Monday, July 22, 2013

life skills: Eight Ways to be a Better Friend

    It's so hard to believe that in less than a month, I will be leaving for California. Though I'm excited to make new friends there and mix with a diverse group of people, I am sad to leave the wonderful friends I have here because I know that our friendships will change because of the distance, in good ways and bad.  As I prepare to move, I am treasuring the time I have with my dear friends here, and reflecting on the ways I have learned to be a good friend.
     Friendship is a hard thing. I don't have any close friends that I really knew since "childhood" - all of my close friends were made during or after sixth grade and onwards, when we moved to the area. I've had good experience and bad experiences, and God has taught me a lot about what it means to be a good friend and what I value in friendships.

So, without further ado, eight things I've learned from my friends and my friendships:

1. Pursue your friends 

(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

     One of the most confusing parts of friendship is the give and take. It's hard when you really love a friend and you enjoy spending time with them, but they never contact you and say, "Let's get coffee!"  I might really love talking with you, you might tell me that you love spending time together, but if you rarely text or call, I begin to wonder if our friendship is actually important to you.
     Pursue the people you love spending time with. Tell them that you enjoy your time together. Text them and ask them if they can meet up to talk. Facebook them and ask them when they are free. Pursuing time with a friend is a way of showing them that they are important to you.
     This doesn't only apply to friends whom you live in close vicinity with. One of my dearest friends hasn't lived nearby for two years now, but we're just as close as we were when she lived here, because we pursue each other. She lets me know when she's in town and I do whatever it takes to see her. We write letters, snail-mail style. We talk on the phone whenever we get the chance. She texts me to ask how she can pray for me. I post articles on her facebook wall, and she tells me what she thinks, and sends me an article in return. Long distance friendships can survive and continue to grow if you're willing to put the effort in.
     Pursue your friends. Make an effort. It makes such a difference.

2. Encourage your friends. 

 
   This one is really open ended, but that's what makes it terrific. Good friends build each other up in the Lord. Look for ways that you can encourage your friends while speaking the truth. Notice the things that they love and are passionate about.
     One year one of my good friends made an effort to come to my orchestra concert at the end of the year. I play violin at church all the time, but she'd never heard me play classical music with my orchestra. It was a huge encouragement to me that she came. I'd never had anyone outside of my family members attend one of my orchestra concerts.
     So when I found out that a friend had her orchestra concert on a day that I was free, I went. It turned out that I was the only person she knew that came to the concert that day - her family couldn't make it.
     Attending a concert, or dance gala, or play, or soccer game isn't the only way to support and encourage your friends. Tell them how they encourage you!  Tell them what they are good at! Write a note and stick it in the mail. Text them a verse that makes you think of them.
     Be specific in your encouragement. "I love the way you are passionate about Scripture - I wish I was more like that," or "I notice how much you love and respect your family and I know how hard that is for you," is more helpful than "You're a great person."

3. Be thoughtful


     This goes along with number two, but is slightly different. Being thoughtful means you take time to put deep thought and effort into the relationship. It means you go out of your way sometimes to do something you know will mean a lot to a friend.
     I make an effort always to remember my friends' birthdays. I don't have a perfect record by any stretch of the imagination, but even if I don't see them on their birthday, I'll make sure I write them a long note or get them a small gift. If you don't have money, bake them cookies or make them their favorite dessert or meal. If you don't have time, buy them flowers. If you can't decide on a store bought card, make your own and write them a note (or just write it on notebook paper! It's the words that count, not the card.). Get them a small gift - for Christmas, for their birthday, just because it made you think of them. If you're indecisive, or don't know what they like, take them out to dinner or buy them coffee or dessert just so you can spend time together.
     A lot of the time, I just meet up with a friend and we catch up. But Starbucks dates can start to blend together, so if you have time, mix it up! Go for a walk in the forest preserve. Go for a picnic. Take a trip to the beach. Go sledding. Bake cookies. Do a photo shoot. Have a tea party. Host a movie night.
     Those all sound like sort of lame, cliche ideas, but I've done every single one of those with a friend or friends in the past year, with maybe the exception of sledding.  The times that we went out of our way to do something special stick in my mind as sweet, memorable scenes with my friends.
     The point is this: put some thought into your friendship instead of simply going about it haphazardly. It makes a difference!

4. Speak the truth

     This is a hard one, because sometimes the truth isn't always what you want to hear, or say! But if you really know your friend well, and they are a Christ-follower, you are called to speak the truth into their lives.
     I really appreciate the people who speak truth into my life. I want to be teachable, malleable, able to hear from other Christians where I need to grow.
    This is not permission to say rude things. This is a call to iron-sharpening-iron relationships. I need the friends who tell me - "Jessica, you're over-reacting," or "Jessica, you want formulas, but God doesn't move in formulas," or "That's a cool idea but I'm not sure Scripture backs that up."
     That being said, don't make assumptions.  If you're worried about a behavior pattern or relationship or whatever it is, but don't know all the facts, ask.
     We talk about speaking the truth in love, and automatically think about confrontation, but speaking the truth isn't always confrontation. Sometimes it means confession.
     There was a point last year when I went to several of my friends and apologized to them. I had to be honest with them, that sometimes they'd asked me how I was and I'd said "good" when that wasn't true at all.  I'd been unwilling to be vulnerable with them and in doing so I had not only unconsciously lied to them when they asked and really wanted to know, but I'd done so in pride, not wanting them to see or know my own brokenness.
     Speaking the truth means telling trusted friends when you are struggling, asking for prayer, sometimes confessing sin. It means being honest and being willing to be vulnerable.
     Vulnerability doesn't come easily - nor should it. But your dearest, closest friends want to know what is in your heart. And your best friends should be those you can be honest and open with - not necessarily those you spend the most time with.

5. Listen

     Make sure that the relationship is two-sided. Ask what is going on in their life. Ask what God is teaching them, what they've been thinking about. Listen. Ask follow-up questions. Let them talk.
   

6.  Pray together, pray for each other.

     I love praying with my girlfriends. One friend in particular is so faithful about making sure we pray together when we meet up. It doesn't matter if we're in Starbucks or Caribou or out to dinner, we pray for each other at the end. It is a way of reminding ourselves and each other that our lives are in God's hands. Often we pray together at the beginning too, asking that our conversation would be honoring to God and encouraging to each other.
     Some of my sweetest memories with friends involve praying together - praying in Starbucks parking lot in my car while it rained with Demetria, the last time I saw her before she did her YWAM DTS; praying with Ally at the forest preserve; sitting with Kelli at Starbucks or Panera and praying afterwards, trying to pray with Geri when we both laughed so hard we couldn't talk.
     Ask your friends how you can pray for them, and then do it. If you lift them up to God, you'll probably remember later to follow up about that specific prayer request, and they will be grateful that you remembered. Praying with your friends is a gift and privilege - take advantage of it!

7. Honor your friends' confidences

     This may seem obvious, but there is nothing more hurtful than a friend betraying your trust. This means more than just not telling other people things you were told in confidence - though  that is important - it means knowing how to steward your friends' trust.
     An example of this? You don't always need to have an answer or a solution. Sometimes saying, "Wow, that's really hard, I'm sorry" means way more than, "Well, I think that if you were in the Word more, you wouldn't be feeling that way," after they just told you how they are struggling with staying in the Word. Your friends don't always want an answer or solution. They don't need you to be a Bible to them, or a theology textbook. Sometimes they just want an ear and a hug.
     
     When a friend comes to you with grief or sadness, you need to affirm that sadness before you speak truth. You can profane the holy words of God if you speak hard truth ("God is sovereign, he has a plan,") before you affirm their sadness or the difficulty of the situation ("That's really hard, I'm so sorry,"). Depending on the friend, they may not need to hear God's word, they may already know it, but I bet you anything they need to hear "That's really hard, I'm so sorry," or a hug or even simply a text that says "I'm sorry."
          I'm speaking from the receiving end; when my trip to Haiti was cancelled and I couldn't go, it meant so much to me when someone texted "I'm so sorry about your trip". And even though several people gave short sermons about God's sovereignty that I didn't need and didn't want, it was still the grace of God that they texted "I'm sorry about your trip", because I can count the dear friends who said nothing at all and that hurt much more than the well-intentioned theology that was misplaced.
     It's okay to not know what to say. You don't have to have answers, your presence is enough, and if you can't be physically present, an email that says, "I love you and I'm praying for you," can be the equivalent.
     And don't you dare tell them that they don't have enough faith. That's between them and God - if their prayers aren't being answered, tell them that you're sorry, that it's hard, and that you'll be praying too.
     If they're being vulnerable with you, honor that. Don't make judgement calls about their heart, just love them. And offer your own vulnerability too.
      Be a good steward of your friends' trust. Treat them with respect and as a person when they are vulnerable and offer your own vulnerability in return.

8. Challenge your friends to do hard things with you. (Spur one another on toward Christ)

     One of my favorite passages of the Bible is Romans 12:9-21, and I love verse 10: "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord."
     My sister encourages me to read good books, hard books. Demi encourages me to pray more, to pursue people whole-heartedly, she challenges me to be more spontaneous. Ally and I encourage each other to understand what it means to be a woman of God, to forgive, to be in relationship with other Christians. Kelli encourages me to be patient, long-suffering. They all make me want to be sold out for Jesus, and it's rarely because they say I should. It's just because they live their lives that way. Demi's faith makes me eager to step out in faith and trust God's providence. Kelli's long-suffering and patience and kindness in the midst of difficult circumstances teaches me to have joy no matter what's happening in my life. Ally's faithful and gentle love and her extravagant dreams motivate me toward gentleness, reasonableness, dreaming big.
     Sometimes it is spoken - a friend and I doing bible-study together; my sister and I memorizing scripture together. But it can often be unspoken encouragement and chastisement.
     Good friends seek the Lord together. They encourage each other to do hard things.

The point is this - pursue your friends. Be thoughtful. Speak the truth, but also encourage. Challenge each other, pray for and with each other, be honest with each other.
     This is timely because due to the swift advancement of social media, we're deceived by our feeling of social connections. People are more lonely than before and we long for meaningful interactions. I pray that you would find friends who would pursue you, that you would make fun memories together, pray for each other and spur one another on toward Christ.
     Christians are called to community, and good friendship can challenge and encourage you in your relationship with Christ. I pray that you would find the timeless beauty of a vulnerable and challenging community.

     "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."

What have you learned about friendship? What would you add?

1 comment:

  1. This is some super great advice! Thank you for sharing. With life moving at such a crazy fast pace, it is good to have these reminders of how to nourish our friendships. Bravo!

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