Someone asked this question in my cell recently. And it was sincere. I feel it. How do you go from not knowing someone to knowing someone or being there for someone? The prospect is daunting. And it’s more than just my cell mate. This is something everyone feels. I was recently listening to the Judge John Hodgman podcast (a hilarious fake internet court where John Hodgman, who is most famous for being the PC in the Apple commercials a few years ago, settles petty disputes between people who write in to the show). On this show a couple had recently had a baby and the husband wanted to make a concerted effort as a couple to find friends who were parents who would help them adapt to life as parents. The wife was reticent to put the time and energy into making new friends. It was a very interesting dialogue about parenting and how friendships form (there was a guest host so it’s not the same as the show always is but if you want to listen to it, here ya go)
Friendships form when you are young and transient so fluidly. Proximity is a big factor. How many of your good friends were in your algebra class in high school or on your floor in your college dorm? For folks that live close to where they grew up I bet the answer is “most of them”? But what about folks who have moved out of state? How do I make new friends when I’m totally new? The people on the podcast were Christians and they had a lot of friends through church, some of whom had already babysat for this couple’s 12 week old baby. The church looked good. The non-religious hosts were notably flabbergasted by that community.
The problem is that having kids or getting swamped at work or getting consumed by other stress tends to isolate us. Survival mode equals getting responsibilities dispensed and collapsing on the couch. There’s not a whole lot of time or energy left to make a friend or even maintain the friendships you already have. I think the Church often gets put in that expendable category and the community support that is available gets lost in the shuffle too. Church is a great place to make friends, and Circle of Hope especially because cells are, by design, anti-anonymity.
But making the time for others in our lives can often seem really hard, especially if we are wired to love our alone time. No one can get everything they need from solitude. Even those who are wired for alone time are also made for human connection. And if you are a Christian, you have even more incentive to lean into that part of who you were made to be, because it is in your human connections that you have an opportunity to share your connection with Jesus.
For me, it’s kind of what I do. I make friends. I don’t think I’m an expert yet, but I do think that being a Christian helps me do it. Because making friends is dang awkward. If you are going to really make friends with someone, like get beyond the acquaintances level, you’re going to have to cross a threshold. That threshold is sometimes just barely high enough to arrest the movement of the slow rolling ball that is your personhood. It just takes a little push to get over the hump. Other times the barrier is higher–your personal psychology or history makes you more risk averse, or the situations of you and your potential friend just leave the two of you more separate–the leap to friendship seems too far. Making it over that hump or across that separation is hard to do. It takes some faith. You could fear rejection, disappointment, scarcity…
Being a Christian helps me make friends because I get the stuff I need from a source other than these people I am trying to connect with. There’s less on the line in that awkward moment of becoming friends. In response to my cell mate’s question the other week I said “You have to say something sincere. Give honor. Be vulnerable.” Becoming a friend means risking exposure, putting your defenses down to some degree, letting the other in, or coming in when invited by the other. Can I risk entering that territory? What would prevent me? All friendship is spiritual whether both parties have a sense of the spiritual in their life. So if my spirit is secure in God, I am freer to be a friend.
I think identifying our need for true friendship is something in which God is very interested. How do you make a friend? Make friends with God and ask God to help you cross these barriers. Ask God to heal the wounds that fuel your hesitation. This sort of awareness doesn’t happen overnight. But ask and keep asking. Ask every day. I think you’ll get loosened up and opportunities to connect with others will shake out.
You also will need to do the practical thing of putting yourself in situations where you will meet new people. You can’t make friends with someone in your own living room very well (unless you host a cell or invite strangers over often for some other reason). I find that working together on something, being on a team is really helpful for my friendship formation. Let’s do something together. My best friends in college, for example, were those with whom I was protesting the Iraq war (check the pic above). Other friends have come from the work I’ve done forming the West Philly Tool Library, but most of all through the team at Circle of Hope. These are my soul friends. These are the ones I am bound to by more than affinity and my own time and energy. These are the ones I love. It helps that I made a public commitment to them at a Love Feast 14 years ago. That was a REALLY sincere thing to say–the covenant of mutual love in Jesus Christ–it doesn’t get much more sincere than that. You could consider taking that opportunity if you haven’t yet, or you could rededicate yourself to it if you feel like you’re fading out. It will be awkward. You’ll feel a little bit like an “ass-hat,” as my friend just described it, but Jesus will help you get over the hump. Our most recent Love Feast has stirred something among us at Circle of Hope that is drawing us closer together and closer to God in the process. That synergy is why and how we are a Circle of Hope. Let’s keep at it.