Purposeful relationships part 2: How to keep genuine friendships
I hit publish on this blog post about a month ago, and immediately began to question myself. Working in the world of digital marketing has taught me just how many people can read your words and misconstrue them (and TBH, I hadn't written a blog post for 5 months before this one). Above all, I felt somewhat unqualified to discuss purposeful friendship, when I have personally had so many ups and downs myself learning how to truly be an intentional friend, which makes me even more grateful for the friends who have taught me well.
Above many things, I hope my legacy includes being a good friend to everyone. The person who is called late at night for advice or a good cry. The good listener and an excellent confidant. The intentional friend who always prays when she says she will, and seeks even when she's tired.
In reality, "good friend" is such an abstract term, that, unless broken down, can be titled haphazardly, and leave us in a state of false confidence. Because if being a "good friend" comes down to never forgetting the other's birthday, having a few laughs together, and sending that periodic how are you? text, then why do we tend to feel so lonely? Why is there a disparity in wanting to be known and genuinely feeling known?
Perhaps genuine friendship is harder to nurture than we decidedly admit. Because friendships are supposed to be easy, right? And once they become difficult, we tend to move on: friendship hopping and confused as to why we feel so alone.
I've said it once (or twice) and I'll say it a hundred times over: community is hard. Genuine relationships don't come easily because selflessness doesn't come naturally. When we simplify friendship down to a checklist to complete, we miss the point of intentional relationship. There are, however, several virtues that are, I believe, the foundation of genuine friendships.
1. Forgiving quickly.
I made quite a lot of friendship mistakes in college. I lashed out too quickly, shared my thoughts too bluntly, spoke about myself loudly and far too often, generally always thought of myself first, and would do anything for a laugh. Because of that, I ended up pushing away several close friends. It was only when forgiveness and reconciliation were sought, that I realized what I was doing. Some of my very best friends today are the ones who chose to gently confront in those moments and then forgave quickly. In their honesty and grace, I was able to step into freedom in friendship and learned to redefine what I thought it meant to be a friend. Without the hard conversations, those relationships not only would have been lost, but I also would have never been given the opportunity to grow in that area.
2. Squashing jealousy.
FOMO (fear of missing out) is so very real. As an enneagram 7, it became apparent that it was a particular struggle for me when I noticed friends getting together or nurturing their relationship without me. It wasn't until I identified the jealousy that I began to realize how it was affecting my friendships. As unglamorous as this is for me to admit, jealousy seems to be one of the most common casuses of friendships breaking up, so I would argue that I'm not alone in this struggle. Where the seed of jealousy is planted, bitterness blooms- and where bitterness is, all sorts of evil and discord exist.
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. (James 3:16)
3. Celebrating often.
The BEST way to combat jealousy in relationship is to be joyful in celebration with others. Is your girlfriend forming a close relationship with another girlfriend? GOOD! That is in no way a reflection on your relationship. Did she get that job promotion, while you feel stuck in your career? Rejoice with her. Her success is not defining of your own. Listen, we like to chatter about community over competition, but this is best practiced in your own close friendships. Championing the other does not mean that we ourselves are forgotten. We are given the freedom to press fully into excitment for others because our blessings are not measured by each other. Take any excuse to celebrate one another, lifting each other up.
It's important to note here that mourning with our friends is also foundational in keeping genuine friendship. Climbing down into the tear-soaked the trenches together, although sometimes exhausting, is absolutely formational in relationship. Don't be afraid to be the friend that peppers the one suffering with encouragement, affirmation, questions, gifts, and full-fledged empathy. The only way to maintain depth in friendship is to be unafraid of the deep and the murky.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
4. Sharing vulnerably.
Our friendships only flourish when we are all in. I get it, vulnerability can be terrifying, especially when your relationship hasn't yet gone there. Start slow. Instead of answering "Great!" or "Doing well, just busy!" when asked how you are doing, be honest. If you're struggling, speak it. If you're excited, share it. If you need prayer, proclaim it. Trust that the person asking truly wants to listen. Authentic, genuine, friendship comes from venturing into the waters together, no matter where they lead. In order to fully know, understand, and love one another we must begin living a life fully given. Allow the person on the other side of the relationship an opportunity to love you deeper and fuller. The more vulnerability is a part of a relationship, the more that relationship abounds.
5. Praying regularly.
Prayer brings us into sacred ground together. Praying with or over a friend certainly feels awkward at times, but it brings us to a level of vulnerability that little else can. Entering into that holy space together lays the foundation of a relationship that is real, raw, and honest. Similarly, spending part of your quiet time or commute praying over a friend deepens our understanding of the other, and gives us a place in their battle. When we are intentionally fighting through prayer for one another, we find that our hearts are supernaturally softened. Forgiveness comes quicker. Grace happens in abundance. Empathy naturally pours out.
5. Living intentionally.
A few weeks ago, our pastor spoke on the importance of intentionality of relationship. (Seriously, listen to this. It's a wonderfully helpful resource.) He referenced several studies on friendship, quoting a study that shows it takes 50 intentional hours to move from an acquaintance to a friend. From there, it takes 200 hours of intentional time spent to move from a friend to a close friend (!!!). Listen, forming lasting friendships takes time. It takes nearly one hour a week, every single week, for an entire year to move into friendship. When we first moved to Denver 14 months ago, I naively thought we would quickly build a new community. While we did quickly find others who we genuinely enjoyed being around, in truth, it took months of intentionally pursuing (and saying yes when others reached out) to reach a place when we started feeling like we truly had a tribe in our new city. And one of the hardest lessons I've learned through re-creating community in a new place is that friendship is not a game. We want it to be a 50/50 relationship. But it's rarely 100% a two-way street. It's not an "I text you to come over to dinner, and next time you invite me out for drinks", but rather an intentional, loving pursuit in which we open ourselves up while inviting others to do the same.
Investing time, energy, and money into relationship is hard, and it can certainly feel burdensome at times. But we were not created to live private, closed lives. We are designed for the fullness of relationship and community. It is here where wounds are healed, joy flourishes, and we truly experience supernatural abundance in life.
What are your best tips for authentic friendships? Leave them in the comments below, and let's champion each other to be all in, no matter the cost.