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The Secret to Making Friends

How toilet paper and tears led me to overcome my fears
The Secret to Making Friends

Toilet paper doesn't usually make me cry. But it did the day I found myself standing in a new grocery store, in a new neighborhood, in a state halfway across the country from where my husband and I had lived for 14 years. I just ran to the store for a few things, and as I reached out to grab our usual brand of tissue, I realized it wasn't there.

What in the world?

I had bought this same brand, in the same economy pack, for years. How could it not be there?

Then I remembered. This wasn't my usual store. I was in a whole new world.

I was sure the people here must also have need for toilet paper, but their packages looked different than what I was used to. In fact, as I looked around, everything looked different. My grocery store had the small, handy-sized carts that were so easy to push while the ones at this store were big and bulky. My store stocked the store items in an order that made sense. This store had it all wrong.

My eyes filled with tears.

Oh, for crying out loud, get it together, sister! I thought to myself. I knew this was certainly nothing to cry about, but the truth was, I was lonely. I needed a friend—someone close by that I could wrap my arms around and that would wrap their arms around me. I needed to feel like people knew me, and see that glimmer of recognition when they saw my face and knew my name. It had been two months since my husband and I had made the move to the West from South Carolina, but still nothing felt like home. It had been almost impossible to leave our son, daughter-in-love, and beautiful brand-new grandbaby. It was painful to leave so many wonderful friends that knew our quirks but loved us anyway, who stayed up too late with us playing card games and telling stories that only we thought were funny. We missed our church.

But our brand new church was wonderful, and full of wonderful people. It seemed the best place to start. So when the pastor up front gave us a chance to greet the people around us, I decided to make my move.

There was a row of women sitting right in front of me, so I chose one of them, laid my hand on her shoulder and with my best southern smile said, "Good Morning!" She looked at me blankly, turned back to the lady seated beside her and continued with her conversation. I felt like I had been slapped.

I wish I could say it didn't bother me, but it did. I told myself she wasn't trying to be mean, and that surely I had just caught her on an off day, or in a busy moment. But I sat down with a hurt heart. And as I sat there, admittedly feeling sorry for myself, I realized I had a choice. I could sit in my misery and feel sorry for myself, but was that going to get me out of my loneliness? It didn't feel like it. I swallowed hard, and decided to keep trying.

Friends, here's what I know: Moving is hard, but it's a great opportunity that forces you out of your comfort zone of friendships. I was used to having a circle of friends and the comfortable rhythm of feeling included. What I wasn't used to was figuring out how to build a brand new circle from people I didn't know.

While I knew God was speaking to my heart, I also knew he had already provided. I wasn't the only one sitting in that church auditorium that felt lonely. As I began to continue to reach out, to smile at a lady sitting alone or strike up a conversation with the woman behind me in the bathroom line, I began to see them. They were everywhere: women who were alone, who had just gone through a divorce, or had a child leave home. Women who had moved far away from family and friends, just like me. Women who were going through painful life situations that made them feel completely alone in their pain, even when they were surrounded by hundreds of people. Women who needed a friend, someone to simply wrap their arms around them and say, "I see you."

So I made a decision. I would concentrate on being a friend, instead of finding one for myself. I learned to be honest and admit my loneliness so that the woman across the table from me could be honest to admit hers. I learned the "power of the ask." Just the words would you like to go get coffee with me? usually brought a smile and a light to her eyes that wasn't there before. The words themselves spoke volumes, even when they didn't result in a coffee date or lasting friendship. What was conveyed was I see you. I care.

I learned to be responsible for the friendly invitation, but not take responsibility for their reaction. Sometimes I was met with curious suspicion or just a flat no thanks. Instead of feeling hurt or getting mad, I tried to take a posture of wonder. I wonder if she's feeling overwhelmed right now and doesn't have space for more friendships? I wonder if she just needs more time to feel comfortable with me, or I wonder if her heart is hurting so badly she can't say yes?

I recognized some things in myself that I didn't know were there. When I was rebuffed or turned down in my invitation, sometimes insecurity would rise up. What's wrong with me? Why don't they like me? Other times, pride and arrogance would rear its ugly head. What is wrong with them? Who in the world wouldn't want to have lunch with me? I'm a fun girl! I also noticed an attitude of friendship fatigue, when I truly got tired of reaching out with a smile or invitation and I noticed the hard edges of cynicism and bitterness creep in. Oh Father, forgive me.

Here's what I learned: God had some major work to do in my heart and life. I had used my friends for my comfort and security, and even my self-worth. All the while God had been calling me to see me as he does. I'm his precious daughter, a daughter of the King! He had also been calling me to focus on giving friendship freely, without worrying about having my needs met. He would provide. And he surely did. About a year later, I found myself surrounded by a sea of sisters that brought joy to my heart. We knew each other's names and quirky habits. We laughed easily, loved deeply, and were always ready to scoot over and make room for that lady on the outside.

Read more from Sherry on leadership, ministry, and parenting at this link, and subscribe to our free ParentConnect e-newsletter for bi-weekly updates and encouragement for the trials, joys, and tribulations of parenting.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Sherry Surratt

Sherry Surratt is the Director of Parenting Strategy for Orange Family Ministry. She is the former CEO of MOPS International and the author of several books, including Brave Mom, Beautiful Mess, and Just Lead. You can connect with her online at SherrySurratt.com or follow her on Twitter at @SherrySurratt.

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