Across town or around the globe there are countless avenues for us to connect with people via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and numerous others. Yet lately we’re starting to see the irony behind the term “social media” as it becomes increasingly clear that while we’re busy networking, sharing, liking, and other “social” things we’re lacking deep, meaningful, face to face relationships with others.
How many friends do you have? According to our Facebook profiles we might say we have 300, 700, even 1500 people. Still many of us have felt, feel now, or will feel lonely at some point in our lives. A study showed that 1 in 4 Americans (24.6 percent) would say that there is no one they would consider a confidant, including those in their family. Another 19.6 percent claim to only have one confidant. Perhaps we’re sacrificing depth for breadth. Our profile says one thing, but the nagging loneliness we feel tells another story.
I believe that we were created for relationships. At our very core I believe we are created to know and be known. Ultimately this longing will never be fulfilled until we know and are known by our Creator, but on the ground level we also need friendships that extend beyond shallow conversations and social media facades.
For many of us this turns out to be much more difficult than our intuition would have us believe. Why is this?
1. Friendship Requires Vulnerability
I’m talking true, deep friendship not simply those we are acquaintances with. Airing all your dirt on Facebook does not mean you are being vulnerable or that you suddenly have a deep relationship with everyone on your friends list. According to pastor and speaker Erwin McManus that would be called disclosure and it’s often a coping mechanism for those hiding from true vulnerability.
Why would we hide from it? Because vulnerability is scary. It’s risky. It takes courage to be real with another human being. Disclosure is easy because there’s no trust involved. It is simply the relaying of information. People can take it or leave it and you still have your defenses up. Vulnerability, on the other hand, actually means you are capable of being wounded. You’ve trusted someone enough to let your guard down and open yourself up to being hurt. And you will be hurt by those you trust at some point or another.
However, if we never allow ourselves to be vulnerable with anyone we’ll never fulfill the longing in our hearts to know and be known. If we want true and lasting friendships we have to be willing to take that risk on a select few people we’ve come to trust.
2. Friendship Requires Time
Friendship requires vulnerability, vulnerability requires trust, and trust requires time. Trust is grown little by little as we learn the heart and character of those around us. Occasionally we meet someone who almost immediately becomes a trusted friend and confidant, but most often it needs to be nurtured and developed over time and through life’s circumstances. We may find we have common interests with another person which spurs us to spend more and more time together. Eventually we find this person is the one who supports us during a tough time, is continually encouraging us or as I recently heard speaker Banning Liebscher say, the one who willingly helps us move into a new place-true friendship at it’s finest! Be patient with the process.
3. Friendship Requires Intentionality
If you’ve ever moved to a new city or state, like I did a few years ago, you’ve probably learned this lesson painfully well. Starting fresh can be exciting, but it can also be lonely while you slowly build trust and relationships. During my post high school and college years friendships seemed easy. I lived with some amazing girls and though we were plenty different from each other, our communal living fostered an unintentional environment for friendship. We’re often closest to the people we see the most and spend the most time around. Living with someone is about as close as it gets! I’m learning that friendships in the post-college and family-life world take a lot more intentionality. We have careers, and babies, and hobbies and plans to change the world! I could go weeks without having a real conversation with another woman if I’m not intentional about making it happen.
4. Friendship Requires Forgiveness and Grace
Remember that whole thing about vulnerability and getting hurt? Without forgiveness and grace our friendships will be over the minute we get hurt. True friendships can get through these times when we choose to forgive and reconcile. If we hold grudges or drop our friends the minute they do or say something to hurt us we will always be lonely. After you’ve invested the time to get to know and trust someone isn’t it worth giving them some grace when they screw up in order to preserve the friendship? I’m not saying we need to allow ourselves to be doormats, getting walked all over and beat up, but humans will fail us. It’s our response to those failures, not the failures themselves, that determines whether or not we can continue on in the relationship.
5. Friendship Requires Humility
Humans fail. We are humans. So it follows that we will do the hurting sometimes too. Hopefully our friends will extend grace and forgiveness to us when we fail, but don’t let pride keep you from asking for that forgiveness first. Take the high road, be the bigger person and other such clichés that are actually chock full of wisdom. And read Proverbs. There’s some seriously good stuff in there.
6. Friendships Require Adaptability
This is a hard one. Time passes, things change, our location changes, we change and thus our friendships change. I think that’s okay. Those women that I lived with during some of my college years are still women I would consider friends although our friendship looks very different now.
Again, proximity is a huge factor in relationships and so it’s only natural that when there is physical distance between friends the relationship may grow apart a bit. This doesn’t mean that you don’t still love and care about those individuals, it just means your friendship doesn’t look the way it used to.
Other changes like marriages and starting a family may change the way our friendships look. My husband and son are my number one priorities in terms of relationships now. That doesn’t mean I don’t need my friends anymore, but the fact remains that I now have less time to devote to those friendships than when I was a single college student, only working part-time. The decade spanning from age twenty to thirty is often full of huge life stage changes and those changes can take time to adjust to.
If we take on an “all or none” mentality with our friendships rather than adapting and letting them evolve we may miss out on some valuable relationships. Those you’ve had a deep relationship with for years will always know you in a unique way. They were the ones who experienced certain things with you—new love interests, broken hearts, marriages, births, deaths, etc. That’s a bond that will always remain even if the phone calls are less frequent and the coffee dates are fewer.
So be intentional with your friendships. Plant yourself in a church and get involved. This is one of the best ways to not only worship God with the gifts He’s given you, but also to build relationships. Join a small group. And if you’re lonely be the one to invite people out to lunch. Moms, don’t let a messy house keep you from inviting people into your home. I’m speaking to myself on that one! And guys, it’s okay to have deep relationships and be vulnerable—just call it something that makes you feel more comfortable and manlyJ
How have you maintain friendships through different life stages? How do you balance the demands of life with being intentional about friendships?