Over the last week or so I’ve had a few different things happen that have highlighted not only the importance of friendship with others but the variety of expression of those relationships. One phone call I had we talked about how hard it is to develop meaningful friendship and yet how precious they are when we do take the time. Last Sunday our family brainstormed ideas on how to take a conversation deeper. It has always been our family goal to be intentional with building and maintaining relationships but sometimes you have to be more intentional than others!
Meaningful Friendships take Time & Effort
It takes time and effort to connect with people. We have to pause from our tasks, and actually shift gear in order to focus on a person – to focus on their life, their pain, their story. We need to give ourselves physically and emotionally.
There are three reasons for this effort
- We don’t factor in people time in our day or week so we have to squeeze it in to an already busy day/week.
- We think it needs to be fancy, just right, and last for a few hours (like an event) and we don’t have time to make it perfect, so we don’t do it at all
- We are reluctant to be honest, real, exposed in at least some of our relationships so we keep relationships shallow (though maybe fun and enjoyable).
Looking back through a journal during a particular painful time in my life, here are some ways that caring and Christ-based relationships were expressed to me over a period of two weeks:
- An email reminding me of God’s faithfulness
- A coffee date (where we drank tea). My friend, who has little children, structured her family’s activities so we could have some chat time
- A family invited us for dinner, we sat around their outdoor fire and ate, talked, laughed. After dinner the kids (who are all now older teens/young adults) played a card game.
- A friend has just dropped in for a quick catch up
- I have received a cheery good morning text message
- A friend who I haven’t spoken to for close to a year, phoned and though we set out to talk for 30min it stretched to an hour!
- I have chatted with my sister on Facebook Messenger
- I have had time around the table with my family – both at meal times, and over a cuppa
Some of these acts of love took time and effort to make happen, others were quick and spontaneous but all happened out of a desire to be a friend. The challenge to me is to see how simple and yet meaningful these acts were and to grow in the habit of showing love in the same way to others myself.
You also need Openness
The thing is – we can make the time and effort to connect, but relationships can still remain shallow. One of my kids recently observed that though they have shared memories with a particular person they don’t actually feel connected to that person: they spent time together and yet there was no building relationship. We all know that any healthy relationship is a two way thing – we can only start with ourselves. First thing is we need to value relationships , secondly we need to be committed to being honest and open. Though that makes us vulnerable, being prepared to go there is the only way deeper relationships can grow.
I have a friend who used to ask me “What are you reading Belinda?” or “What is God saying to you Belinda?” I found this a very challenging and yet meaningful. She wasn’t keeping me accountable (though sometimes I found it intimidating when I knew the question was coming and wasn’t sure I had an answer!) she wanted a glimpse into my heart. It was often the beginning of a great conversation. We could have continued to talk about the weather, or happenings around town, but her willingness to cut to the important stuff built our relationship stronger.
I’m reminded of a lesson Jessica learnt when she spent time in Uganda. She came home saying that they valued relationship over there – when they said “Hello, how are you?” They actually stopped to hear the answer; they expected an answer, an honest answer; they made time to hear you. This is such a strong contrast to stereotypical Aussie – “Hi-how-are-ya?” and we move on not expecting an answer at all. It is really one word meaning “Hi”. Sometimes we do just pass by and say “Hi” but we cannot afford for that to be our standard interactions with the people we meet.
One thing that cuts off inviting a deeper relationships is when asked how our week has been, to give a simply reply of ‘busy’. This tells the person nothing: nothing of our activities and nothing of our emotional response to those activities. Busy means that our days are full, but infers that our days are too full. Our response hints that maybe we don’t even have time to talk about it! The question may well be the standard surface chit-chat, but if our response is real and personal, it is likely they’ll respond in much the same way when you return the question. When this happens we have an opportunity to get to know a person a little bit more.
Challenge: Next time someone asks you how your week was try for a different answer than busy, or when someone says busy in reply to your question – invite them to expand – ask them if it was a productive busy, ask them for details, ask them if you can help in any way…dig deeper!
Building meaningful friendships starts with me
So all these things are going through my head and turning over in my heart at the moment.
- A desire to build and maintain friendships
- A desire to be creative in finding ways to connect
- A desire to be honest and let people see the real me
- A desire to see the real them.
We are not made to be an island – we are made for relationship – we need others. These phrases can be a bit cliché maybe, but they are truth. We need other people. And other people need us. Of course, when we commit to having relationships with people we will be hurt and disappointed but we cannot afford to let those things be the building blocks of a wall around our heart. Through the love, forgiveness and grace of Jesus, we can show love to others and build meaningful relationships.
It is up to me to be committed to opening my heart, and inviting others in.
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Do you have friends in your life that go deeper? Have you found something that helps you move from shallow to deeper? Love to hear your stories – and tips!