Have you ever been at a work party, for example, where you know everyone that you see but you don’t really know the people deeply, nor they you? They’re your "work friends". They're people you see when on the job. But some are people you really enjoy and wish to know better.
Or perhaps you’re fresh to a new community and look to make connections and invest in relationships, but so far the going’s been tough. People keep to themselves. Being new, it’s hard to be the one to venture out and forge connections with strangers. Maybe you’ve made casual friends with a bunch of people, seeing them at the occasional happy hour or sports event, but you’re really yearning for deeper connection and more meaningful friendship with them.
Friends! We want and need friends! “A friend loves at all times” (Prob. 17:17), and the love of friends is the unsung balm and joy and grounding force in our lives. It’s when we don’t have connection we really feel our need for it. Friends can stick closer than a brother, after all (Prov. 18:24). So, how can one cultivate friendships with others and invest in deeper connections?
It’s important to be intentional about reaching out. Make your friends and friendships a priority. Like any relationship, a friendship can’t grow if you don’t invest in and make time for it. Sometimes we get too inside our heads about how we’re coming across. Do I sound too eager? Am I being overly earnest? Am I freaking them out? Being intentional and clear about wanting to spend time with friends is not a faux pas. If the people you are seeking to invest in are mature enough and receptive to cultivating a friendship with you, they will appreciate you leading with intentionality and clarity. Offer clear invitations with clear intentions. “We’re going to a basketball game, you want to come? We’re going for happy hour after work, wanna join? What are you doing this weekend? Hiking: up for it? Wanna come over dinner? I made a lot.”
If the person is not interested, they’ll let you know as much. If they can’t meet you where you are or they’re not in a place to invest in the friendship at the same level you would like, that is ok. Bless them and move on. There are friends out there waiting for you and your attention and love. If they are interested however, then you’ve just found a new soul to grow with and a potential adventure buddy with whom to spend your time.
If you’ve made a new friend and are enjoying their company enough to want to engage deeper in the friendship, invest in spending time together. Whatever that looks like—your place, their place, on an outing, doing an activity, doing nothing—whatever it is your friendship looks like. Time together is the fertile ground for friendships to grow. Make space to have that time together. Set it in the calendar, or just hang out at each other’s houses unplanned- whatever suits your friendship.
Whatever you do with your friend that brings you joy, do it! The most basic way to build a friendship is to do fun things together. Play games, play sports, make food, create art. Whatever leisure activities you both enjoy, do things shoulder to shoulder. It doesn’t have to be all face to face seriousness and deep conversations all the time. Silliness and frivolity are good medicine for our souls and our friendships. Make space for joy that you bring to each other’s lives, even if it’s as simple as just carving out time in your week to be present with each other.
When you do talk, have meaningful conversations so you can share more of yourselves and deepen your bond. Ask your friends questions. And listen when they answer.
For example, you can gather your friends for a casual evening together. Keep it simple. Ask everyone to bring something to share so you’re not having to prepare a bunch of food for everyone. Make the space in your home, or, if you can’t host, go to a neutral open space (think picnic in a park). Or ask another friend who can to host. When gathered, give people time to hang out and chill and chat.
Then, set the space and gather everyone to move into intentional conversation time. This may feel awkward or ‘forced’ at first, but go with it. Make it a game, and it will feel fine in a moment. Establish that this is a safe space and people are welcome to share what they would like, asking everyone to respect what everyone says. You may ask for confidentiality, expecting what’s said here stays here. Then, jump into the conversation starters and questions.
Questions you can go around asking each person to answer:
These little conversation starters are great for getting to know your friends on a deeper level than you might achieve in just everyday casual conversation. Lead the way by being vulnerable and sharing honestly and openly. It’s lovely to learn these things about people we love and in an intentional space and time.
Good friends bear one another's burdens that is how we live out the love of Jesus (Gal 6:2). Love each other. Be invested in the lives of your friends. Let them know how you appreciate them, what goodness they bring to your life. Encourage one another. Pay attention. If they have a big event coming up in their life, a quick text to let them know you’re thinking of them goes a long way. Check in with your friends. If you have a friend who’s having a hard time, let them know that you are there for them. Pray for your friends. You can intercede for them. Accepting support and asking your friends to pray for you are powerful and meaningful ways to receive love from your friends.
Don’t take friendships for granted, that they’ll always be there. Friendships are living things, and when they aren’t tended to, they can die, like any other living thing. Give your friendships the time and attention they require and deserve. You and your friend will thank you for it. “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: if either of them fall down, one can help the other up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10). Friendship is a gift of God. You deserve good friends. To help you stand, help you up when you fall, and to walk with you. And you for them. May you always be a good friend to yourself, learning to let unhealthy relationships go. And may you learn to recognize when a good friend has entered your life and discern how to nurture that relationship.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra