick out a few relationships to focus on during 2018. I can guarantee you if you do so, you will be richly blessed in 2018 because relationships are the best thing in our earthly lives.