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Together is Better: 4 Tips for Finding Friendships

Together is Better: 4 Tips for Finding Friendships

(This post is part of The Enemies of Grace series.  Click here to learn  more.)

Sitting behind the wheel of my car, I let out a frustrated sigh as I twisted the key into the ignition. 

Will I forever feel like a square peg in a round hole?  I threw the question toward the overcast sky on the other side of the windshield. And toward the One who created it, who created me, complete with the quirks and questions that always seemed to leave me feeling lonely, even in crowded rooms.

It wasn’t the first time I’d left a Sunday morning church service feeling this way. I’d come to see the church “fellowship hall” as a kind of social torture chamber: Grabbing of a cup of coffee and trying to find a conversation circle to blend into felt like self-inflicted cruelty for an introvert like myself. There were plenty of people I shared friendly acquaintances with. People I could swap stories with while our kids ran between our legs.

friendship But it didn’t feel like I had any actual friends.  No one I could trust with the real struggles or dreams that hovered beneath my Sunday-morning veneer. And so I’d made my excuses and scurried toward the exit, thankful I’d driven to church in a separate vehicle from the rest of my family due to an early praise team practice. 

Turns out, mini-vans make a great escape hatch for the socially disconnected mom.  They’re highly effective at whisking you away when the feelings of loneliness feel like too much to bear.  Problem is, they don’t really take you anywhere—relationally.

It’s hard to cultivate friendships when you’re sitting behind a steering wheel, alone. 

When Did Friendship Get So Hard?

Have you been there, friend?  Have you ever felt that question mark in your heart as you attend Bible studies or community events—as you look at the other chaperones on your kids’ field trips or the other women at work, and notice the circles of friends. Do you wonder, where can I find a connection like that? 

As simple as the concept of friendship sounds, our quest for connections often gets riddled with confusing social nuances and personal insecurities. Relationships with other women can feel like delicate papers meant to be folded into origami swans. The result can be beautiful—but we struggle to understand all the little tugs and folds that will make it happen! 

No wonder so many of us driving away in our vehicles, lonely and longing.

Sometimes, after enough bumps on bruises on the path, we might feel tempted to give up on finding “our people.”  But these relationships—especially the ones with fellow Jesus-followers who can encourage us on the way—aren’t optional.  God created us for friendship.  He longs for his daughters to experience relationships of love, accountability, and support. These “soul sister” connections—it’s what our hearts were designed for.

So if you’re struggling with loneliness, I want to offer you hope today: That desire for friendship has been planted by God himself—and he’s right there with you, wanting to help you find it.

But here’s a hard truth I also need to share: It’s possible that you might have some roadblocks getting in the way of friendship. That’s certainly been true for me at times. Over the past few years, I’ve seen some old friendships rekindle and a few new ones bloom.  But before I saw these friendships grow, I had to do some work on myself. 

What follows are some habits of the heart that can undermine our desire to connect with others–certain tendencies we have to let go of if we want to become great friends ourselves.  As you read through the list, perhaps you’ll find your heart resonating with one in particular. If you do, I invite you to be brave and try the Friendship Experiment I offer.   

It’s time to get you out of that lonely mini-van and find you a place among friends. 

1. Give Up the Time

Time is the oxygen of friendship, the element that lets us breathe love out to others, and inhale their love in return.

Here’s the roadblock:  We have a million things vying for our attention.  Schoolwork and activities for our kids/grandkids. Volunteer work. Career goals. Home improvement projects and family excursions. Amidst all these pressing concerns, we try to squeeze friendship in “when we have the time”—only we rarely have the time!

Jesus once asked, “What good does it do for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” I’d echo those words with a little twist: What good does it do to fill your life with all the activities our culture peddles if you don’t have any real, true friends?  Far too many of us have built a “treadmill” life—full of activity and effort and exhaustion. Only it’s not actually getting us anywhere.

friendshipGood friendships help us go places. They help us get outside ourselves, see the needs of others, and receive fresh insight or encouragement. But they require us to get off the treadmill and simply spend time being with someone You can’t share belly-aching laughter or offer a sympathetic hug while you’re running solo. 

And for some of you, there’s this battle too: You wonder if it’s really okay to stop running. That inner voice questions:  Is it really okay for me to just enjoy time with a friend? 

Yes it is!  So many of us feel like we’re “not enough” and we run ourselves ragged trying to make that feeling go away.  Dear hearts, please let me give you permission right now:  You need friends—and you need to give them time. You will likely have to say “no” to something in order to get that time, and it may be something good.  But genuine friendships are a great thing, something God wants you to pursue. So go ahead, make it a priority–pursue the relationships that will fill you far more than accomplishments or things.

Friendship Experiment: Look back at the way you spent last week.  How much time did you spend connecting with friends? Look forward to the week ahead:  Is there one activity or errand on the list that you could give up in order to make time for an outing with a friend?  Is there one item on your to-do list that you could give up in order to send a few encouraging notes/texts to a friend?

2. Give Up the Mythical Best Friend

Most nights, you’ll find me curled up in my PJs with either a good book in hand or the Netflix menu before my eyes, seeking a story to enjoy.  These stories are a great way to help my mind settle after a busy day.  But they aren’t so great when it comes to understanding real, flesh-and-blood friendships.

Whether it’s a dreamy romance or the best friends who can finish each other’s sentences, the images of relationships offered in popular media can stir up longings in us.  Who doesn’t want to live in a big city amidst a group of six friends who taught with each other every day and always solve their problems within a half hour? 

Many of these stories offer beautiful ideals of loyalty and friendship. But they aren’t realistic. Most of us don’t have a sassy best friend that lives next door. Or a person who perfectly “gets” us all the time. Onscreen friendships look effortless. But in real life friendship, we have to work for it. 

Here’s what I’ve realized:  I’m never going to have a perfect friendship. I can’t even be a perfect friend myself, much less find someone else who can pull it off!  Sometimes, I’m open and pour my heart out when I’m chatting over coffee—other days, I hold something back. Some days, I remember to pray for my friends who are struggling or send them an encouraging text.  Other days, I get caught up in my own chaos and I forget.  There are times I completely relate to an experience a friend is sharing and other times, I don’t quite get it.

We can spend a lifetime searching for a best friend that will perfectly understand us, always share witty banter with us, and cook us casseroles during every crisis we endure. My best guess, though?  She doesn’t exist.  

But we can find countless women who are both beautiful and broken, just like us.  Who get tired at times, say the wrong thing on occasion, and may not be there for us in exactly the way we want every single time.  And if we can let go of our unrealistic expectations for some mythical best friend, we might be surprised by who God’s placed right beside us. 

friendshipA friend doesn’t have to share every one of your passions in order to support you in them.  They don’t have to be available to you every moment in order to care.  And they don’t have to understand every nuance of your heart in order to give you encouragement or love. Only Jesus can play that kind of role in our lives. 

Sometimes, the biggest roadblock to finding a good friend?  It’s just your expectations about how perfect that friend should be. 

Friendship Experiment:  Write a list of five qualities you’d like to find in your ideal friendship.  For each item you’ list, jot down the names of people who have fulfilled that desire at some point. As you look over the results, are there any names that showed up for every single item?  (Perhaps you have more friends than you realized!)  Are there are any people who might be worth pursuing deeper friendships with—even if they don’t meet every single one of your ideals? (Perhaps you have potential friends who might look a bit different than you expected.) 

3. Give Up the Comparisons

I was recently chatting with my fourth-grade daughter about some friend dramas playing out on her bus. Girls trying to save seats. Girls refusing to sit in them. Some girls with a lot of friends on “their side.” Other girls sitting alone, in tears.

These conversations always give me headaches. But it strikes me that us older girls play a lot of the same games.  We’re more sophisticated about it, of course.  We’ve learned to be subtle. But we’re usually watching and noticing the same things as those girls:  Who is talking with who. Who is popular and engaging and has a bevy of friends. Who is a little awkward and never quite seems to fit.

As we do all this looking around, it’s easy to start comparing. To compare ourselves to the ones who have more friends, and feel inferior because we struggle. To look at people who seem more accomplished than us and feel too intimidated to pursue friendship with them.  To make quick judgments about people after a brief encounter and assume we couldn’t be friends with them because they’re just too different.

The advice I gave to my daughter rings true for us big girls too:  We have to stop all the comparing and just get to know people for who they are! 

The reality is that some people have boisterous, bright personalities that will always draw a crowd.  Others have a quiet or gentle nature that isn’t as quick to get attention.  But we all have something to offer in friendship.  When we’re able to let go of our comparisons and judgements—when we initiate a conversation with someone who seems different or intimidating and get to know them—we might just be surprised to find a friend. 

Friendship Experiment:  Who do you compare yourself to the most?  Write down the first two names that come to mind.  Do you tend to compare yourself more favorably or unfavorably to them?  Pray for the people you wrote down, and ask God if there’s one of them you should try to get to know better.

4. Give up the Pride

Behind the quest for friendship, this longing beats like a steady drum.  We want someone to love us as we truly are. But oh what courage it takes to expose who we truly are!

And it takes a lot of wisdom too:  To sense when it’s right to share our burdens and if the other person will be safe.  There’s a dance to friendship that’s complicated and impossible to teach—because it doesn’t look the exact same for any of us.  We just know, in our deepest places, that we want to share ourselves with a friend.  Our hidden struggles. Our wildest dreams.  Our painful wounds.  They’re all there, straining within us, longing for release.

friendshipSo what holds us back from trusting these things to others? We all have different reasons for hiding. But one of the tallest roadblocks to finding friendships in my own life has been simple fear. I fear what people will think: I’m afraid to let someone see my weakness, to admit when I’ve been hurt or when I’m feeling confused and incapable. 

These weeds of fear keep us in hiding, choking out friendship before it ever gets a chance to blossom.  And can we be brutally honest about this?  Most of our fears spring from the soil of pride:  We don’t share our real self because our fake self looks so much better!

If we’re ever going to build real friendships, we need to dismantle these roadblocks of pride and fear.  We must be honest with ourselves about the image we’ve tried to build—and the real woman who lives underneath it.  And then we must be willing to reveal ourselves to others, as the weak, less-than-perfect humans we actually are. 

It takes great courage to share your heart: But it’s a bit easier to take that brave step when you stop caring about that fake image. 

And you know what I found when I stopped worrying so much what friends would think?  I found them—loving me, offering wisdom to my weakness, and sharing struggles of their own that I could help carry.  These are the friendship moments I cherish most—when two hearts are brave and real and vulnerable. And there’s no room for pride or image control in those spaces.

Friendship Experiment:  Make a list of current struggles, questions, and/or hurts that you are carrying.  Add to this a list of your biggest longings/dreams. Place a check mark by each item that you have shared with a friend. Circle the ones you have not shared.  Prayerfully talk to God about what is holding you back from sharing.  Is pride keeping you from exposing your raw edges?  Might it be be keeping you from seeking counseling/guidance to address other issues that are making friendships difficult? 

_________________________

As you pull these roadblocks out of your heart, I’m hoping God will open your eyes to the people in your life who can become faithful friends. It takes brave, fierce women to fight for friendships in the midst of our busy world.  So let me leave you with this prayer of blessing on your efforts

In a world of disconnection, may you be a person who seeks to connect. In a culture of self-reliance, may you experience God’s grace through the hands and feet of others. And in the moments when loneliness threatens to beat you down, may you be brave enough to look up, look around, and fight for the friendship God is offering. 

(This post is part of The Enemies of Grace series.  Click here to learn see other topics you might find helpful.)
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