“And these God-chosen lives all around—what splendid friends they make!” (Psalm 16:3, The Message)
My friendships haven’t always been perfect. Trust me. I had a falling-out with my best friend early in my senior year of high school, relegating myself to a long year of walking the halls alone. I’m the one whose mom left a paperback copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People on my bed (which I promptly threw back at her, devastated by my interpretation that she didn’t think I could make friends on my own). I’ve injured people with my words and actions and I’ve been hurt by theirs. I’ve been awkward and selfish and self-centered, and I’ve watched friendships fall apart.
But I’ve also experienced the power of friendship—to change me, to help me get in touch with the heart of God, to enrich my life and teach me about community and relationship. I’ve been transformed by the lessons I’ve learned through my failures. Genuine friendship is about walking through the deep waters of life side by side. It is inevitable that we will face death, despair, hurt, pain, and betrayal in this lifetime—but when we go through it together it changes us. Abiding friendship is about pointing each other to the God who never fails us, and believing that God often answers our prayers through the words of our friends.
Friendship gives you a chance to try out who you want to be (and who you already are, deep inside). You get to practice acceptance. You get to learn what your best traits are, hone your strengths—and face your weaknesses. Meeting new people provides an extra opportunity to practice the things that matter in relationships. Jesus said, “This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command… Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” (John 15:12-15, NLT)
We’re commanded to love each other in the same way he loved us, so I can’t help but think there’s a measure of Jesus in the making of new friends. As you open your life to new people, let these simple ideas help you transform a mere acquaintance into a true friend.
There’s always room for one more.
Whether your life is overflowing with people, or your day-to-day existence is pretty lonely, there’s room for another real friend. Most of us have more obligations than time—but the truth is most of us haven’t mastered managing our priorities. It’s not easy, but if you want to spend time on a relationship, chances are there is something you can change or remove to make room for it—whether it’s one night a month during which you do not binge-watch Netflix so you can have dinner with a friend. Or spending your coffee break catching up by phone. Or texting something just because you know it will make her laugh. Or occasionally waking up an hour early to power-walk together before the rest of your house awakens. It’s worth the potential sacrifices. (Or so they tell me. I’m not a morning person.)
I keep reading about how hard it is for women to truly connect. How rare it is to have one or two deep, abiding friends. How often people are hurt—and as a result, people tend to keep friendships at a pretty shallow, superficial level. But there’s so much power when we are willing to go deep, together. In my writing, I’ve learned that if I share my stories, other people will feel safe in sharing theirs, so I now apply that approach to all of my relationships. Any positive relationship is founded on authenticity. When you put yourself out there first, you’re betting that once your new acquaintance gets to know you, they will like you. That may not always be true, but you’ll never know—nor will you be able to find common ground to connect you—unless you take a deep breath and go first.
It’s not all about you.
Share your own stories and be real—but remember that friendship is a two-way street. A one-sided friendship goes nowhere fast. As interesting as your stories might be, they’re better if I can share mine, too. We all want to be seen and heard and understood, so ask questions. See what you can learn. Gaining new perspectives will enrich your understanding—even if this friendship doesn’t last. Instead of wondering what you will get in return, ask yourself what you can offer. It changes the dynamics of the relationship and often results in reciprocal kindness.
Don’t force it.
Not every friendship will be deep or immediate—or, for that matter, permanent. Don’t pressure someone to spend time with you. Even if they really like you, they probably can’t drop everything to spend every waking moment with you. The friendship has to fit into both people’s lives in order to last. In time, if it’s meant to be, it will find its place.
New isn’t necessarily better.
Let’s face it. Sometimes it’s more fun—and quite a bit easier—to start fresh with a new relationship than try to fix one that’s been around for a while. We get stuck in our grooves. After a while, we see the imperfect sides of friends, too. We might have even been on the receiving end of their sharp wit or hurt by an unkindness. Over time, hurt feelings and misunderstandings can grow into big problems—making a new friendship sound really good for a change. Friendship isn’t always easy and it requires effort and energy to maintain. Go ahead and invest in new friendships, but hold on to the ones you already have, too. We can learn a lot about ourselves with lifelong friends, but we can also be greatly enriched by the presence of someone new.
Practice selflessness and generosity.
Many friendships die because one person resents putting forth all the effort, so decide now to be the person who does most of the work. People are busy, and their lack of communication may not be a rejection, but a normal response to a busy life. Don’t take it personally; try again. When you invest time in your friends, they’ll know they are valuable to you—and even if they don’t respond, you will know that you tried. Anytime we open ourselves up, we risk being hurt—but when our efforts are met with the same kind of generous spirit, the relationship expands exponentially and becomes more than you could have imagined.
Above all, before all, and through it all—love one another.
It seems obvious and sounds trite, but it is true: love is the answer to nearly any question. In all things, err on the side of love. By doing so, you’ll brighten the life of anyone you’re involved with, and as you practice living the way Jesus taught, you’ll see more of him in your friends, and they’ll see more of him in you.
A Prayer for Friendship
Dear Lord, teach me to love others the way you first loved me. As I build relationships with others, let them see you in the extent of my generosity, the authenticity of my kindness, and the depths of my love. All of those things are only possible through you, the God who abides with me and calls me friend. Amen.
Kelly O’Dell Stanley is the author of Praying Upside Down and Designed to Pray. A graphic designer who writes (or is it a writer who designs?), she's also a redhead who’s pretty good at controlling her temper, a believer in doing everything to excess, and a professional wrestler of doubt and faith. She blogs at kellyostanley.com and calls small-town Indiana her home.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: February 23, 2017