Statistically, you probably can count your friends on one hand. The average American only reports having two close friends. You could’ve lost a few fingers in an accident and still count your friends on one hand if you’re living the average life.
This is a huge deal.
You probably think you don’t have time for all this. You’re too busy for friendships. As one of my friends recently said, “I barely have time for my kids and wife. How in the world can I keep a friend?”
It’s an issue of life and death.
Proverbs 13:20 tells us that those who we walk with have an impact on our lives… good and bad. If we’re going to get better, we need friends. Proverbs 27:17 tells us that it is intimate friendships are one of the primary factors for us better ourselves.
Most of us are living in a relational deficit. I don’t think that’s because we don’t have access to friends. I honestly think it’s because most of us are horrible at keeping friends.
I’ve been blessed to keep a group of close friends throughout the years. Some for most of my life. I’m thankful for them, and I’m thankful they’ve chosen to love me with the kind of grace that it takes to keep a friend that long.
Here are a few strategies to keep help us keep our friends…
1. Choose ahead of time to love unconditionally.
Iron sharpens iron. That’s what the Bible says. Have you ever stopped to think what that means? It means friction.
If you’re going to have a lasting friendship I can guarantee you’re going to have a chance to get offended and hurt. Most of us retreat when those opportunities present themselves. I believe this is why most of us have a hard time keeping friends. I’ve seen people give up some of the most significant relationships in their lives over the pettiest, most insignificant things.
Instead of choosing to be offended, choose to love.
Offense is a choice. Instead, you can always choose grace, forgiveness, and love. If you’re offended by someone today, it’s simply because you’ve made the decision to be offended.
For you to experience the power of a lasting friendship, you need to choose AHEAD OF TIME to love unconditionally, because when the opportunity to become offended, hurt or bitter comes you can remind yourself: I’ve chosen grace.
When you choose grace and love first, it builds long-lasting, close friendships.
2. Create new contexts for your friendship once things change.
For a friendship to last it must outlast changes in context. You’re going to change jobs. You’re going to move to a new neighborhood. You’re going to relocate to a new town.
It’s not just geographical contexts that change throughout our life. Our life context changes too. When we started the church, I went from working for someone else to working for myself. I went from working a set schedule to working all the time (thank God it’s not that way anymore!). We’ve had three kids in six years. Children change everything, including your life context. During these seasons your availability changes. During these seasons the energy you have to devote to relationships shifts, too.
If your context changes and a relationship is meaningful to you, then you have to create a new context for your relationships to exist in.
Here’s the hard thing about this: It’s not convenient. It’s going to cost you. You’ll have to invest travel, time, and possibly miss out on other opportunities to create these new venues for your relationships.
You’ll have to give up that chance meeting with a client to fly across the country just to spend a few days with an old friend, but that old friend has more to give you than that opportunity does. You may have to give up an evening with your family to travel and have dinner with an old friend… not every evening, just one.
Here’s a simple truth: If you’re not willing to make those sacrifices, your relationships will not last. If you truly love a friend and value the relationship you share with them, then you must find a way to continually create contexts for that relationship to thrive in.
3. Pursue without prompting.
Every relationship begins with pursuit. You sought out your friend or they sought you out. You invited them over for dinner. They invited you out to go shopping. Either way, it was pursuit that brought you together with your best friends.
If you stop pursuing a friendship it will die.
That’s the principle that the Apostle Paul points us to in Philippians 3 when he says, “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (from Philippians 3:12). The simple idea is this: God pursued us. Now we pursue God. If we stop pursuing God, even though God has done so much to set us up to win in our relationship with Him, the relationship will still die!
For a relationship to last, we must learn to pursue without prompting. Most of us feel comfortable pursuing a relationship when we know the answers to the questions ahead of time. We ask people over when we know they’ll say yes. We ask people to join us on a trip or for a day out when we know they have the availability.
For a relationship to last, you’ve got to be ok with your pursuit not being reciprocated and your attempts to pursue seemingly being rejected.
There are probably good reasons why they didn’t respond to your text. There’s probably something going on that you don’t understand. If you choose to take their lack of response to your pursuit personally, you’ll become offended, shrink back from pursuing them, and the relationship will die.
Choose to pursue without prompting. Choose to do this without any expectation of them returning the attention. Do it because you love them. Do it because the relationship means something to you. Do it because, if you don’t… you won’t have a relationship with them.
4. Not every friendship lasts (and that’s ok).
Here’s the sad part… They’re not all going to make it.
Some of your best friends will fade. You’ll pursue them, and all of a sudden they’ll be busy every time you ask to do something. This won’t happen for just days, but months… or maybe years.
If you’re life-giving in your pursuit (not self-centered, not demanding, and not communicating out of hurt), it will become obvious that certain friends have moved on even when you haven’t. The pursuit will no longer be mutual, and it will become apparent that the relationship is over.
Remember, this doesn’t mean it’s over forever. I’ve had plenty of friendships resurrect out of what I thought were lost and broken circumstances. If the friendship is very important to you: pray over it, give it to Jesus, and release it to Him.
No matter what you do, there are going to friends that you lose throughout life.
This is actually something that you can thank God for.
Thank God that you had a friend that carried you through a season and loved you well.
Thank God that you experienced His love through another.
Thank God for them and what they meant to your life.
And… Recognize them for what they are: a gift from God.
If we guard our perspective well, we’ll recognize that Jesus is the giver of ALL good things. He is the source of our well-being in every sense. As the Provider, all of our friendships should point us to Jesus. When we see them that way, we can ALWAYS be thankful for them, even if the season of our friendship passes?
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What do you need to do to reestablish older, meaningful friendships?