If you polled a group of women to find out their deepest needs, I can almost guarantee that longing for deeper friendships would rank near the top of their list. A little more than a year ago the radio program I host, Midday Connection, conducted an online survey to determine women’s points of pain. Over 2,300 women responded and, of the macro themes in the survey, relationships were in the top three. As we drilled down to the most common sub-themes of pain, the longing for deeper friendships was number one across all demographic lines. Women are desperate for female friendships and often don’t know how to initiate or develop them.
The fix might seem like a no brainer—go to a women’s ministry meeting at church, join a small group, or take an art class. Go places where women go and get to know them. But unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. One hindrance to closer relationships is the masks we wear. We are afraid to let others get too close. “Surely they wouldn’t like me if they really knew me,” we often say to ourselves. But we need to move past these thoughts and live into who God created us to be instead of living into the expectations of others (which is often what we choose).
Another barrier is that many of us have been burned by relationships that were choked with too much responsibility, maybe even ones that were co-dependent. Sometimes we’ve not seen friendships modeled for us in our family of origin, or we’ve lost a spouse due to divorce or death and we are afraid to try again. Whatever the reason, we need to pay attention to the risks of living without community. The Harvard Medical School Nurse’s Health study that reported those who had the most friends over a nine year period cut their risk of early death by 60%. Yes, you read that right….60%!
In addition to simply finding friends, however, we need to find safe people to be in community with. Henry Cloud and John Townsend give a great grid in their book Safe People. A safe person, they say, has three characteristics: they draw us closer to God, they draw us closer to others and they draw us closer to our authentic selves.
Here are some practical steps on initiating and developing friendships:
1. Invite 1 or 2 women to coffee. If they say no, ask someone else.
2. If you have younger children, invite someone to a play date in a park.
3. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Get to know someone’s story. You will be blessed and might be missing a gem of a friendship otherwise.
4. Start praying for God to provide a friend. I’ve talked to countless women who have seen God answer this prayer.
5. Look for “safe people” and run yourself through that same grid. Are YOU a safe person?
6. Sometimes when we are desperate for a friend, we “throw up” all over them the first time we get together. Friendships need to be mutual, and if they are to be a two way street, we need to slowly allow someone to get to know us—not tell all in one sitting.
We are created for community. We are made in the image of a Trinitarian God. The pursuit of God and the pursuit of friendship go hand in hand. The two greatest impulses of our souls are upward and outward because we simply reflect the design of God. It’s no wonder that we are craving a deeper experience of friendship. And friends are essential to life and growth. Yes, reaching out can be risky, but my guess is that the person you reach out to is also in need of a warm smile and a future friend!