During our weekly LifeGroup meeting Sunday night, one of our members broke down in tears. She admitted that the "I Got Your Six" sermon series had recently made her depressed, because a series on deep friendships brought into stark contrast her own lack of close friendships. Several of us expressed the same discomfort to varying degrees. While most of us were not suffering from her same level of loneliness, we all felt that there were certain walls we still hadn't broken through in even our closest friendships. None of us felt we had the type of friendships like those described in the series.
Was this a problem with us, or with our friends? We agreed that it was a combination of both, as well as life situations. One member said he had close friendships from childhood, but has lost touch with them since moving and getting married. Others said that it's just hard to know where to go to connect. I admitted that while I have some good friendships, a lot of the most important parts of my story are very painful and not well-suited for casual conversation, so I just avoid talking about them.
Though we could point to many reasons for our distance from others, it was healing for all of us to know that others were feeling a bit discouraged by that high standard of friendship set by the last sermon series. So I decided to write this post for anyone else who may be experiencing the same blues. Whether you feel utterly alone or just wish that your existing friendships went deeper, here are some basic steps I think we can all follow toward better Christian friendships.
I know you were probably expecting that one, since we plug it so often as a church. But we talk about it so much because it's so important. You're not going to connect on an intimate level or even probably make a friend at all if you're just coming to Sunday services. LifeGroups are smaller and you get to chat, eat, and pray together, so they're a perfect place for you to get to know people and for them to know you. Feel free to shop around, too; if you don't click with a group after a couple of visits, try a different one. No one will have their feelings hurt.
If you're already clicking with a LifeGroup but want to meet some more people in the church, consider signing up for a local service project. You might just meet some people who are also interested in the cause you've chosen, and you might find you have other things in common as well. We also frequently offer Bible studies for men and women and family events for folks with kids. All of these are great places to meet people and find common interests.
If you're feeling pretty well connected and can wave at a few friendly faces when you come to church, consider asking one or more of the folks you've clicked with to a meet-up that isn't church related. Parents have it the easiest: just make a play date! The kids can run at the park while you get to know each other. Make it a double date and take your spouses out to dinner (they might become friends, too!). Get lunch after service on Sunday. Ask them to coffee before work, or meet up for an outdoor activity on Saturday. Whatever you're into, taking that potential friendship from a group setting to a more personal one lets the getting-to-know go deeper.
This is where the steps get hard. Lots of us may have many friends we can call to go out to eat, see a movie, or go for a hike. But how many friends can call when, say, a loved one gets that diagnosis? Or you feel like you're at the end of your rope? Or you have a serious fight with your spouse and you wonder why you stay? Or you just want to climb in the bottle and never come out?
How many friends do you have like that? Most of us have not many if any, since taking a relationship to this level requires so much vulnerability on our part. It means we have to show others our weaknesses instead of just how awesome we are. It means we have to pick up the phone or sit down across a table and admit we don't have it all together. This step is always scary, but if you feel like you've found someone you can trust, don't keep them on the other side of your perfect social media persona. The next time you need help, give them a call.
It takes a lot of trust to confide in someone when you're at your lowest. It takes even more trust to tell them about those parts of you: those things about you, the things you've done, that have caused you the most pain and/or regret. That lie. That crushing disappointment. That deepest fear. That scar. These are the things you try to hide, not just from the world, but even from yourself.
This is where I get stuck most of the time, because I think I can get along in my relationships without having to bring those painful things into the light. But the truth is, I can't expect my friends to be the sort who can really push me to grow as a Christian unless they know about the sufferings that have shaped my fears and my faith. How will they be able to understand why that thing my husband said bothered me so much, unless they know about my relationship with my father? How can they really comfort me as I struggle with this anxiety yet again, if they don't know how that fear was planted in the first place?
Letting a trustworthy few into those deepest, darkest places equips them with the knowledge they need to help you fight your demons and rejoice in your spiritual victories. This is where the real stuff of Christian friendship should happen: openness and honesty and acceptance as we all strive together toward the same goal -- looking more like Jesus. You don't have to load the whole thing on them all at once, but you also don't have to clam up when the subject arises. Tell them about your story.
Are you feeling isolated and lonely? Are all your Christian friendships stuck at the same level? Do you have some good friends, but want to go deeper? Wherever you are in these steps, be encouraged. Just like everything else in the Christian life, our friendships are always going to be a work in progress as we strive toward God's vision for them, and nothing on this side of heaven is going to be perfect.
And no matter how many friends or how deep our friendships, our best friend is always Jesus. He knows us better than we even know ourselves, and still loves us more than His own life. Ask Him to help you find a group of friends who want you to love Him more, not just them more. And also ask Him to help you become the sort of trustworthy Christian friend who helps others grow. Be the friend you want to have. With intentionality and prayer, God will be faithful to provide.