September 21, 2016

The One Thing You Need to Know In Order to Make Lasting Friendships

For children, friendship comes easily. They equate proximity, shared interests, similar age, and just knowing one another's name with friendship, and they relate to one another without a whiff of insecurity or navel-gazing.
As adults, we're the complete opposite. I've often wondered at this, because somewhere about the time I graduated from college, I became a ball of insecurity when it came to my friendships with other women. At times I wondered if I'd forgotten how to do friendship or if something was wrong with me. Sometimes I got my feelings hurt and wondered why other women were so difficult and scary and seemingly indifferent to me.

I say this as if it's in the past tense. In the present tense, I feel much less anxiety about friendship (and I hope I've matured a bit, too), but friendship is still just as complex and complicated as it was in the years after college. In fact, it may be more so in my stage of life.

Friendship is difficult. It just is. I hope that helps those of you who read my last post about initiating with other women and just saw one big linear formula (I go first = the start of a beautiful friendship every single time). I also hope that helps those of you who see people you admire on Instagram hanging out with all their cool friends doing cool things together, because friendship is difficult for everyone, including those women. Friendship doesn't just happen like it did when we were kids. It takes time and energy, patience, overlooking offenses, forgiveness, effort, risk, and, yes, even awkward initiation.

Friendship has never stopped being a difficult thing for me, but I want to tell you the underlying truth that has made it worth pursuing and given me persistence in my pursuit of new and longtime friends: Jesus loves me always and forever.

(Oh, here we go. The pastor's wife is bringing out the church answer.)

Before you click away, let me tell you what I mean. I have discovered that the only way I can go first with other women--invite, share, open up, welcome in--without also keeping score, demanding a similar response (if only internally), looking to them for a sense of worth and validation, or giving up altogether is when I find my security and identity in Jesus Christ. The only way I can continue to build and maintain friendships over the long haul, even though I've been hurt and I've hurt others as well, is to be tethered with deep security and assurance to the love of my Jesus.

See, what I've often done is wonder, "Am I loved?", and then seek out others with that question mark, looking to their response for the answer. In the guise of seeking friendship, my insecurities have led me to instead seek approval from others, which is too heavy of a need for a limited person to meet when we're meant to seek our security in God alone. We crush other women with our need to be liked and accepted, because what they do give is never enough. Because it wasn't meant to be enough.

But I've also done something else equally disastrous: I have been internally demanding of other women. I've wanted them to befriend me in a certain way, know me with perfect understanding, relate with me in a specific way, and be there at the exact moment I need them. Whereas insecurities say, "I need something from you, and if I don't get it, I won't feel loved," expectations say, "I want something from you and if you don't give it to me, I won't love you." So then when they haven't given me the response I've wanted, you can imagine my heart's instinct: bitterness, judgment, and discontentment.

We simply cannot seek the good of others or bless others when we're seeking only what we can get from other women. This is why so many of us have given up on friendship or why we make snarky comments about women who appear to have easy friendships (which is, in reality, no one). We also shake our fist at God, wondering why the good Gift-giver has passed us over.

Jesus said, "Love others as I have loved you." The first and most important truth that tells us is that we are absolutely loved. He laid down His life to prove that to us, and His is a love that will not let us go. For those who are in Christ, we are anchored to it forever, secure. We are so tightly tethered to this love that someone else can ignore our attempts at friendship, someone can hurt our feelings, and still nothing about our approval and identity is changed.

If we're to imitate how Jesus loved, which is what He said we are to do, I think we have to first look at our definition of friendship. Is it about someone blessing us or is it about us blessing others? Is it about never being hurt by others or is it about repentance and reconciliation when we're hurt or have hurt others? Is it about taking up our rights and expectations or is it about laying down our lives for the sake of others? Jesus was an initiator, forgiver, and sacrificer, never a demander.

If I'm loved with that kind of love, my soul has what it needs, and I can go and do as He did. Does that make friendship easy? No, it's still complex and complicated. But the women around me are released from my neediness, demands, and expectations, and only then can I enjoy the gift of friendship as it was meant to be enjoyed.