“I just don’t fit in anywhere. I feel alone most of the time, except with my husband. I really don’t have any friends; I don’t have time to hang out with people as friends. We don’t really talk to any other pastors.”
I have met quite a few pastors and leaders who shared with me how alone they feel most of the time. Honestly, this shocks me a little, because so many people are pastors and leaders in churches. It shouldn’t be this hard; the potential friend pool is pretty big. The body of Christ might be spread across the globe, but God designed us to be connected to each other. Too many are feeling a little friendless!
Friendship is definitely different from popularity. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us are interested in measuring our own popularity. It’s a habit we started as children, evaluating how many birthday parties we got invited to or who wanted us to sit at their lunch table. This measurement of popularity didn’t really end after Jr. High; it just morphed. Social media provides an easy measuring system today. I keep reasonably close tabs on all my numbers. Hopefully it’s not just me. There will always be people more popular than me or you. If popularity becomes a measure of our own value, or our ministry’s value, we have navigated ourselves into truly murky waters.
For some reason, we church leaders tend to overanalyze our own popularity. On one hand, it’s good. Lots of people following us should mean lots of people are following Jesus. (hopefully) On the other hand, it’s easy to slip into Jr. High mode and feel the same way about the number of social media followers we have as we did about the number of parties we got invited to in Jr. High. Our absorption with our own popularity is not so healthy.
I believe that a big reason that so many North American pastors feel lonely is that there has been too much emphasis on popularity and too little emphasis on friendship.
When a super cool leader is doing awesome things in their church, we want to be like them and get in their world. It’s a similar concept to American celebrity culture. We get consumed with the lives of popular pastors and leaders just like celebrities—how they live, what they wear, what they do for fun, how they cut their hair, what they do to grow their church. There is nothing wrong with this at all. It’s great to be inspired by people who are doing awesome things. We just need to be realistic—we aren’t friends with them. This is fanship, not friendship. Aligning with these amazing, wonderful leaders is not the same thing as friendship. It may be a door into a real relationship, but Facebook friends do not equal real friends. (For the very few of you who had not yet realized this.)
We all need friends. We find such life and strength in the God friendships of our lives. I’m definitely not always good at being a friend, but I am learning. I have learned by watching some people who are just really good at being a friend. I have certain friends, gifts from God, who love me—warts and all. They have a God-given grace for me—for my weirdness, for my awkwardness, for my weaknesses. These things don’t seem to offend them, but amuse them instead. It doesn’t matter how badly I’ve neglected them; they stay loyal to me. They have become part of my kingdom family, an extension of my natural family through an unwritten covenant.
The common denominator is that they are always far less concerned with what they are getting out of the relationship than they are with the well being of the person they care about. Healthy friendships are not based on “I scratch your back, you scratch mine.” That is a good business partnership, not friendship. Real friendships have that Christ-like quality in them where we give without keeping track of what we get back.
There is a Seinfeld episode where a “friend” of Jerry’s starts working out. After bulking up, he outgrows an expensive suit and offers it to Jerry. Jerry feels nervous to accept the extravagant gift and says so. The man thinks for a moment and says that if Jerry would just take him out to dinner, it will be even. As the episode progresses, the dinner turns into more than one dinner, and pretty soon, nothing Jerry does is enough to balance out the gift of this fancy suit. Jerry gets fed up, and finally the relationship breaks down because of this gift.
We aren’t born knowing how to do friendship well. Friendship is a learned skill that we have to cultivate. It doesn’t just happen because we like a person. I have to choose to be someone’s friend. I can’t just be their friend because they treat me well, or they call me their friend, or because they make me feel good. If I did, I would wind disappointed as soon as they let me down, and the relationship would be over. Friendship is a gift that we give to people. It’s pretty hard to turn down genuine friendship. It doesn’t ask for anything, just offers love and acceptance. It doesn’t require validation or time.
When our friendship depends on mutual benefit, we will always be looking for how to even the scales, and resentful when it looks like our friend is giving as much. “An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends.” Proverbs 18:1 NIV
Loyalty is one of the most under-rated qualities out there. A loyal friend, who believes in you and loves you when you dumb things and cheers with you when you win, that friend is priceless. Real friends see the real me and love me anyway. They laugh at you, and you laugh at yourself because you feel affection from them, not scorn. They don’t make you feel dumb or inferior. Most of these people in my life are old friends, who have stood the test of time. Those friends are just awesome. You can pick up where you left off with them, like no time has passed, even if you haven’t seen them for a few years.
I’m fully grown up now, I think. I don’t have as much social time as I did in my teens and twenties. When I do, my first instinct is to spend time with well-established friendships because I love them, and it’s a guaranteed easy and fun time. I really have to intentionally make room in my life for new friends now, where when I was younger, it came quite naturally. I don’t want my world to shrink in. I want it to get bigger, to have a generous heart. I want to add to my friends, not stagnate. For us to connect with new friends, it’s going to take some extra thought!
My goal is to make at least two new, real friends a year. I meet all kinds of people, so that’s no problem. I don’t just want new contacts or new acquaintances; I want to be a friend to more people. I tell myself this:
Choose to reach out to the people you like.
Don’t feel awkward about pursuing them.
Keep pursuing, and choose not to feel rejected by what looks like the brush-off.
It takes time for people to get to know you enough to love you, so be patient.
PRACTICE THE ART OF MAKING NEW FRIENDS
For us to make new friends requires that we take the initiative. I can’t sit around expecting people to suddenly spark an interest in me. I have to be a friend first before I will have a new friend. Here’s what I have been thinking about when it comes to making new friends.
1. Friends are interested in each other and what they are doing.
The people in my world best at relationships intentionally make time regularly to check in on people, even when they are not involved in their everyday life. I’m not great at this, but I’m working on it. These amazing people don’t get so consumed by themselves and their own schedules that they forget about the people they love. They make time to think about and pray for friends. The age of the selfie and numbering social media connections has made friendship very self-focused in general. True friendship is externally focused, not inward. Friends are interested and ask questions.
2. Friends don’t pull away, funky and awkward, when their friend’s star is rising. They don’t compete.
Friends promote each other because they are excited about each other’s wins. I’ve seen friendships that got weird when one of them experienced greater success. The other person just couldn’t seem to get their head around the inequality of their situations. Without realizing it, they had been racing the other person. When their friend won, the other got sour. Jealousy is the enemy of friendship. Sometimes we allow resentment of our friend’s blessing to rob the joy in the relationship. Unnecessary competition is not worth a precious friendship!
Friends challenge each other, but they don’t compete. The Klitchko brothers are two heavyweight Ukrainian boxers who were a big deal in the last ten years. (My husband is into boxing, so I have picked up a few things over the years.) They are probably the best two heavyweights out there, and both hold major belts, or at least they used to. (You fight over belts in boxing. I might be more into it if they fought over shoes, but whatever.) These two brothers decided years ago that they would never box each other. If they were any random two men, it would be a natural paring for a great fight. Because these two are brothers, they don’t fight each other. They refused to let anything divide them.
“Iron sharpens iron,” means that we can be challenged by our friends’ successes and become better. If we disengage from relationship because we feel weird suddenly, then we miss out on the sharpening.
3. Friends lean in during the tough times.
Friends lean in during crisis. Lean in, even when your friend is pulling away. When I feel embarrassed or hurt, I just want to want to crawl in a hole and disappear. It’s human nature. Sometimes people push friends away because something is going on in their world. Those are the times we need to apply some grace and patience and just keep reaching for them. Lean in and love them anyway. Real friends pray for each other, in the good times and in the bad.
My husband’s best friends have leaned in with real support during his hardest moments. One of them told him, “Some people are going to spank you, and sometimes you do need it. Some people will love you and be for you, no matter what. I choose to be that friend.” That’s the kind of friend I want to be! “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17
4. Friends make time for fun
Friends have fun together. Fun creates memories, and memories connect us forever with shared history. I’m convinced that if adults will prioritize fun in their lives, they will experience more deep and meaningful relationships. Friends make time for each other. Life is more than the tyranny of the urgent and important. We need a little silly in our lives, and people to laugh with.
5. Friends don’t let anything divide them. They work through issues like family does.
Sometimes we make far too big a deal about accidental snubs. It amazes me how very small issues can sour an entire friendship permanently. We should be quick to let it go, yes, but be sure you actually can let it go and aren’t just burying it. If you can’t let it go, have a chat about it! It’s worth the pain of that conversation to save a friendship. Little issues have a way of resurrecting just when you thought you let it all go. You can be honest, without being hurtful. Real friends speak the truth in love. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiples kisses.” Proverbs 27:6
6. Friends are loyal, even when they aren’t sure their loyalty is reciprocated.
Loyalty means you don’t giggle at someone else’s misfortune, or tell anyone when your friend’s life is going badly. Loyalty means that you check in with people, even when they are sucking your energy away with their problems. Friends don’t talk about each other in a negative way, and don’t listen to someone else spill about them. Friends come to terms with each other’s weaknesses without judgment.
7. Friends relax together.
You have nothing to prove. You don’t have to be perfect to be respected, and you don’t have to have it all together to be loved.
8. Friends are sisters of the heart.
“One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 19:24
My relationship with my sister is one of my deepest and oldest friendships. It amazes me how when she hurts, I seem to feel it intensely. It’s not my hurt; it’s hers, but I feel it just like I feel my own. We have a heart connection. When she is joyful, I feel what she feels. I am connected to her wellbeing, invested in her happiness. Sisters of the heart carry the weight together. What happens to her affects me, for good or bad. I’m invested in her life, not disconnected or impartial.
I think this is what real friendship is at it’s core: to be so connected that we are unable stand by and watch our friends hurt, or be okay with their loneliness or their need. We feel pride in their success, and excited by their joy. We are invested in who they are. I believe this kind of relationship is what God designed us for.