Friends: Companions for the Journey
I'm grateful to Dr. Jamie Sanchez for allowing me to re-post this article she wrote on friendship over at Northstar's blog. Jamie is a dear friend and one of the most prolific, joyful networkers and travelers I know. She's a thinker and an adventurer. Her Kryptonite is any dad joke I tell.. Formally, she is the Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at Biola University.
In his classic text, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”
Lewis goes on to explore friendship as one of four types of relationships in the human experience. He explains how friendships are different than, say, romantic relationships, and yet, maintains that friendships are just as important.
Since Lewis wrote his text, the state of friendships have not fared much better. Though there is a “friendship crisis” in modern society, the hunger for deep friendship rages on. Put simply, we are hard wired for connections. We need companions to walk with us on our life’s journey. Others who can encourage us, sharpen us, and pray for us. We want friends with whom we can laugh, cry, and be safe. And, yet, so many of us have learned to value autonomy, privacy, and individualism over accompaniment, intimacy, and friendship. As a result we feel lonely and isolated all while being surrounded by people.
One reason for the lack of deep friendships that permeates our society is that we have lost the art of building relationships. Somewhere along the line, we were told that friendships just happen. Perhaps this perspective is a result of our “instant” culture in which we click our way through life without having to put in much effort. But, the types of friendships that Lewis wrote about, and that I’m convinced we all long for, have a deeper spiritual component than the “BFF” flavor that has inundated modern society.
That is not to say that friendships themselves are holy but that a spiritual friendship is one that is centered on God. Spiritual friends nudge one another along their own journey of faith. In other words, a friendship does not exist for itself but in order to encourage, sharpen, and lead one another to a deeper attachment to Christ. Spiritual friendships require more cultivation than can be achieved only through Facebook, emoji-filled text messages, and brief interactions. They require active development.
I feel a bit inadequate to share any suggestions on how to build friendships. I have failed more often than not in friendship, but it is out of my own failures that I continue to grow. Another caveat I should add is that my suggestions are in no way comprehensive. There are countless blogs and books that can speak with more authority on this topic than I can. But, even so, I have included five qualities that I think are necessary to develop friendships of depth:
Five qualities that I think are necessary to develop friendships of depth
I bet each and every person reading this has at one time or another said, “But nobody invites me.” I know I have. It’s a fair need––to want to be invited. The reality is, though, that waiting to be invited doesn’t help build friendships. We each have to take risks and initiate with others.
Honestly, I have only a few friends that are mutual in this sense. They call me, text me, and initiate time with me as often as I do with them. These are my heart friends, friends that I deeply trust because through our mutual friendship there is a safe space that is built. A space that allows us to exhale with a relaxed realization that we are deeply cared for.
But in other friendships, and at various seasons of life, I run the risk that others may not initiate with me. And, I know that I have failed others in the same way. Unmet expectations are just a part of all relationships and we must learn to not take things so personally.
The bottom line is that it is hard to develop friendships of depth without initiation.
Takeaway: Press on, friendship is worth the effort.
"And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them." (Luke 6:31)
One-sided relationships are exhausting. It’s hard to maintain a deep friendship when all the attention is always on one person. This means that it is necessary to develop ways in which we can show interest in our friends. Learn to ask good questions. Follow up on situations that friends have shared with you. Listen to them. Pray with and for them.
But don’t stop there. Be vulnerable as well. In other words, you also need to be willing to share about yourself. Vulnerability breeds trust. And friendships of depth are built on trust.
Just recently when about to go to a stressful meeting, I texted a few friends to ask them to pray for me. They responded with encouragement, assurance that they were with me, and followed up after my meeting. I was vulnerable and they took interest in me. Win-Win.
Takeaway: Keep pressing in, friendship is worth the risk of knowing and being known.
“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17)
Time, time, time. You will not develop deep friendships without spending time together.
This one is tricky. I have friends that I don’t see very often because we live in different states, or different countries. Time with them is usually concentrated while on vacation or through sporadic FaceTime chats.
But, even for my friends that live in the same place I do, time may be more limited for one person than for another. Every friendship will have a different rhythm. Don’t fret over how much time is spent with your friends but focus on how the time is spent.
Be creative. Find an adventure. Incorporate time with friends into something you are already doing like running errands, attending your kids’ sporting events, or dinner with your family.
Time spent building friendships doesn’t have to be intense, tear-laden conversations. And time together doesn’t always have to be one-on-one. Large group events. Small group outings. Ministry opportunities. Serving at church. Prayer times. All of these are easy ways to spend time together.
I have a bucket list of things that I want to complete while I live on this side of the country. It’s long! Instead of just checking things off the list I have asked others to join me in my adventures. Not only does my task driven self get the satisfaction of methodically checking things off the list, but I get to make memories with friends along the way!
Takeaway: Keep pressing forward, friendship is worth the time.
"Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor." (Romans 12:10)
Chances are your friends are incredible. I know mine are. They are godly, gifted, generous people with whom I am so very fortunate and humbled to walk through life.
And, I tell them that. As awkward as it may be at times, I state specific things I see in their lives so that they can be spurred on toward good works. Sometimes, I’ll send a brief text message to remind them of how invaluable they are. At other times I may directly affirm an area of their life in which they are discouraged. Sometimes, I will simply tell them how thankful I am for them. I want my friends to be encouraged, not burdened, through our friendship.
Learn to practice another lost art, the art of encouraging one another.
Takeaway: Keep encouraging one another, friends are worth building up.
"Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing." (1 Thessalonians 5:11)
Interrupt? Yes. Interrupt. Let friends interrupt your idea of what friendship looks like. Oftentimes we look for friends that are in the same exact season of life we are in. But just because two different people happen to have kids the same age doesn’t mean that they are in the same season of life. Well, not the same season of spiritual life. Some of my closest friends are in radically different phases of life than I am but there is a deep spiritual connection between us. We have lived through similar ministry experiences or have similar core values. We just get each other. And it’s out of that connection that friendships can be built.
Honestly, the need to connect with only those in the similar seasons of life as us limits the possibilities of being surprised by a friendship that God has just for us when we need it. Further, this myopic view of friendship places value on external circumstances rather than on the internal person. Look for friends which whom you can connect on a deeper spiritual level even if they don’t happen to be in the same season of life as you.
Takeaway: Keep your heart open, friendship is worth the interruption.
"A wise man is full of strength, and a man of knowledge enhances his might." (Proverbs 24:5)
The Wrap Up
I have learned that each phase of life brings different types of friends. Some friendships will be just for a season. Some friendships will be for life. Some are made quickly and some develop over time. Rather than fretting over the future, I have learned to enjoy my friendships. They are gifts from God. And, remember that not any one relationship will ever meet all of your needs. That’s God’s role. But He does bless us with companions for life’s journey.
I am so very thankful for the heart friends with which God has blessed me. I don’t take their friendship lightly. Their steadfast love, sacrificial time, and gracious words are all evidence of God’s grace-filled love towards me.
I leave you with the wise words penned by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together:
It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
The Friendships of Women by Dee Brestin
Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship Direction by David Benner
Safe People by Cloud and Townsend
Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend
How Full is Your Bucket by Donald O. Clifton and Tom Rath
The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman