By Rev. Andy Nelms
Creating friendships as an adult is hard. Sustaining those friendships is even harder. Between work, family, and the pressures of everyday life, “investing in friendships” often gets moved to the bottom of our to-do list. However, I believe it is God’s will for all of us to live in life-giving community. For Melissa and me, our friend group has been one of the most enriching aspects of our life.
Melissa and I have a friend group with two other couples we call our “framily.” Most of us went to college together, and the others have married or been born into the “fram.” This group has become like family to us. We don’t know what we would do without them! I know that not everyone has friends like these, but I believe everyone can. As I reflect on our framily, I can think of four important ways to create and sustain life-changing friendships.
1. Do something in community. Doing anything with other people helps create lasting friendships. Many people create friendships in college because college is such a communal and transformational experience. You live together, eat together, study together, and do life together. We see the same thing happen in the church. Lasting relationships form through Bible studies, small groups, or mission teams. People in these groups find friendship much easier to form because they have now shared a common experience. Do something in community—whether a Bible study, book club, or fitness group—in order to share an experience with others and make new friends.
2. Make and acknowledge bids for connection. Dr. John Gottman explains, “A bid can be a question, a gesture, a look, a touch—any single expression that says, ‘I want to feel connected to you’” (The Relationship Cure, 4). In order to keep a relationship healthy, it is important to make frequent bids and to acknowledge all bids, even if you can’t respond positively. Making a bid lets your friend know you want to stay in relationship with him or her. Acknowledging the bid affirms that you value the relationship. “Do you want to hang out tonight?” “Ugh! I would love to but we have date night tonight. Can we hang out tomorrow night?” Make bids for connection and acknowledge bids even when you can’t respond positively.
3. Ask for help. This is probably the hardest but most powerful way to strengthen a friendship. When we ask our friends for help, it creates a stronger relationship that could not have formed otherwise. It also creates a shared experience for the two friends to reflect on and appreciate. “Do you remember that time I had to go to the hospital and you sat with my family? I don’t know what I would have done without you.” “I was so worried about you. I’m so glad you’re okay!” Even if the ask is seemingly small, it is meaningful both for the giver and the receiver and helps a relationship grow deeper.
4. Share life. For our framily, this looks like a group text message. This thread is full of funny videos, pivotal life moments, sad news, and laments of the impending Monday. It’s full of the everyday moments of life. We all have a desire to be known and to be loved. When we share life with our friends we fulfill this desire. Maybe your way to share is a group text, weekly phone call, meal, or coffee. Build something into your life that allows you to share life with someone else so you can fully know and fully love one another.
Creating and sustaining friendships is difficult. It takes work and dedication. There are even times when we don’t want to participate in the relationship. However, when we fully dedicate ourselves to creating life-giving community, amazing things start to happen. Not only do we have support in those big moments—in the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the birth of child. We will also soon find that friendships make all of life richer and more enjoyable, even the mundane and everyday. When we have someone to share life with, all of life becomes better.