Let’s start here: it’s not just you that’s struggling with friendships. It’s almost everyone. In my experience almost everyone (especially in their 20′s and 30′s) is saying or thinking the exact same thing behind closed doors…
“My friendships in college were just so natural and easy! Why are they so hard and painful for me now!?”
To be transparent, during different seasons Jana and I have each struggled to cultivate meaningful friendships because of our own woundedness and sin, and each of us has found ourselves asking this question at different points over the last 10 years. This post is really born out of the Spirit comforting and chastening us this year in the area of friendship. The following are some random, bullet-point thoughts from a years’ worth of reflection and personal repentance in friendship…
5 TRUTHS ABOUT FRIENDSHIP
1) The heart of friendship is “naked personalities”. Arguably the most famous friendship in the Bible is the one shared by David and Jonathan. There’s a mysterious passage that describes their friendship’s inauguration that says…
And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.
CS Lewis, cutting to the heart of this description of the inauguration of David and Jonathan’s friendship, made one of the most profound statements about friendship I’ve ever read, saying, “Eros [lust] will have naked bodies; friendship, naked personalities.” Jonathan “disrobes” from his robe, tunic, sword, bow, and belt as a symbol of what friendship is – allowing someone to really see you. That takes commitment, effort, trust. You have to try.
“Eros would have naked bodies; friendship, naked personalities.” – CS Lewis
Which leads me to my next point…
2) Meaningful friendships come about more like an artistic masterpiece than a chemical reaction. It’s common to be talking with someone struggling to develop friendships and for them to say in frustration, “It just shouldn’t be this hard!” A lot of people think that a deep friendship happens like a chemical reaction: just make sure you get the right two ingredients (people) in there, and BOOM! Meaningful friendship! Here’s a more accurate analogy: if you were trying to produce a bestselling album or paint a piece that people would look at for generations or write a truly great literary masterpiece, would you expect it to “just happen”? And then, when it didn’t just happen, would you say, “It shouldn’t be this hard!”? Of course not. Creating a masterpiece is very hard and takes thousands of hours of work, self-discipline, and perseverance through failure. So why would we expect it to be easy to craft a masterpiece friendship? Now, a lot of people live their lives under the friendship-as-chemical-reaction assumption because they think that’s what happened to them in college… but that’s a myth and here’s why…
3) Friendships were so much easier for you in college because college life FORCES you to practice “Disciplines of Friendship”, and after college nothing is forcing you to do that anymore. Some examples…
- In college, life naturally PUSHED YOU to spend consistent time with your friends. After college, life naturally PULLS YOU away from consistent time with friends.
- In college it’s easier to BE HONEST about the hard things that are going on in your life because friends see you enough they ‘just know’ something’s up. After college it feels easier to HIDE the hard things that are going on in your life because you don’t see people enough for them to ‘just know’ something’s up.
- In college, you were forced to SHARE your life with friends. In a college lifestyle you were forced to share time, money, car-rides, dinner tables, TV shows, and even dorm rooms with your friends. Life after college influences you to PARTITION these things from friends.
- When a hard issue pops up between friends in college, they HAVE TO deal with it because they can’t get away from each other! Healthy conflict is FORCED. When you live miles from each other, have busy schedules, families, and jobs after college it can feel easier to just avoid someone rather than having healthy, friendship-saving conflict.
The feeling that friendships “just happened” in college is an illusion. It takes EXTRAORDINARY time and effort to craft a friendship. That time and effort was just forced upon you in college. To put this bluntly, if you wait around for friendships to “just happen”, you’ll end up with exactly zero friends.
4) Friendships are “made”, not “given”. This is a hard truth, but it will save you a lot of pain and anger to accept: no one owes you a friendship. You have to “make” friends; they’re not “given” to you. People who do not accept this truth spend much of their lives angry and eventually bitter at people they feel OWED them a friendship, asking “What is WRONG with them!?”. Instead, when we find it hard to develop friendships with people, godly humility should propel us not to ask “What’s wrong with them!?“, but “What might be wrong with my life that makes it hard for me to develop friends?“. Now, that is a VERY scary question to ask, but if you don’t, you’ll never pause to figure out what it is about you that keeps people from desiring friendship with you. Sometimes people who don’t get this truth get angry when their desire for friendship with someone isn’t reciprocated, and they accuse someone of being “ungodly” or “unloving”. But friendship is a choice that everyone gets to make on their own. Even Jesus didn’t move into friendships with everyone who wanted one with him. Remember, while Jesus was friendLY towards all, he only chose to be FRIENDS with a few.
“While Jesus was friendLY towards all, he only chose to be FRIENDS with a few.”
5) Meaningful friendships are SOMETIMES hard, but ALWAYS worth it. Here’s the real reason a lot of people don’t develop meaningful friendships: it’s hard. But here’s the real reason why everyone wishes they had: it’s worth it. Remember, God is a Trinity who has been in the most intimate relationships in the universe for eternity. And because we’re created in God’s image, we were designed to need relationship. Listen to me…
- Your husband / wife will never be enough
- Your kids will never be enough
- Your parents will never be enough
And this last one may shock you, but I believe it’s Biblical:
- In some ways, even your relationship alone with God will not be enough
There’s a reason that in Eden, when Man was in perfect relationship with God, He still said, “It is not good for Man to be alone.” If you don’t develop meaningful friendships, you’ll always be frustrated with your husband, kids, parents, etc because you were ALSO designed to need friends.
THE PATH FORWARD: 3 QUICK WORDS
This post has gotten very long as I’ve vomited virtually every painful lesson I’ve learned in the last few years into one post. Here’s what I’d say to you if you’re lonely and struggling with friendships…
- Rest your heart in the fact that Jesus has called you friend and he will never leave you or forsake you. That should really be the headliner of this post. Meditate on it every second of your life in which you feel lonely and hurt by lack of friendship.
- Put away your anger at others for “not reaching out to you enough” and start asking the scary question, “What do I need to change in order to develop meaningful friendships?” FAIR WARNING: if you’re honest with yourself, you’re going to have to face the fact that you’re full of woundedness and sin, and you’re going to have to deal with it through the gospel… but that just may end up being the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
- Look for people who seem to desire a friendship with you and COMMIT. You can’t only “do friendship” when you feel like it and have healthy friendships any more than you can only “do marriage” when you feel like it and have a healthy marriage.