Helping Friendships Grow

Originally published Friday, 20 April 2018.

Every spring, I look at my neighbor’s yard with envy. Pops of color jump out from every corner. As the season moves forward into summer, more and more flowers and plants come to life. In every nook and cranny of the yard, there’s a treasure, some plant thriving and radiant in its glory.

My neighbor knows each and every flower, plant, tree, and shrub and what they need: when to trim, when to water, and which plants needs protection from what danger. Every day, I walk outside and see my neighbor walking the length and breadth of the yard, checking in with each growing plant and tending to their individual needs.

I, on the other hand, do not have a green thumb. Any plant I buy and bury in the dirt ends up dying. I start out with good intentions but before long, days go by and I forget to water it. In addition, I have no clue what each plant needs, whether sun or shade, fertilizer or not, or what kind of pests to watch out for. Because I don’t tend to my plants and don’t nurture them, they fail to thrive.

So it is with friendship.

In C.S. Lewis’ work, The Four Loves, he described different kinds of relationships, including friendship. He said this about Christian friendship, "In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." This means God has chosen our Christian friends for us. He has planted them in our lives for a purpose. And while God creates those friendships, we have to nurture them.

We all long for close friendships with others. We desire to have people we can count on, people who know and understand us, and people who will stick by us. But such friendships don't happen over night. While a friendship may start out over shared common interests, it won't go any deeper than talking about our favorite television show, the next race we registered to run in, or the status of our favorite team if we aren't intentional to see that it does. Just as a plant will not thrive without water, sunlight, and rich soil, a friendship will not thrive if left on its own.

We cannot expect a strong, close, and healthy friendship with someone we never talk to or see. We cannot expect a friend to be there for us when we are suffering if they don't know what is going on in our lives. We cannot expect a friend to share their hopes and dreams, their struggles and temptations, and their joys and laughter with us if we've never shared ours with them. 

Do you have a friend you'd like to know better? Invite them out for coffee or to your home for a meal. Perhaps read a book together and talk about it. Pray with and for one another. Share about your life, not just the facts of your life, but what your struggles are—those things that lie behind the mask you wear around other people. When we hear that other people battle against sin and temptation, that other people have been wounded and hurt by life's sorrows, that other people have broken dreams, we realize we are not alone. We are prone to forget that no one has it all together, yet everyone is battling something in their life. When we share those things with one another, we see each other with different eyes. 

Deep friendships take time and are often forged through the fires of trial and suffering. Just as a gardener gets their hands dirty when they tend their garden, tending a friendship may be messy at times. We'll have to sacrifice time. We'll have to hear hard stories. We'll have to walk with friends through painful circumstances. But as we take that time to walk alongside them through their sorrows, we show ourselves trustworthy. As we remind them of their hope in Christ and speak the gospel to them, we lift them up and help them forward in the faith. And that season of sharing in another person's pain will bear rich fruit. We'll learn more about the other person in that season than in any other and they'll learn more about us. Over time, we will each turn to the other to share in our mutual joys and heartaches. We'll look back over the years of that friendship and realize we have a dear friend in Christ.  

I've heard it over and over from readers and people I meet when I speak: many of us are lonely for close friendships. We want friends who know us and accept us. We want friends to share in our sorrows and heartaches. Those friendships exist. God created them for us. We just have to nurture them. We have to tend to them, give them what they need, and devote time to them. And soon enough, they'll start to grow and flourish.