Friendship is Hard (and How to Make it Easier)

It seems I am not the only one who struggles with friendship. On my blog, I recently wrote about these struggles (What a Nursing Bra Taught Me About Friendship) and women shared their own friendship woes with me. We’re all in the same boat, it seems. It all got me thinking: aside from the logistical issues of marriage, children, and work responsibilities that make connecting difficult, why are adult friendships so hard?

I was reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s thoughts in Life Together about Christian community :

It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.

In other words, we are not guaranteed or entitled to heart friends. They are gifts of grace, and when we catch glimpses of sisterly love, we must receive it as such with deep gratitude.

Bonhoeffer doesn’t say it, but his words imply it: friendship does not come easily. We tend to believe the myth that friendship should be easy, requires little effort, or, most debilitating, that we’re the only one who is having such a hard time making friends.

Why doesn’t God make it easier on us? After all, He calls us to live in community with others and to let our love for one another be a light to those in darkness. But I prayed to Him for years for a good friend where I lived and didn’t see His answer. I believe He allowed those seasons of friendship dryness so that I would not put anyone else in His place, so that I would rely on Him to meet my deepest needs. Through that season, I also developed an eye and a compassion for the women standing on the fringe longing for connection.

But I also don’t think I recognized how He answered my prayers. I wanted that one, catch-all friend, like the best friend I had growing up. I hadn’t learned yet that the rules of friendship dramatically change after college. Whereas I once lived with friends and moved through life in one big circle of love, adult friendships require so much more effort, time, and breaking through insecurities. Thinking my adult friendships would look like my high-school or college friendship, I didn’t have eyes to see friends right in front of me. I put way too many parameters on friendship: they have to go to my church, they have to have the same-age kids, I have to like their husband, they can’t be in a different life stage, they have to be on the same page spiritually.

Too often, I just waited around, assuming they would come to me if they wanted to be my friend. When we moved from that town, I saw it all so clearly, all the opportunities I missed to know and be known, opportunities that God had given if I had just had eyes to see them. I realized that if I wanted friends, I needed to initiate and be vulnerable more and fear and make assumptions about other women much less. By God’s grace, I got to start over and approach friendship differently.

Do you need to change your approach? Do you need to release your ideal picture of friendship and ask God to show you the potential friends right in front of you? Initiate, be curious, practice openness to people different from you or different from the idea you have for what a friend should be.

Soon you just might see relationships developing with women of all different life stages and personalities and ages, all gifts of grace from God.

Published January 1, 2012