I experienced warm feelings associated with friend relationships first. Friendship meant waiting at the bus stop, making summer “dandelion butter,” and riding bikes on quiet streets. I eventually used “best friend” and “friends forever” in conversation and yearbooks. (The next gen shortened those to “BFF.”)
Then there were conflicts. I remember a pair of black-and-white saddle shoes bruising my shins a time or two. Sometimes there were harsh words, “Go home! I don’t want to play with you anymore,” or “I’ll never talk to you again!” The silent treatment could last hours, days, or longer. Honestly, that was the most painful—the break in friend relationship without resolution.
Friendships aren’t simple. In our transient culture they feel seasonal. The best ones are established and freely pick up where they left off at any time. A few are constant, face-to-face, and weather all kinds of storms. Some relationships are fun, and some are functional. Misunderstandings and meltdowns are givens.
Friends are often my relational teachers. My perspective on friendship has been shaped by people who have been willing to hang with me through all sorts of situations—and there have been plenty of situations!
May I share some relational gems I’ve gathered and then let you in on a little secret about a couple of my favorite friends?
People connect in various ways: events, preferences, shared knowledge or experiences. An initial connection might look like—
“I like music.”
“So do I! I really like U2—”
“I love U2! Did you catch Bono’s 30-second drumming video? Hilarious!”
I’ve begun friendships over interests, and you have, too. It’s fun when favorite things are shared, but the diversity of my hobbies would land me in a room full of people with little connection. Some of that is expected; it can feel oddly disjointed. I’ve found deeper, beyond-acquaintance friendships have something more significant than a hobby at the center.
A friend taught me something like “pairing the sharing” (though I lean toward adding “paring the sharing”). In the beginning, sharing might look like this—
“I’m the oldest of three. I have two brothers.”
“I don’t have any brothers, but I do have three sisters.”
Sharing is paired over the topic, siblings, and no one dominates. Compare that to—
“I have three sisters.”
“I have two brothers, and they were horrible little beasts! They tortured me every chance they got. Let me tell you about the wiffle bat incident and the blood involved…”
I like to try matching the conversation topic and depth (pairing) and keeping remarks brief at first (paring down details). That’s a great way to test relational waters!
Good friendship maintains “other focus.” A temptation in conversation is to fill uncomfortable silence. Have you listened with the sole intent of responding? That’s not genuine listening; it’s hearing with the goal of injecting yourself into the conversation. (This is my growth area.) A caring attitude values others (Philippians 2:3).
Care by offering your full attention. Listen well. Electronic interruptions can wait. Your “I know! That happened to me, too, when—” stories can wait. Even your best ideas and solutions can wait. Listening with your whole self can be hard, but your friend is worth it!
Daring to be Different
As many connections as we might make, remember: we are separate, distinct individuals. Common interests, preferences, or experiences should not suggest we relate in unhealthy ways. (This can be tricky!)
Any relationship has the potential to encourage in different ways, but no one gets to live rent-free in anyone’s head or pull the puppet strings in our lives. Not only is separation expected, it’s necessary!
It’s good to discover areas of difference. If we press into the differences, perspectives can be challenged, shaped, and grown. We can learn from those who are different from us, and that can be beautiful in healthy relationships.
Hanging in There
Miscommunication, mistakes, and offenses happen. When it gets tough, try not to abandon the friendship. Instead—
Pause communication (Gently indicate need for a pause.)
Breathe (Insert prayer here.)
Look for your responsibility (It’s better this way!)
Reconcile, if possible (Reconciliation is important to God!)
So what does this look like in real life? It looks like the FACETS Team. We connected in writing and faith. We began to care about each other when life stories were shared, but we committed to caring for the long haul. We recognize differences, and we’re learning to love—and leverage—them for our collective growth.
When we gather for dinner or to work together, we practice listening with our whole selves. We look and listen for clues to others’ needs (sometimes an awkward dance between personal relationship and productivity). It’s possible to inadvertently tap dance on someone’s toes, and then we lean in, rather than back away.
I love these ladies! We are committed to one another first, and we’d sacrifice a little productivity for one of our hearts. In a heartbeat! The friendships are more precious than the project, even though the project deepened the relationships.
Friendship means we are for one another and we get to write together.