Alison Marie Smith

Life, Leadership & Spiritual Formation in Lonely Places

Discipline of the Week: Friendship

This past weekend, I had a friend over for dinner. I shared my favorite butternut squash risotto and she contributed fixings for a salad which included tomatoes from her garden and goat cheese (pretty much the best kind of cheese). Both of us hail from Michigan, so she also brought Michigan Cherry Cobbler ice cream. Another thing we shared in, besides the white wine conveniently necessary for risotto, was rich conversation. We shared honestly about our jobs, our marriages, our successes and our places of struggle. It was refreshing and energizing.

My time with my new friend was a much needed gift from God.

This week’s featured discipline is friendship. Friendships, especially when they involve people who share our faith, are powerful tools that help us grow and develop. This isn’t a new thought and I’m sure if you look back on your life, you can think of people who have done just that.

But what if you find yourself in a situation where making friends is difficult? When my husband and I moved to Utah four years ago, I thought that we would make friends right away. I’ve always been outgoing and friendships have generally been easy for me to develop. When making friends turned out to be more difficult than I expected, it was disorienting.

A year and a half passed by. I had casual friendships and acquaintances. But nothing deep. I longed for friendships with mutual vulnerability. I missed having people who knew me deeply and loved me. Insecurities rose to the surface.

What’s wrong with me? Why don’t people like me? How do I even make friends? Everything I’ve tried hasn’t worked, I must be socially challenged!

Obviously I was doing some serious navel gazing and self-pitying. I was so consumed with hurt and loneliness that I couldn’t look outside of myself. I got angry with God. I started to resent the people that I initiated with but didn’t seem to want to pursue a friendship with me.

When I confided in a wise mentor, she told me, “Alison, I don’t think anything is wrong with you. Maybe God is doing something in this time of loneliness. What if you’re not supposed to have friends right now?”

The sound of breaks screeching interrupted my internal dialogue. What? Not have friends? That seems crazy. But that simple suggestion helped me to stop obsessing so much. Instead of demanding friendships from God, I started asking him, “What does it look like to make friends after college? What do you want me to learn about you right now? What do you want me to learn about myself?

I stopped clutching so tightly to my expectations of how I thought my friendships should be. I began to accept and even enjoy the beginnings of new friendships, trusting that over time they would develop. Four years later, I finally have a few friendships marked by depth, intimacy, honesty, and love.

In retrospect, I can see several things that helped or hindered my ability to develop friendships. Here are some tips for making friends.

1. Be Intentional

Don’t wait for people to call you and invite you to things, be the one who invites. Don’t let awkwardness or insecurity stop you from making the first move. This totally sounds like dating advice, yikes! But truthfully, making friends after college or a move is kind of like dating.

Think about someone you’d like to have a deeper friendship with. Make a plan to get in touch with them this week and ask them to do something.

If you don’t have any potential friends on the horizon, think about some places where you can meet people. A church small group? A work softball team? A university/fraternity/sorority alumni organization? Make it a priority to attend one or more of these opportunities.

2. Be patient

Deep community takes time. Most relationships that start at zero don’t progress to ninety overnight. Give your new friends plenty of grace. Learn to ask good questions to help conversations deepen. Also, be sensitive to their life stage. Are they in a demanding job? Or maybe they just had their first child? Be flexible and offer to serve and care for them in a way that is gracious.

Adjust your expectations or get rid of them all together. Love people where they are at, not where you think they should be.

3. Not everyone will want to be your friend (and that’s ok)

Not everyone will reciprocate your desire for friendship. It doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person and it doesn’t mean they are a jerk.  It just might mean that you aren’t compatible as friends. Again, this sounds like dating advice. It’s unrealistic to expect that every person we meet will be our BFFs.

If you’ve been intentional and patient and things aren’t really progressing, it’s ok to let the ball be in their court. We have a variety of relationships in our lives ranging from marriage and deep friendships to acquaintances. It’s ok to have casual friends.

4. You won’t want to be friends with everyone (and that’s ok)

It’s ok if you don’t like everyone you hang out with. We are called to love people, regardless if they are easy or difficult to love. But loving someone isn’t the same as liking someone. We won’t be deep friends with everyone. We should be open to unlikely friendships and even pursue them but we don’t need to force it.

5. Try new things

In my interview with a work colleague, he mentioned that to fight loneliness, we should say yes to invitations. I think this is a simple and true statement. If someone invites you to go on a hike and you’re not really much of a hiker, take a risk and try it. It might be the worst or it might be great. Either way, you’re saying yes to the possibility of a relationship.

6. Take a risk & be vulnerable

Vulnerable sharing and honesty are keys to deeper relationships. Don’t wait for your friend to open up, take a risk and open up first. But be savvy about it. For example, if you’re meeting someone for the first time over coffee, don’t word vomit all over them about your broken childhood. But if they ask you a question where you have the choice to be shallow or deep, take a leap and be deep.

About a year into our move, I hated living here. When people would ask if I liked Utah, often I would respond with a shallow, “Yeah… it’s great…”  The truth was, it wasn’t great. I was afraid that if I was honest, I would be chastised or rejected. Eventually I risked being honest and I was surprised when my friends shared their own struggles with moving to a new place. My honesty and vulnerability created a safe place for others to share, resulting in deeper relationships. 

Note: If your friend doesn’t share back, don’t take it personally. They might not be ready to go deep yet and that’s ok. Read no. 2 again, be patient and extend grace. 

7. Seek healing & continue to engage

Some of you have been hurt deeply by past friendships. God hears you and hurts with you. The idea of opening yourself up to a new friendship or church community is terrifying, what if I’m hurt again? Don’t let this be something that blocks you from having meaningful relationships. Isolating yourself may work for a time but it won’t provide lasting healing. Eventually you will experience the negative effects of not having friends.

If you have been hurt by friendships, consider these ways to heal:

  • Counseling (I have been multiple times, it’s fantastic)
  • Prayer ministry (many churches offer this type of ministry)
  • Confiding in someone you trust (a spouse, a mentor or spiritual leader, an healthy friendship) and asking for their help and advice

Try a few of these tips out this week and share your experiences below! Here are a few resources on building friendships:

Spiritual Friendship by Mindy Caliguire- this would be great to read for a men’s or women’s ministry or as a small group

The Pursuit of God in the Company of Friends by Rich Lamb

 

2 Comments

  1. Ashlee Christofferson

    August 13, 2014 at 6:19 pm

    Wonderful post Alison! I agree that is hard to make/maintain friendships as we get older.

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