Finding good friends can be a daunting process. Oh, sure, some people seem to slide quickly and easily into friendship in only a matter of days. But for the rest of us there’s questions and more questions. How do good friendships begin? At what point do acquaintances officially become friends? How can you quickly move to that “comfortable stage” where you can just relax around each other? And, why is making friends so hard?
When I thought about my own approach to friendship, there was something very specific I was looking for in the initial stages of meeting a new person. I was searching for some sort of magical moment of “connection.” C.S. Lewis put into words what this connection feels like:
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
You know what it feels like when you’ve been acquainted with someone for years, and done all sorts of activities with them, but still don’t feel like you really know them? And then there are others you feel connected to right away? That’s because with some people you reach that “You too?” moment right away, and some people you never do.
When it happens, this connection is such a gift. Who doesn’t feel lonely sometimes? And who wants to face life’s ups and downs by their lonesome? So it comes as unimaginable relief to find out other humans know what you’re talking about. About your deep loneliness despite being constantly surrounded by people. About your guilt at not being as good a parent as you thought you would be, or not being as patient a husband or wife. About your spiritual doubts that you wrestle with. To walk side-by-side with another through anxious times can make the path appear a little smoother.
Too much emphasis?
However, it is possible to put too much emphasis on this connection. I’m making it sound like the discovery of common ground is essential to friendship, so how can a person place too much emphasis on it?
The answer is, yes. It’s easy to think you don’t have anything in common with someone before you reach this “You too?” moment. I certainly feel this way at times. When I’m staring at a stranger, I can’t imagine what possible experiences we might share that could lead to a conversation. It’s too easy to give up before ever reaching the stage of a relationship known as “friendship.”
And I don’t think I’m the only one who overemphasizes finding this moment of connection. It’s been stated more than a few times that, despite having more technologies to connect us than all generations before us could have dreamed of, we are one of the loneliest and most isolated generations. And it’s not only that technology discourages us from meeting face-to-face – it also teaches us to seek out that “You too?” moment. We join groups of comic book fans, narrowing them down to the most obscure character in them all. We connect with like-minded cooks, sharing recipes with others who are passionate about our non-GMO, paleo, carb-free diet. Or we discuss the narrowest point of Calvin’s Institutes on message boards of people who agree with us. But in real life, facing real people, we can’t imagine what on earth we might share in common.
As Christians, perhaps we should consider if our friendship is really meant to rely solely on an ability to relate to each other. The first reply to this thought might be that with brothers and sisters in Christ we obviously have Christianity in common, and we need to keep that at the forefront of our minds.
But this neatly sidesteps the issue of searching for this moment in general. There may be a reason the Bible talks more about our neighbors than our friends. We are not meant to only interact with those we find something in common with. We are to seek this connection with everyone we interact.
We may not connect with everyone on a friendship level (and we know even Jesus had closer relationships with some of his disciples than others), but our knowledge that each of us is created in the image of God demands we give such a relationship a chance. And, perhaps, even if we’re not feeling it, the least we can do is treat each person we meet as a person with unique experiences that are shared with at least some human beings, and relatable in a way that could add value to some other person’s life, even if not ourselves. We may not be able to be friends with every single person, but we do know who our neighbors are supposed to be (Luke 10:25-37).
It does take work
Think about a friend you now know well. When you first met them, did you realize they would one day be one of your closest friends? You may have at least one friend that, if you‘d focused on only the easily discoverable similarities, you would have missed out on them. When Christians talk of love, they often talk about going beyond the externals to seek unfading qualities inside a person. In friendship – which is a type of love that isn’t recognized enough – we do similarly, in going beyond our initial impressions of “they’re so different” to seek out all the ways that they’re not.
The upshot of all of this is that building a friendship will require work, and you’ll sacrifice time perhaps on a level similar to that time you invest in family relationships. There may be long, tedious, awkward moments spent with a human being who feels as distant from you as if they stood across a canyon opposite you. They may not feel safe enough yet to expose the vulnerable experiences that you might discover they shared with you, and you might need more time before you’d share such an experience with them too. It may feel like hard work. But that should not surprise us, because we already expect to be called to sacrifice for each other.
This does not necessarily make building friendships appear less daunting. I still sit here intimidated by it, or perhaps even more intimidated than before. But there is freedom in knowing your weaknesses, and in knowing Who to turn to for help. After all, there is someone who promised us friendship even when we’re at our very worst. “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus says in John 15, “for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
We have a friendship that strengthens us to reach out and make friends with others.
A version of this article was first published on HarmaMaeSmit.com and is reprinted here with permission of the author.