Monday, October 20, 2008

The Friendship Secret by Carla Barnhill

What we need is both far simpler and far more elusive than a larger circle of friends.

There are days when I think I’ll poke my eyes out if I have to read one more article about the power of girlfriends. I read these pieces and I think I know, I know, I know! Friends are great! I want friends! I don’t need to be convinced that friendship is a good idea!!

I don’t think any of us needs to be told we should have friends—are there really women out there who doubt this? I know that the people writing these articles have the very best of intentions for their readers. They know we sometimes feel lonely and isolated, and they want to help. I get that. But the help we need isn’t a push to make more friends or strengthen the friendships we have—we know that already. What we need is both far simpler and far more elusive than that. What we need is time.

Nearly every woman I know—old, young, single, married, with or without children—struggles to find the kind of time every friendship needs to thrive. When we’re young, friendships happen naturally because we spend the bulk of our time with other kids, other teenagers, other college students. But when we get a bit older, we spend our time doing everything but developing friendships—the responsibilities of life take over and leave little room for socializing. Even when we do spend time with friends, it’s a few hours on a Saturday or a quick lunch on a workday. And that’s simply not enough time.

The solution, then, becomes far more complicated than starting a book club or taking a girls’ weekend away. The solution is to reframe our lives so that friendship becomes the rule in our lives rather than the exception. Instead of squeezing our friends in to the leftover moments of our lives, we bring them into our lives in a more integrated way.

Here’s what I mean: Most of us live in categories. We have family, work, home, church, friends, hobbies, and other little boxes into which we put our time and energy. But what if we made it our goal to get rid of the boxes and find ways to mix these parts together and create a whole life? What would that look like?

For me, it looks like my church. I know not everyone has a church they adore, but I do and one of the things I adore most is that the people I see on Sunday are the same people I see on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. We eat meals together. We go to movies together. We go to each other’s plays and concerts and office parties. We paint each other’s houses and help each other move. We babysit each other’s kids and know each other’s parents.

For you, that community might exist at your office, or in your neighborhood. And it might take your effort to bring it into being. Communal life doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when you decide you want deeper relationships and so you invite everyone from the church over for dinner—really, we do this at our church. Or you let everyone in the office know about your birthday party. Or you offer to host a movie night for the neighborhood.

If someone is moving, offer to help. If someone is sick, offer to coordinate meals for their family. If you can’t do that, connect with friends through a Facebook account or a blog—there’s something profoundly relational about staying tuned in to the little details of other people’s lives. Serve, share, give, show up. It all makes a difference.

The Bible is filled with examples of communities that live and function together. In fact, nearly every book of the Bible tells the story of a community of people in one way or another. Our lives aren’t meant to be lived in little boxes. They’re meant to be integrated and interwoven with the lives of other people. That’s how we were created.

Community—and the meaningful friendships that come with it—doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and intentionality to develop relationships. It takes a conscious effort to break out of our categories and mix and match the pieces of our lives with the lives of other people. But that effort pays off in a major way when we find ourselves surrounded by friends who know us and care about us and support us.


Friday, October 10, 2008