Cultivating Deep Friendship

 
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A few years ago God revealed something about me that I was pretty embarrassed about: I don’t know how to make friends. When I tell people that, they usually laugh. Yeah… It hurts my feelings.

I know it sounds elementary, but I’m not talking about just finding people to hang out with so I don’t feel bored. God’s been showing me that there’s a kind of friendship that meets a deep, spiritual need in us, giving us the strength and support we need to pursue the callings He has set out for us. In friendship, He provides the healing, empowering grace that helps shape us to become who we were destined to be.

I’ve realized how much I need that, and God’s been teaching me how to cultivate that kind of friendship in my life—both with old friends that He wants me to take deeper and with brand new friends He’s brought into my life. I’ve learned a bit so far, and I want to share with you two things I’ve found to be important.

Intentionality

Intentionality is the conscious effort you put in to create space for meaningful connection. I say “create space” because the frustrating thing with meaningful connection is that you can’t manufacture it. You can’t force someone to connect deeply with you without tempting the line toward manipulation. But you can create the space for it to happen and invite them into it. Maybe when we were younger we didn’t need to make conscious effort to create space since it was there naturally in times like youth retreats or late night hangouts. We spent so much time together that those opportunities for deeper heart-talks happened all the time. We didn’t have to try—it just happened. Now, the connection that used to happen naturally will only come with intentionality.

What that might look like is texting someone to ask them how they are, or buying them a ticket to go with you to the concert, or inviting them over to your house to share a meal, or maybe approaching them to ask a more meaningful question about a topic you care about. Sometimes it’s even just showing up on time and staying until the end, without ever going on your phone. I saw this quote on a really cool middle school girl’s Tumblr: “Some talk to you in their free time, and some free their time to talk to you.” Intentionality is the difference between what’s convenient to do and what’s inconvenient. It’s saying no to other things you could be doing so that you can say yes to spending time with just that one person. It’s not complicated, but it’s not always easy.

To be truly intentional, there is always a cost. You have to be willing to endure the awkwardness, face the uncertainty, and bear the possibility of rejection. If not, the friendship will never have a chance to grow. You have to take that step; you have to create the space. Perhaps you could see it as an act of faith: giving your time and effort into someone not necessarily because you’re already great friends now, but because you believe in the friendship it could one day become.

Vulnerability

Dr. Brené Brown defines vulnerability simply as emotional exposure—it’s being your real, honest self. This is important because if you’re not being your real, honest self, you can’t experience truly meaningful connection. Sometimes we can get caught up in trying so hard to be someone we think need to be so that we can be liked, or look successful, or feel significant, or be in control. But that “someone” we’re trying to be, that persona, becomes like a mask, and no matter how much people say they love you, it just goes to the mask instead of you. With the mask on, you could spend hours and days and years with someone but not really feel close to them because they’ve never actually spent time with you. They’ve only been close to the persona.

To be truly vulnerable, it takes risk. That’s what makes it different from just being transparent. When you’re just transparent, you can say what you want to say, you can describe the ugly parts, but it doesn’t actually really matter to you how they respond. You don’t need anything in return. You have a measure of confidence and control. But being vulnerable is a relinquishing of power; to be vulnerable is to be in need. You share with a person your pain, and you need them to care for you. You show your insecurity, and you need them to embrace you. You reveal your fears, and you need them to protect you. And if they don’t do that for you, if they don’t meet the needs that you’ve carefully exposed to them, then it hurts in the worst way possible. That’s the risk of vulnerability: you can get hurt. But the reward is that you don’t have to fake it anymore, and you can finally receive what your heart’s been desperately needing. That hope is worth the risk.

The First Friendship

I’ll conclude with this: the cross is the preeminent gesture of friendship. In the cross, God bears His heart to the world, telling us that He loves us enough to bear the pain of death, just so that we could have the option to say “Yes” to him. He creates that space for us and invites us in, even if that means being rejected countless times. In a sense, God has even relinquished onto us a measure of power: He’s confessed His love for us, and how we respond determines whether our story will end in tragic heartbreak, or will spark the culmination of the greatest love story of all time. Perhaps the journey of cultivating deeper friendship was meant to teach us what it means to carry the cross, or maybe just another way in which God lets us experience His love like we’ve never experienced it before. I’m not sure, but it’s probably both.

Andrew Min is the Next Steps Coordinator at Newsong Church in Santa Ana, CA. He studied Biblical Studies at Biola University.

 
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