‘A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’
I was very blessed to recently spend a week in South Australia with two of my all time favourite friends! Even when you can’t see friends face to face, friendships can remain steadfast and strong and in this blog we’ll look at how to build these kinds of friendships. Many of the factors that build friendship have already been mentioned in some way in the last blog when looking at what kills friendship so this is just an expansion on some of those ideas.
Any relationship is based on communication. Good communication isn’t just the exchange of information but is a ‘successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings’ (Oxford English Dictionary) and can be non-verbal as well as verbal. Feelings can be hard to communicate, especially negative ones and finding ways of developing communication so that there is mutual understanding is a must. Here’s some tips for good communication!
James 1:19 says ‘Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.’ The first tip is to be a good listener! Communication is not all about talking but, for understanding to develop between people, listening is a must. Listening is making sure you understand what the person is communicating, rather than just hearing what is being spoken. Sometimes all people want is a person to listen to them rather than ‘fix them’ with advice. Listening demonstrates love and helps a person develop empathy and is a wonderful gift to give. ‘If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame’ (Proverbs 18:13).
Have you every heard the saying ‘honesty is the best policy’? Well it’s true, even if you’re afraid that you might hurt the feelings of your friend. Honesty doesn’t mean being ‘brutal’ in truth telling. It’s about ‘speaking the truth in love’ (Ephesians 4:15) and as Paul says later on in Ephesians 4 ‘…having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another.’ As Christians, we are actually united as one in the body of Christ and if we are to build strong and lasting relationships then truth telling is a must. I know on more than one occasion I’ve had to share some ‘hard truths’ with friends, or I’ve been on the receiving end, but our friendship has grown stronger as a result. It might hurt for a while, but in the end, your friends will look back and be grateful for your honesty at a time when they may have not seen something that was impacting you. If you’re in a season where you are dealing with things in your life and you feel you don’t have the capacity for certain friendships, be honest about that too! It’s better to let the person know that you might not have the capacity to be there for them or to maintain the friendship than to give them false hope or worse, ignore them altogether. Truth telling can be hard, but it’s always worth it!
Keep emotions in check
I’m sure you’ve heard the verse ‘do not let the sun go down while you are angry’ (Eph 4:26). We all say things in the heat of the moment at times but make sure you don’t communicate about important things while your emotions are still raised. But nevertheless, it’s still important that you address things in your relationship that are upsetting. Obviously, you may not be able to address things ‘before the sun goes down’ but it’s the principal that counts here. Make sure you quickly address any areas of upset, confusion, or pain.
2. Quality time
Quality time was one of the aspects mentioned in the ‘I love you’ section last time. This could be a stand alone feature I believe. What does ‘quality time’ look like? Does it always mean being with the person? Quality time is not so much about the length of time you spend with someone, but the depth you go to when you are with them. Not being with someone is person doesn’t mean you can’t have quality time with them. The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard in so many ways as restrictions have isolated people physically, but ‘quality’ time can happen through different technological platforms as well as in person. Yes, it’s not the same but having a good phone call or FaceTime is just as valuable when you can’t connect in person, whether it be because of government restrictions or because you live in different locations from each other. How can you go deeper in your time together? Why not try asking some questions that you might not have thought of before, such as ‘what are you celebrating this week? What has been your greatest challenge this week? How can I support you at the moment?’
3. Open Heartedness/Humility
'We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return (I speak to you as children) widen your hearts also' (2 Cor 6:11-13).
Sometimes, because of negative past experience, we can guard our heart unnecessarily. While it’s important that we take time to see if someone is trustworthy, to make and build good friendships we need to open our hearts to people so we can be loved and to love in return. It also requires humility to allow people to see the real ‘you’, mess and all, rather than have a facade of ‘all is good in my world’. Of course there will be times when it is 'all good in my world' but there will also be a lot of times when it is not. Real friendship is about being transparent and ‘real’ with one another because part of the joy of friendship is being totally accepted for who you are. If there’s any part of you that feels shame for ‘the real you’ then you need to take it to the cross of Christ and leave it there and remember ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Rom 8:1). Vulnerability is one of the hardest things but one of the most freeing things and a beautiful gift to give to a friend.
4. Keeping confidence
As mentioned last week, breaking trust is a total friendship killer so to build a good friendship we need to be totally trustworthy and keep the confidence of our friends. If your friend tells you to keep something to yourself then make sure you do that! If they share something with you that makes you especially concerned for their wellbeing, then you may need to let them know that if they share anything with you that makes you concerned about their physical or mental safety, or information that could endanger others, then you may not be able to keep your word. For example, if your friend discloses to you that they feel like self-harming, you may have to let them know that you are going to share that with someone that can help give you and them advice and prayer. Sometimes disclosing to others doesn’t mean you need to share all the details either but just what is needed to help you be able to support your friend. But in general, what is shared with you in confidence MUST be held in confidence.
I believe availability is one of the best ways to show a friend that you love them! Or to love, anyone, for that matter. Back to my friend, Bob Goff (well, he’s not my friend but maybe one day he will be). He makes himself so available that he leaves his phone number and email address in the back of his books! I actually tested his word out once and emailed him, and sure enough, he emailed back! We live in a ‘busy’ world but if you feel like you’re running a million miles an hour and don’t have ‘time’ for your friends even, then maybe you need to take a step back and look at your priorities. Availability doesn’t mean ‘co-dependence’. It means that you are free to answer a phone call, or call back. It means that if your friend is going through a hard time, thinking of how you can best support them. It means, if they ask you to pray about something, you’ll do it with diligence. Availability means making room in your life for the incidentals and not having every minute of every day planned out. Availability means priority of ‘relationship’ over ‘task’. Yes, tasks need to get done, but I believe as you make yourself available, those tasks that you thought were of vital importance may become less so. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in this area. He’s a very good teacher.
Remember in the last blog I said unreliability was a friendship killer! Well the opposite of that to build friendship is, of course, ‘reliability’. Following through with your word is essential to help build trust in a friendship. See what I wrote about that here.
I could’t do a blog about friendship without mentioning prayer! Prayer is utmost dependence upon God; seeking, listening, petitioning, co-labouring. You want to know how to build a good friendship? Ask God what that looks like! After all, Jesus no longer calls us servants but ‘friends’ so I think He knows a thing or two about good friendship. Not only should we seek Him about what it means to be a good friend, but praying with and for your friends is one of the best ways to build friendship! Just as you build intimacy with God through prayer, you also build intimacy with your friends as you pray together. This is where vulnerability comes out and hearts connect spirit to spirit. Plus, praying is fun! If you don’t believe me, pray until you get that revelation!
Last, but definitely not least, to build a good friendship you need to have FUN together! Fun may look different for different friendships but find out what you enjoy with certain friends and make room for that in your friendship. It could be playing a game, or going to a movie or sharing a hobby, something that will bring lightness and refreshment to you both as you do that thing. I have several friends who love birds, so we share our enjoyment of that together. There are so many things in this beautiful world that God has given us to enjoy, so make sure you enjoy it - and of course, make sure it’s good, ‘clean’ fun. ‘A cheerful heart is good medicine’ (Proverbs 17:22a).
Well that’s it for this two part series on friendship! Friends are such a blessing from the Lord and, as the Proverb declares, we don't need many companions in this journey, just a few good friends that will be steadfast and true. How can you work on building good friendships this week or this month? As always, I’d love to hear your feedback so feel free to get in touch!
Be blessed as you bless others.