"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a difficult time." Proverbs 17:17
Life is busy, social media fills some of our relational needs, and our communities and families are fractured. Where are we to find those real, meaningful, and needed friendships to carry us through the trials of life? Oftentimes, even looking in many churches does not seem like a realistic solution either: programs keep us busy, kids' activities conflict with our ability to be involved, and people go unnoticed.
My goal here is not to provide an easy answer, because honestly, there isn’t one. My struggle over the years to form these lasting relationships has been fulfilled in some seasons, and been very much a drought in other seasons. I can offer a few suggestions, but also want to point us to Jesus, who promises to be the primary solution to the deep loneliness we can feel, regardless of how many friends we have on our Facebook pages.
Just this week, I sat with a mentor who gave me a very helpful word picture for healthy relationships: that of a two ladders balancing against each other, perfectly holding each other’s weight as they met at the top. Imagine something similar to an upside-down ‘V’. A healthy friendship develops gradually, she said, as each person takes a step up or down in the level of intimacy and time spent together, reciprocated by the other doing the same. At times, one of the friends will take a step down, and the other will likely respond in kind. Such is the ebb and flow of organic, wholesome relationships. Unfortunately, our culture prevents this natural development of relationships in many ways, as stated above. Even more, we are all wounded sinners in some way because of the fall (Genesis 3) and our relationships are not without sinful words and actions, walls we build up towards each other, and lack of love and interest in the other’s needs.
What are some small things I’ve found to be helpful?
Expressing genuine interest in each other! Think of the Genie’s quote from Aladdin: “Enough about you, Casanova. Talk about her.” What does your new friend enjoy? How can you bring that up in conversation, or even share those experiences together? Offering to pray about his/her concerns through a phone call, email or text message is another great way to show you care.
Looking for friends in your stage of life is normal, but I’ve found that meeting up with women with different commitments than myself can make planning times together easier. Is she single and you’re married? Have her over for a quick afternoon tea during your children’s nap times! House isn’t clean? Offer to bring a coffee and dessert over to her when your husband gets home. Are you retired? Maybe you can get involved with a youth event at your church. Even serving at one car wash or pancake breakfast can help you get to know someone who may need a friend or become one!
Be willing to share, willing to listen. I won’t trivialize this: opening up or allowing another to open up and be vulnerable is not easy, and it certainly takes time to get to this point. I’ve found that joining a small group at church or community league of some sort is a great way to make connections that lead to one-on-ones later, in which vulnerability might be more natural. But be patient, because again, this takes time. I’ve found that opening up too much can be overwhelming to some, or perhaps you are burdened by emotional conversation. I can’t overemphasize the need to pray for and about your relationships. God’s timing in developing these kinds of deep ties is perfect- He knows when you will need someone and when you will be needed.
Perhaps the friendship will just be fun and lighthearted for a while, and you need to really unload an emotional burden? Don’t feel badly about getting a few counseling sessions so you can return to your marriage and friendships with more to give back. On the flip side, I’ve formed some of my best and deepest friendships with people when I was going through major trauma in my life and had no choice but to be raw, honest, and in need. That’s okay too! Just keep your expectations for your friends in check.
I must end with the best solution to our deep soul needs, however, finding friendship in Jesus Christ. He will never turn you away when you need to talk, feel burdened by life, or need wisdom for the trials you are facing. His answers are in the Scriptures, but He does speak in other mysterious ways- through a song, a spiritual book you’re reading, or a small, kind gesture from an unsuspecting person at the grocery store, etc. Thank Him for those times He reveals Himself throughout your day, and look for ways to honor Him with your time and resources. He is honored by your trust in Him, and you’ll find that the more you depend on Him throughout the day in prayer, the deeper your friendship will grow.
Do not lose heart in this spiritual battle we all face to form deep, lasting connections with friends and family. Remember, that’s what it is! We have an enemy who wants nothing more than to destroy every avenue from which we could find encouragement to love God, especially that of friendships. But He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). He is the Victor over every failed relationship, and can and will turn it all for our good and His glory. Remember the forgiveness we have been granted in Christ, and offer that to everyone in your life...including yourself! We’re all still learning how to build reliable, meaningful friendships.
Your blog friend,