Cultivating Meaningful Friendships

Cultivating Meaningful Friendships
We have all been hurt and let down by loved ones or a close friend at some point in our lives. And yet, every person has that deep longing for companionship and true friendship.Indeed many of us surrendered our
lives to Christ because He offered the unconditional, eternal and enduring friendship we had been longing for. We long for meaningful friendship, because we have been created in the image of God – who by His very nature is a relational God who enjoys fellowship with His people. Why is it then, that Christians (who all have the love of Christ in common) often experience shallow friendships with other believers and even leave the Church because of the wounds of a friend? So often I have heard Christians say that they enjoy better friendships with their unsaved friends and will never trust a fellow Christian with matters of the heart – because the believer will always let them down. This is very sad, because actually, a Christian should be one who loves much (Prov 17:17) and a faithful friend lifts you up when you are down (Ecc 4:9-12).

According to Webster’s 1820 dictionary, a friend is “one who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect and affection – which leads to desiring their
company and promoting their best interests.” Wow! How many of our friendships today in the 21st century can be described like this? Sadly as our world has grown more technologically dependent, and people have become increasingly ‘cocooned’ in their houses, the bonds of friendship have weakened and diluted down to mere acquaintances. It seems today that most people prefer superficial, easy, non-committal friendships to those that are enduring, involved and time-consuming. And yet we all desire true friends with whom we can share our most intimate fears, hopes, dreams and happiness with.

A significant reason why so many people have isolated themselves and maintain superficial friendships is because of hurt. Past hurts, unforgiveness, offences and disappointments have shaped the way many of us relate to others. We have become more guarded, less giving (and less forgiving) in the way we deal with others. It is an age-old scheme of the devil to isolate people and to allow bitterness to fester in their hearts, as this keeps people in bondage and makes it very difficult to reach them for Christ. It is so sad when we hear of Christians and non-Christians, who’ve written off faith in Jesus because of a friendship that has turned sour. In John 13:35, the Lord says that people will know we are His disciples, because of our love for one another. Is the world seeing the depth of true, meaningful loyal friendships amongst Christians and desiring to know God because of it?

I think people are battling to overcome hurt and disappointment in their friendships because they do not have a proper understanding of the different levels of friendship. Often one person may see a friendship as more committed than the other – and this miscommunication is the perfect breeding ground for offence. Social analysts have identified four levels of relational interaction, best illustrated as a circle with concentric rings.

In the outer-most ring you have strangers – people with whom you may come into contact once or twice, (such as a chemist, a bank teller etc) but with whom you have no relationship (other than being cordial).
Often these strangers become acquaintances, when you seem to have constant interaction with them. (This would include clients, fellow church members, parents at your child’s school, etc). An acquaintance
is generally a person you have something in common with, and someone with whom you would make small chat (hopefully sincerely!). The next level would be ‘general friends’. These are either acquaintances
(of either sex) who have gradually been converted into general friends (as you have both pursued a friendship), or could include childhood mates, family friends, people in your home group, etc.

General friends would be interested in your life to some degree, would probably wish you happy birthday if they remembered and would most likely attend your funeral one day. The next level of friendship would be
close friends. These are people who you spend a significant amount of time with, people who you would regularly socialize with or keep in contact. Often close friendships span years and have been formed over different periods in your life. (For example, you would have close friends from your childhood, from university, church, your children’s school and your work place). Close friends fulfil different functions
– some share memories and good times with you, others are mentors and share business interests with you.

Still others would be friends who share Christ and church life with you, whilst others may be unsaved friends whom you share family holidays and general social activities with. For every level thus far, you should have a variety of friends, both old and young, saved and unsaved, with whom you share your life. (Hopefully you also share the Gospel with them!) Studies have shown that long-term Christian converts have come to Christ through a friend…because it is only in the safe-bounds of friendship that people are willing to listen and to open up. The next most personal level of friendship would be your ‘inner circle’; your ‘bosom buddies’; your best friends. At this level, the amount of friendships decrease significantly as it is virtually impossible to maintain close, very intimate friendships with more than three or so people. Time just does not permit it.
Also, practically speaking, it is very difficult for you to walk closely with more than one or two at a time, or to be accountable to a whole host of friends.

Your inner circle should predominantly include Christians of your same sex. Why? Because your inner circle are the people who speak in to your life, who advise you on problems and big decisions, and people who ultimately shape you because of the amount of time you spend together. These friendships affect our physical dayto- day activities, our emotional well being and our spiritual growth. (Prov 27:17)

There are many tips to building true friendships, but space restricts us from going into detail; however there are excellent books available (like ‘How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie’) that will give you helpful hints. We encourage you to read them! The essence of cultivating meaningful friendships is this:

Meet the best friend you could ever have – Jesus. He is the “friend who sticks closer than a brother” Prov 18:24. Allow Him to meet your deepest needs and complete that relational void that no human canever fill
Be a friend to make a friend. Most people are insecure and stuck in a comfort zone – which means they are unlikely to pursue a new friendship with you. Sow friendship to reap it (Gal 6:7-9)
Evaluate what a person is looking for (in your friendship with them) so that you have realistic expectations and don’t get disappointed. If they want a casual ‘surface’ friendship and you envision a life-long intimate connection, you will be hurt.
Don’t give too much too soon in a friendship(i.t.o. sharing your heart) but, don’t hold back either and keep people at a distance because of past hurts
Communicate openly and honestly with your friends. If they have let you down, or hurt you with disloyal behaviour, express your feelings and then forgive
Have fun! Some people make very draining friends. If you don’t have many friends, do a bit of introspection and ask God to show you if/what you do that chases people away
Choose your friends wisely. Proverbs 13:20 says that a man is the company he keeps
Keep an open mind and heart w.r.t making new friends. Often God sends people across your path who you would not necessarily choose as a friend, yet they are more committed and loyal to you than those you want to befriend
Recognise that some friendships are seasonal. It is very hard to let go when a friendship turns sour, or just fades, but it is possible the season has finished for you and that person
Finally, remember that all relationships requirethe risk of vulnerability.