I watched as my niece and another little girl about her age took turns going down the faded yellow slide.
The five-year-olds had only just met on the playground on our vacation in Ooty. But when my niece went up to her mom, she introduced her playmate and joyfully announced, “She's my new friend!”
Their friendship was easy and un-self-conscious. They were both five years old, they were both girls, and they both liked slides. That’s all it took. There were no loaded questions or fears at the back of their minds as they held hands and ran around the playground.
But that’s not how adult friendships work, do they?
Making friends in your 30’s or 40’s is a lot more 'nuanced' (that may be a euphemism for complicated). We don’t want to risk being too vulnerable or too real or too needy because we’ve been there and done that—and have the battle scars to prove it. We’ve grown 'wiser' about making friends (that may be a euphemism for cautious).
But, as much as we may have been hurt by previous friendships, as much as we may have kept friends at an arm’s length, as much as we may build walls so we don’t feel let down again, there is still a deep ache for connection. After two years of living in semi-isolation due to the pandemic, many of us feel more alone than ever—but the sad part is most of us don’t want to admit it or reach out to others.
Why do we struggle with building close friendships?
The auto-response is: I don’t have the time. I’m too busy.
Busy is our default excuse. But often busy is a cover for fear.
We fear being suddenly iced out because what if they decide they’re done with the friendship? We fear being inconvenienced because what if they constantly 'infringe' on our time? We fear appearing too needy because what if they find us too much? We fear being used because what if they only want you to fill a short-term gap in their lives? We fear appearing too vulnerable because what if they trample on our past hurts?
But could it be that the enemy is keeping us trapped in 'what ifs?' so we don’t venture into the fulness of friendships that God has wired us for? Could it be that the father of lies has duped us into thinking that 'online' friends are enough and that 'real' friends are not worth the work?
I’m not advocating that we should go out and make our social lives way more happening than before. In fact, Scripture warns us that 'a man of many companions may come to ruin', but then it goes on to say, 'but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother' (Proverbs 18: 24).
I think, especially as women, we long for that sisterhood with close friends. So, what can we do to foster that type of friendship?
I believe that to make a friend you have to first be a friend.
The Bible says that 'A friend loves at all times' (Proverbs 17: 17).
At all times.
That means, even at times when there is a risk of being rejected, or inconvenienced, or used, or any of the other permutations and combinations that we conjure up in our minds, we are called to love our friends.
We have the perfect model of friendship in Jesus. Jesus risked deep friendships by reaching out.
He called out to Zacchaeus who was spying on Him from a tree.
He called out to Matthew who was sitting in a booth collecting exorbitant taxes.
He called out to Simon Peter and Andrew who were busy casting their nets in the sea.
And He called out to Judas even though He knew that betrayal lay ahead.
Jesus made Himself vulnerable to people who were on the outside, people who were nothing like Him, people who were busy doing their own thing, even people who He knew would reject, disown, and betray Him. He risked reaching out to them and initiating a friendship with them. Jesus could have easily accomplished all that He did without including a bunch of friends on His mission. But He didn't. By surrounding Himself with His closest friends, was Jesus driving home a lesson for us today?
I’m not a big risk-taker in life. You won't find me bungee jumping or sky diving any time soon. But you know what I can do? I can take a lesson from a 5-year-old and go down a faded yellow slide into a deeper friendship with someone. There’s one risk I believe is always worth taking: being a friend so you can make a friend.