It started back in the second grade when Katie asked me to eat lunch with her. Gladly, I accepted. Later, at recess, Lisa also asked me to eat lunch with her, and I readily accepted her invitation too, thinking, I am so popular to have two friends to eat lunch with today! I'm sure many of you can already guess how this story ends, but I was clueless. When I got to the school cafeteria, eager to eat with both Katie and Lisa, what I found instead were two angry girls and a place all by myself at the lunch table. Elementary school did not get much better after that encounter as I struggled to learn the "rules" of friendship.
I navigated middle school and high school with a bit more ease by amassing a lot of acquaintances, but not many close friends. My goal was to be liked, and to avoid confrontation. I guarded my heart and feelings, and moved on quickly from hurt and disappointment. For a long time, I wondered if true friendship was even possible or worth the effort. It was not until college that I began to learn what it meant to find a kindred spirit. It was only after having my children that I acknowledged my need for friends and actively pursued those relationships.
Maybe your friendship journey looks similar, and maybe it's totally different, but what I finally realized is that I do need friends. God designed me as a woman to function within the context of relationships, and that includes friendships with other women. In The Message translation of Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, it says:
"It's better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, but if there is no one to help, tough! By yourself you're unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst . . ."
Friendship is a gift from God, but it's our choice to accept that gift and do something with it. Dee Brestin says in her book The Friendships of Women: "Women who don't take risks don't have friends."
How friendships function
Looking back on my rocky start, I can see now that I didn't quite understand how friendships functioned as a youngster. Yes, I wanted to "be friends," but I didn't really know what that meant. In The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis provides some helpful wisdom on the purpose of friendship:
We picture lovers face to face, but friends side by side; their eyes look ahead. That is why those people who simply 'want friends' can never make any. The very condition of having friends is that we should want something else besides friends. Friendship must be about something.
A good question for all of us to ask is, What are my friendships about? As I began to understand how the friendships in my life functioned, I was able to become more purposeful in all of my relationships. Here are some categories to consider:
Public face: Everyday acquaintances and associates
These are the women you know by name and see on a daily or weekly basis. You engage in small talk with these friends, and share facts. You may have anywhere between 20 and 100 people in this circle of friends. This could be the cashier at your grocery store, the receptionist at the doctor's office, or the mom in the carpool line at school.
Friendly faces: Special interest friends and companions
These are women who you go below the surface with, and with whom you share your opinions or concerns. You usually have something in common that bonds you together, such as having kids on the same sports team, working in the same office, sharing a hobby, or exercising together. You will have fewer women in this circle—from 5 to 20—and these may be friendships you have for a only a specific season of your life.
Private face: Intimate confidants
These women are your soul mates or kindred spirits. You are blessed if you have at least one in your life (one to four is the norm). You can move to the highest levels of intimacy with these friends, and share your deepest thoughts and concerns. These relationships require time, trust, and commitment.
If we look to the life and ministry of Jesus, he modeled these faces of friendship for us. He showed his public face to the people he taught and healed throughout his life. His friendly face was for his disciples and loyal followers while his private face was revealed to Peter, James, and John.
A good activity for reflection would be to look at these faces of friendship and ask yourself these questions:
Do I have too many acquaintances and not any confidants?
Am I being intentional about who I show my private face to, and am I asking God for help in choosing those women?
Do I have a healthy balance of friendships in my life?
Understanding how friendships function is a critical first step, but how do we move on to finding good friends? The first step is to initiate contact. It really goes back to what we did as little girls when we called or knocked on the door asking, "Can Michelle come out and play?"
Yes, it's that simple. Join a Bible study or a mom's group, call someone and meet for coffee, or ask a neighbor to go on a walk.
If you are having trouble finding friends, you may want to try and identifythe obstacles. Did you just finish school, get married, have a child, go back to work, or move? Major life transitions can leave you with little time and energy for friends, but this is the time you need them most! Look for women in similar situations. Go back to your public, friendly and private faces and make a list of women in each group and try and connect with those women.
Other obstacles may include past hurts, personality differences, and busyness. My encouragement to you is to keep an open door and an open heart. Look for ways to multitask with your friendships by serving together, exercising together, or taking care of the kids together. Look at each relationship as a brand new start rather than carrying baggage from past friendships.
Lastly, in order to find and keep friends you need to invest intentionally. Schedule time for friends by putting dates on your calendar or to-do list. Do not try to fend off loneliness by doing more—connecting relationally takes time, effort, and commitment. Be intentional and purposeful!
Fostering healthy friendships
Understanding how friendships function, identifying the faces of friendship, and finding good friends are key steps to developing healthy, meaningful relationships with other women, but now we need to take a look at how to foster and maintain those friendships. Here are some practical and simple dos and don'ts:
Do get to know yourself first. Figure out what kind of friend you are and what you are looking for in a friend. Know your personality and your strengths and weaknesses so that they do not hinder your friendships.
Do set healthy boundaries. Avoid people who blame, focus on their needs exclusively, gossip or are superficial. Seek out women who support your other relationships, challenge you to be a better person, and draw you closer to God.
Do keep communication open. Build trust by being a good listener. Pray with and for your friends asking for specific needs. Discuss your different communication styles.
Do forgive and seek forgiveness. Your friends will hurt you—even your intimate confidants. Be prepared for it, and express your feelings honestly when it happens. Then forgive! This is not an option in fostering healthy friendships. Also, be humble and willing to ask for forgiveness when you know you wronged a friend (Colossians 3:13).
Don't compare or judge. You should not compete with your friends about anything (kids, husbands, bodies, jobs, homes, and so on). Competition will only lead to fear and distrust. You need to rejoice when your friends rejoice and mourn when they mourn (Romans 12:15).
Don't give up during challenges or struggles. Your friendships will go through valleys . . . maybe a life transition (such as a move, a baby or a job) will temporarily or permanently change the relationship. If she is a kindred spirit, fight for the relationship. Be the initiator when she cannot weather the storm (Proverbs 17:17).
Don't hang on when it's time to let go. On the other side, some friendships run their course and end. Maybe it was a conscious decision to end the relationship, or maybe it just slowly faded away. In any case, you cannot control another person, so don't force a relationship if it's over. Allow yourself to grieve the loss and let it bring you closer to God and your other friends.
Don't close your heart after you have been hurt. It is easy to build walls to protect ourselves after we have been wounded by a friend. I know because I did it for years. With God's help, open your heart and risk again. God can use the pain and the hurt to show you things about yourself and your friendships if you allow him (Proverbs 27:9).
Last, the Bible tells us in Proverbs 18:24 that "there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." His name is Jesus. If you make your relationship with him a priority and rely on him first, you will be free to experience the true joy of friendship.
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Carla Gasser lives in Ohio and serves as a Christian women's speaker and Bible study teacher. You can read more by Carla at CarlaGasser.com.