I was blessed to celebrate another birthday yesterday! In addition to hearing from family members near and far, it was a joyful experience to hear from friends from various “posts” on my life journey. Many social media messages, emails, pictures, and texts were received with much appreciation. Throughout the year, in turn, I do my best to put forth meaningful effort in celebrating my family and friends so that they know how much they mean to me, especially because true friends don’t always come easily.
Much has been said, rapped, and written about friends. A traditional saying encourages, “Make new friends and keep the old/One is silver and the other gold.” In the mid-80s (yes, I’m dating myself!), Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, and Elton John crooned, “Keep smiling, keep shining/Knowing you can always count on me, for sure/That’s what friends are for/In good times and bad times/I’ll be on your side forever more/That’s what friends are for.” Whodini, a hip-hop group from the 80s, asked “Friends, how many of us have them? Ones we can depend on?”
Across time and cultures, most people agree that friendships are important. Friends are those people with whom we share a mutual fondness, similar interests, and overlapping worldviews. Friendships are for everyone, not just extroverts. Whereas extroverts usually have a large circle of friends that recharges them, introverts need friends, too, but are usually content with just a handful of friends to balance their desire to spend time alone. Whether we met in preschool, playing sports, or last year on the job, friends encourage and support us, accompany us on this journey called life, go the extra mile, and make us smile!
But not everyone makes and keeps friends so easily. Sometimes friendships do not stand the test of time. Perhaps a disagreement or misunderstanding brings undue pressure on a friendship, and one or both parties decides that the friendship is not worth preserving. Or maybe through extended separation over time or distance, friends become vaguely known acquaintances. After a few of these experiences, we may find ourselves reluctant to create new friendships. After all, they do require an investment of time, sustained effort, and trust. Based on our prior life experiences, trust may be a rare commodity, especially in situations where trust has been breached. Sometimes we choose to go it alone, protecting our hearts from further damage, but we often forget that God created us to be social beings vitally connected to each other. The image of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12: 12-27) demonstrates that we belong to each other and that we need each other to function properly. Friends supply the social support, moral support, and practical support that we need to thrive in a challenging world. We also should not lose sight of the fact that friendships allow us to give deeply of ourselves in a way that can have a profound impact on our friends and their lives for many years to come.
Okay, let’s be honest: Maybe we don’t have the best track record when it comes to choosing friends. Perhaps in our younger years, we were inclined to compromise our time, needs, desires, even values for the sake of maintaining a friendship. Friends weren’t always as good to us as we were to them. Maybe we even got in trouble, potentially deep trouble, for the sake of a so-called friend who didn’t appreciate us, or even kicked us to the curb when we no longer benefitted her. “Once bitten, twice shy,” the saying goes. Instead of amending the way we make friends, we might decide to steer clear of all possible friendships. This choice, however, is a recipe for loneliness, resentment, and an overall poorer quality of life.
In order to establish quality friendships, you must “show yourself friendly.” The next time you’re around strangers in a social situation, pay attention to those who appear friendly (e.g., making eye contact, smiling, turning toward you). Allow yourself to engage in “small talk,” even if it feels a bit superficial to you. Discuss the weather, sports, or light-hearted current events (i.e., avoiding topics like the political climate or your views on the latest celebrity scandal). Through casual conversation, find out if the other person has anything in common with you, such as geographical location, community activities, the experience of being a parent, or the like. If there is sufficient overlap, you two may decide by the end of the conversation that it would be worth staying in touch, or getting together again soon for coffee, tea, or a meal.
At this juncture, it is very important to preserve boundaries, even (or especially) when you feel excited about the blossoming of a friendship. Occasionally, people who have not experienced meaningful friendships for a long time become quite excited at the prospect of a new friend and become overzealous in their level of disclosure (i.e., telling all their business). Just because someone shows herself friendly does not necessarily mean that you should tell all. Instead, allow time to reveal whether this person is truly trustworthy. Does she demonstrate respect for you as a person, and a well-developed sense of confidentiality? Does she avoid telling you other people’s business? Does she also make herself vulnerable as your friendship develops over time? Can she observe and abide by the boundaries you establish? If you can answer these questions affirmatively, you may be on your way to developing a strong friendship. Strong friendships will stand the test of time. “Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice” (Proverbs 27:9).
Show yourself friendly!
À votre santé (“To your health”),