The Wild Way of Friendship

I’ve heard the sentiment commonly expressed that making friends as an adult is SO hard. And it’s true, making friends as an adult seems way more complicated than it did to find a buddy in second grade, high school, or college.

I think this probably has to do with the isolation and busyness of most adults’ lives. We spend a lot of our time separated from others – within our own houses if we’re single, or only with our spouses and/or kids – but not as much time just hanging out with peers like we did in school. Yes, we see peers at work, but for whatever reason, it’s not the same. Maybe we’re more guarded or more focused at work, or maybe we want some separation between our work and personal life. Plus, for the many people who work from home, making friends takes intentionally going outside your “work place” and fostering friendships during your down time, which can feel in short supply and the last thing you want to do to relax.

But what do we spend our “relaxation” time doing? We scroll and we wish we had better friends. We watch movies about girl squads and besties and friend groups and we long for that in our own lives. But we have no idea how to get it. Or, if we have lucked into having that, we only go an inch deep in conversations. We don’t trust each other enough to be vulnerable, we consume gossip like it’s our drink of choice, and then we’re shocked when our friends talk about us behind our backs. And then, when conflict does arise that can’t be resolved in a “30-minute episode,” we assume break-up is the only option. It’s either full of drama or it’s so awkward that either way, our friendships fall to pieces.

Yes, we long for deep, authentic, and safe relationships, but when our model for what they should look like is so broken, it becomes even harder to find the real thing.

Here are some incongruities I see in how the world does friendship:

– We want a close support group, but we want to be invited into one, rather than start one ourselves.

– We don’t pursue reconciliation very well. We expect drama and assume that breaking up is the natural consequence of being hurt.

– We practice the passive, aggressive, and passive-aggressive communication styles that TV shows and movies teach us (and that feel easier), rather than communicating with honesty and vulnerability.

See, we have this vision in our heads of something that I truly believe could be a reality – friendships that are supportive and authentic – but we’re self-sabotaging and going about it all the wrong way. We are living expecting someone else to do all the hard work, expecting it to be perfect or totally implode (there’s a middle!), and expecting to have authentic heart-to-hearts on the regular when we don’t trust each other enough to have conversations with any kind of depth.

No wonder friendship feels hard.

During this month of June, I want to take some time to look at a different way. A way that is wildly different than how the world has taught us to do friendship. This different, wild way is the way of Jesus.

In Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, where most of the rock formations tower over you, the paths feel wild and other-worldly.

I love looking at how Jesus was a friend, because as the only one to ever live without sin, he is obviously the one who did it best. As someone who kept his crew united for his whole ministry, and then spurred them on to be the bedrock of the Church that we get to be part of today, I want to learn from him. I want to study how he brought people in, how he loved them through conflict, and how he managed to say the hard things to them without losing their relationship.

I think Jesus is the best example of a friend that we will ever have. So when friendship feels hard, I hope we will go to the stories of how he loved, written by his friends and followers who rubbed shoulders with him every day and eventually gave their lives up for their testimony about him.

What if this wildly different way of friendship isn’t so wild at all? What if it’s a lot more normal than it feels, and we’ve just forgotten or never learned how to do it well?

Among all the challenges that come when trying to develop deep friendships, the theme I see emerge is that we see friendships as being about us, about meeting our needs first. I don’t blame us for this. We learned to make friends when we were very young, and at that time in life we are still operating as though the world revolves around us. It’s natural, but at some point we have to outgrow that to be able to interact with others in a healthy way. This is expected in the workplace, in higher education, and in how we care for our families. But I wonder if we have ever graduated from that self-centered mindset in regard to how we view friendship?

My tendency is often to assess my friendships based on how they serve me or meet my needs. I expect them to make me feel good and when they don’t, TV has trained me to expect drama, to communicate with passive aggression, and to resign myself to break-up. The enemy doesn’t have to work very hard to wreak relational havoc in my life if the world is my template for how to do friendship rather than Jesus.

Jesus’ relationships were much more about serving others than they were about meeting his own needs.

For Jesus, however, his relationships were much more about serving others than they were about meeting his own needs. Some of his friendships were about meeting others’ physical needs, like when he would heal someone. Sometimes we too get the honor of meeting someone’s physical needs. Maybe we serve someone, meeting a tangible need, and then we are blessed by their friendship because of that. That friendship might bless us, but it wasn’t about us initially.

Sometimes Jesus’ friendships were about God’s mission: he called the person to follow him, to learn from him, and then eventually to go be his emissary to the nations. We get to emulate this when we meet friends while serving through church or in some other capacity, or while studying and learning to do the work God has for us in this life. When we engage in serving the Kingdom alongside others, it is really likely that friendship will come from that. And it will be a friendship that was sown in serving a mission greater than meeting our own needs. As long as service of the Kingdom and others remains a part of that relationship, it will likely keep momentum and growth. In my experience, when it becomes all about you, it will become stagnant.

And sometimes Jesus’ friendships were about showing love to someone who had been emotionally wounded or rejected. When he ate with the rejects of society, he wasn’t just making a political statement. He was caring for the hurt and rejected hearts of those in society who needed a friend. He went to eat in their houses. It wasn’t about his platform, it was about their need for a Savior. Instead of waiting around for a friend to come save you and meet your emotional needs, what would our friendships look like if we took the initiative and tried to befriend the lonely, the reject, or the outcast? Here’s the brilliant win-win: you both get a friend out of the deal!

So often we want to make friends who will meet our emotional needs, who will be there for us to meet physical needs, and who will support our goals and dreams. I am so guilty of this, but I am convinced that most of the relational problems in my life have stemmed from me not feeling like that friendship was meeting my needs in the way I wanted it to. Maybe I don’t want to reach out to someone because I want to be wanted. Or I don’t want to befriend an outcast because I want friends with influence. Or I don’t take a risk and initiate friendship because I fear rejection. Turns out viewing friendship as all about me is a pretty lonely place to be.

Viewing friendship as all about me is a pretty lonely place to be.

But there is a better way. The wild way of Jesus teaches us to think less of our own needs in friendship and more about how we can serve others. It teaches us to be the one who welcomes others in, rather than the one who waits to be served. It teaches us the way of forgiveness and grace instead of allowing hurt to rule our hearts. And it teaches us to trade passivity and aggression for honesty and love for our people. If you’ve learned to love from the world all your life, that might sound pretty wild.

But I wonder if you’ll try it with me and see. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be looking at how Scripture and Jesus’ example teaches us to handle some of our biggest obstacles to lasting friendship. Would you rather keep burning bridges, living lonely, and wishing for more? Or would you rather take a chance with this wild way of friendship? I know which I’d pick…Jesus’ way, every time.

Love ya, friend.

Your Sister, Kimber

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2 responses to “The Wild Way of Friendship”

  1. Step 1. Bake cookies and take them to a neighbor you don’t yet know.

    1. That’s a great idea! Who could be mad about that?! 🙂

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