I had a conversation with a friend last night about the ebb and flow of relationships, not just in our DC area “young adults” circles but throughout our lives. This conversation followed on a Facebook “friend” request I received yesterday afternoon from a college classmate I haven’t spoken to or heard from in nearly three years. And this got me thinking about how often we forget to be purposeful in our friendships.
Of course, most people in our lives are going to come and go. We can only sustain so many active relationships at once, after all. Sure, we can look to some people as givens — our parents, for instance, and our siblings. If you get married, your spouse and any children you may have are supposed to be pretty set as well. (For simplicity’s sake, I’m not talking about the overall culture and family breakdown here, I’m assuming relatively stable familial ties in this.) But friends?
It’s easy to take friends for granted. Especially in the DC area where friend “groups” are constantly emerging and morphing and fading away again, we tend to glom on to this or that crowd for a time, then seek a new one when it fizzles out. That’s fine for weekend plans, but friendships and friend “groups” are not the same.
Which brings me back to a different set of conversations I had last week with different friends on the same theme, tied back to choice. Friendships — I mean real, person-to-person, caring-for-the-other friendships — have to be intentional, especially in these topsy-turvy, constantly changing single years. If you go for convenience in your friendships, you won’t be able to hold onto any of your friends for very long. I think too many of us look for love in only one kind of relationship: the romantic kind. But real love between friends involves real self-gift, and we can’t overlook that, or set it aside as somehow not important.
I’ve been amazed and humbled throughout my life, but in this year especially, by the plethora of wonderful friends God has put in my path. And now, as more and more of them are moving on to new chapters and new places, I’m touched by how regularly they maintain some level of contact with me. I used to think friendships all faded away naturally with time. Granted, moving all the time didn’t help. But more importantly, I never made the choice to stay friends with people after I moved away, and they did not choose to remain friends with me. We were not intentional about our friendships, so they faded out.
Of course, a friendship has to be based on something substantial to last. If we’re friends because we play soccer together or watch football or talk shop after work, or go to the same school, sing in the same choir, etc., the relationship will most likely fizzle out when we can’t do those things together anymore. And that’s fine. It’s good to have friends of all types and all levels of closeness. But if you haven’t really taken the time to choose any of your friends in a particular way, to spend time and go deep and really build bonds that can last, then I challenge you to do so. Look at your friendships now. What are they based on? Is it a mutual love of a thing or an activity — or underlying all that, is there a mutual love of a Person?
Don’t be afraid to be selective about the people you choose to get close to, either. My lifetime goal is always to “friend up.” Make sure your friends are people who will help you become better, even as you help them the same way.
Part of purposeful living is being purposeful (or intentional) about your relationships — all of your relationships. For myself, I realized recently that I was so busy trying to be “friends” with so many people I was losing sight of the friends I’d really like to keep as the years go on. I’m trying to pull back and focus on those relationships. I’ve had to select the few I will make time for every week, no matter what. I’m also trying to be better about keeping in touch with dear friends who have moved far away — even if it’s just a quick text message on a Tuesday morning or a shared post via Facebook, I want them to know I’m thinking about them. Ultimately I’d love to get back into letter-writing, but I’m afraid we’re not quite there yet.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve realized I need to work on is praying for my friends every day. I pray in a general way, “God bless all my friends,” but specific, intentional prayer for particular friends is so important.
Friendship is a two-way street, of course, as we all know. And the old saying is too true: to have a friend, you must be one. And in order to be a friend, you have to make and re-make that choice on a daily basis, to put yourself out there, to give of yourself, and to love with intention.
Yes, many relationships in our lives will come and go, but if you’re realizing you can’t hold down a friend for more than a year or two, look at your intention. Maybe it’s time for a gut check: dive a little deeper and make some firmer commitments to at least one or two relationships. Again, friend “groups” are not the same thing as friends. Groups come and go. But real friends can last a lifetime…if you’re intentional about it.