Yesterday the Guardian carried an article: “Loneliness isn’t inevitable – a guide to making new friends as an adult“. The article recognises that loneliness is a big issue:
According to a recent study by the Red Cross in partnership with Co-op, more than nine million adults in the UK are often or always lonely. We are facing a loneliness epidemic, with Theresa May taking the step earlier this year of appointing Tracey Crouch as what some have dubbed the “minister for loneliness” to try to tackle the issue.
The article then goes on to say that friendships are important in combatting loneliness – but they can be difficult to form as adults.
Clinical psychologist Linda Blair agrees that this can be difficult to achieve: “Usually the basis of making a friend is a shared experience.” These are often in abundance in our earlier years, but once those easy opportunities are gone, you can forget that the initial basis for a friendship is to have a similar passion or interest. Joining a group or class based on something you really love, or volunteering for something you care about, can be a great first step for finding friendships, she advises.
The article then looks at the experience of a few people who have found friends in adult life, and concludes with some tips about finding friends from Linda Blair. Her tips made me think of how I would put it with Friend Zone – there are a few key differences as well as similarities.
Her tips, and my response:
Build your self-confidence.
She says: “When you’re comfortable with yourself, it shines out of you.” She seems to be saying, “Make sure that you’re an attractive person – the kind of person someone would want to be a friend to.”
This is probably the key difference with Christian friendship: friendship is not based on how much you think you can get out of the other person, but rather how much you can give. God doesn’t love us because we are worthy of his love – he loves us because he is love.
This is how the book of Deuteronomy talks about why God chose the Israelite people:
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. (Deut 7:7-9)
The Lord chose them because he loved them. Why did he love them? Because he chose to. God’s love is not arbitrary, but neither is it dependent on the worthiness of the recipient. God loves us because he chooses to love – not because we deserve it. And we are called to love others in the same way: Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).
I think this is hugely significant: truly deep relationships are built not on presenting ourselves as perfect and wanting for nothing, but rather as sinful, imperfect people who are desperately in need of a Saviour. When we let other people in to what we are truly like, that is the gateway to true friendship. Friendship is not built around a projected image of self-confidence, but rather a shared experience of our brokenness.
Find something you feel passionate about
Of course, if you meet a fellow Christian, whatever else you may or may not have in common there is one thing at least: Jesus and his kingdom. I’m always struck in church by how different people are – many of the people in church I wouldn’t naturally be friends with. We are a variety of ages, ethnic backgrounds, jobs, etc – and yet, our common ‘interest’ in Jesus is what unites us. And, in fact, should unite us – the church is called ‘the body of Christ’ for a reason. Paul talks a lot about unity in the book of Ephesians: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Where the church exists, so should unity (although it doesn’t always in a sinful world!)
I often think of Christian friendship as being about two people walking together towards Jesus – helping each other on the same road.
Put yourself out there
This is related to the first point, but I think here again is a difference in the Christian way of doing things. I would say – it’s not about promoting ourselves, rather it’s about taking an interest in others. Don’t ‘put yourself out there’ as a great friend to find. Take an interest in others – talk to them, get to know them, help them. Be a great friend. I remember reading a quote once which is apt: “I went out to find a friend, and not one could be found. I went out to be a friend, and friends were everywhere.” The second greatest commandment, as Jesus told us, is to “love your neighbour as yourself.” This involves talking to people, taking an interest, being a friend to them.
Meet in a neutral place
I remember learning about the importance of ‘third places’ – that is, places which are not home (first place) or work (second place). Church, of course, can be a good ‘third (neutral) place’ – most churches these days meet in a dedicated building (or community centre, school etc) – not in a private home. Relationships can easily develop in a church environment without the pressure of being in a one-to-one situation too quickly.
It’s important to find out about the other person – we already covered this under ‘put yourself out there’.
Don’t expect too much
Recently at church we did the Life Explored course. The main message of Life Explored is that only God can satisfy our deepest longings. If we are banking on anything human (or anything created by humans) to give us happiness – ultimately it will not satisfy. This includes friendships. Idolatry – worshipping something other than God – is real and it is destructive. The first most important commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – if we do not love him, we will be loving other things. If we do not love and worship God first and foremost, we will be disappointed by whatever we do love and worship.
Idolatry happens when good things become ‘god’ things – when the good things we have as gifts from God replace him. Christians are warned about these things in the Bible. However, we know that a gift can best be appreciated when it is received with joy from the giver – we don’t think of the gift as greater than the giver, but we can appreciate it for what it is. Friendship is like this: when understood as a wonderful gift from God, we can truly enjoy it for everything it has to offer.
I hope that this has been helpful in thinking about Christian friendship – do please explore the rest of the site for more!