Thanks to my husband’s work, we had the opportunity to visit Hawaii for the first time ever last week. I grew up in the Midwest, so I haven’t spent a lot of time near the ocean during my life, but whenever I am by it, I’m always struck by its changeability.
One moment, it seems gently and still, and the next it’s roaring and ready to knock you off your feet. And sometimes friendship feels this way too.
One minute you’ve got your friendships on lock. You’re crushing the coffee dates, texting everyone back, finding space for genuine connection. And the next, it all feels so overwhelming. You realize you haven’t talked to your best friend in weeks, you had to cancel another meet-up for sick kids, and you can’t keep up with Marco Polo to save your life.
It’s in these moments that I am reminded how very human I am. As in all areas of my life, I have a limited capacity for friendship. And so do you, my friend.
If you’ve found yourself feeling suffocated by the demands of maintaining strong friendships – too many playdates and unanswered texts, calendar booking too far out…it’s time to pause and acknowledge the mental load of friendship. Because let’s be honest, in the quest to “be a good friend,” we are managing many, many heavy tasks. These might include…
- Praying for prayer requests and following up on them
- Initiating time to hang out and scheduling a time that works for everyone
- Managing disappointment when plans fall through or guilt when you have to cancel
- Getting past the surface stuff and being vulnerable
- Shutting off mom or work brain so you can focus or managing kids while trying to connect
- Avoiding gossip, speaking kindly, and honoring God with our conversations
- Being honest about capacity and expectations of each other
- Managing group dynamics
- Keeping up on correspondence (texting, Marco, calls, Christmas cards, etc.)
- Handling conflict and disagreement well
- Getting to know new friends in authentic ways
That’s all a lot of work! So, if you find yourself a bit worn out, just from this one aspect of your life, you’re not failing. You’re human. It’s okay!
When we’re feeling overwhelmed with friendship, though, rather than shut down and totally withdraw, we can treat this as a warning sign to reevaluate our relational commitments. So if you’ve found yourself thinking lately that you need some space from a friend or are approaching friendship burn-out, here’s three self-reflection steps to help you process.
Step 1: What is my friendship capacity right now?
Take an honest look at how many friendships you can handle during this specific season of your life. This might be way less than a different season; it might be more. And remember, this won’t always be your capacity. If it’s less right now, that’s okay! In another season it may look different. Any boundaries you set don’t have to be in place forever.
Step 2: Ask God’s opinion.
He knows better than me who I need in my life right now and who needs me. Spend some time praying about where you could draw some boundaries and who to keep being intentional with.
Question: Lord, who do You want me to keep closest during this season?
- Who do I need to intentionally submit myself to as a learner?
- Who do I need to listen to more right now?
- Who needs me to check in regularly because they’re struggling?
- Who is a life-stage behind me that really needs me to show up intentionally in their life right now as a mentor figure?
- Who do I need to let go of because they are being loved well by others right now?
- Who does my spouse or kids need in our lives right now that might not be as important to me individually?
Step 3: Organize your results.
Give your brain some clarity and relief from carrying a load that is too heavy. I do this by thinking of my relationships as falling within three concentric circles of closeness. This helps me mentally organize who I need to be most intentional about, and which relationships I can hold more loosely in this season.
Question: Who is in which circle?
My Best Friends: In the very middle are my most trusted people, my best friends. These are the people I will tell everything to. The people I send dumb memes to. The people that know me inside and out. These are the people that, if I don’t talk to them that week, it feels like it’s been forever. I personally have a capacity for about two or three of these types of friends. You might have more or less. As you make your circles, remember to keep your capacity from question one in mind.
My Tribe: The next circle is what I would call my tribe. These people know me very, very well. Some are in the same friend circle, and some are from different areas of my life. Some are older than me and act as mentors, some are my peers, and some are those younger than me that I’ve walked with as a mentor for many years, so we know each other really well. These are the people I am intentional about pouring into and those who are actively pouring into me regularly. I try to keep up with these people on a monthly or bimonthly basis at least. My tribe are the people I trust as family and do weekly life with. My tribe is probably on the larger side because of the type of person I am, but for most this is probably between 15-30 people.
My Extended Family: The next circle are “extended family.” These are people I love and treasure, but they’re not part of my daily or weekly life other than a quick hello at church or around town. I enjoy a quick chat with them when we see each other, but they’re not on my radar to be intentional about “getting a date on the calendar.” These are people I have chosen to “let go” because maybe God has made it clear I don’t have capacity to maintain authentic friendship with them right now, or maybe I know they have another community of people or “tribe” that is filling that role for them. Not everyone you’re friends with will be in your tribe at once, and it’s okay to let a friend move to this more peripheral circle of friendship if they’re more invested somewhere else right now. Allowing people to move to this circle is the most helpful way to relieve some pressure if you’re feeling over-capacity in trying to keep up with your friendships.
I am a visual person, so at different times in my life I have literally made a map of this on paper for my own processing. This practice helps me realize who, for that season, I need to be prioritizing in my schedule, who I need to allow to be loudest in my life, and who I need to allow to slip to the “extended family” circle and let take a more peripheral role.
The rub comes, of course, when you feel someone belongs in your Extended Family circle, but they think of you as in their Tribe circle. This can be a tough moment, which may need to come with an honest conversation with them about your relational capacity and needing space. We’re talking about that in more depth on the podcast on Friday, so be sure to check out that episode.
But as far as your mental load goes, you and God work together to determine who’s in what circle. And once you’ve prayerfully considered it, those are your boundaries you can stick to. If you find yourself needing to have a conversation, bring to the table lots of gentle care for that friend’s feelings, loving honesty about your capacity, and a reminder that it’s for a season, not forever.
Sometimes though, we’re our own worst enemies. Friendship is both a gift from God and a way we can serve him and love others. Sometimes, service takes sacrifice. However, as a gift, it’s also something we need to steward through prayer and boundaries. No one is asking you to die on the hill of being overwhelmed and over-capacity in your friendships. If you try, the enemy is going to turn your self-inflicted burn-out into resentment and bitterness toward friendship in general. Rather than letting him stifle this incredible part of your heart, let’s be intentional about stewarding our capacity for friendship well through reflection, prayer, and boundaries for each life season. When we do that, we are freed up to be all there for the people God has put in our lives and on our hearts for right now.
Love ya, friend.
Your Sister, Kimber
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