Three weeks ago, my family switched churches. Again.
Going from a five hundred people church back down to a fifty people church is…different.
It’s taken me three years to start unearthing the secrets of acceptance at my last church. Now, even though I’m still going to youth group on Wednesdays, all that hard work is starting to seem pointless. It’s as if another inch of sand washes out from under my feet every time I walk out of the sandy brick, three-story church building and back to my everyday life.
Perched on the piano bench a couple nights ago, I stared at my phone, processing the words on the screen. One of my two friends from First Baptist had finally gotten back with me on meeting up over Christmas break.
She couldn’t. Her family was too busy.
That’s the response I’d been given, whether explicit or not, for the past three years. Oh, there was always time to meet up with the kids from the other, better, perfect homeschool families, but for me? Sorry, better luck next time.
And so here I am, in between two churches, not to mention taking classes at two schools.
I’m stuck in the middle of four different communities, and I don’t belong in any of them.
Doesn’t really make me sound like an expert on friendships, does it? Through this process, though, I’ve learned a lot about where friendships go wrong. Struggling with something for years does give you some experience, after all.
I can’t tell you how to have a perfect friendship. Clearly, I haven’t mastered that myself. What I can tell you is three ways I’ve failed at friendship, and how you can avoid making the same mistakes as me.
Failure 1: Passivity
I’m bad at initiating things. And, in my defense, I always assumed the new person isn’t the one who’s supposed to invite people over to their house. We newbies are the ones needing to be welcomed, so why would we do the welcoming?
Well, as great as that theory sounds, it doesn’t quite work in reality. People aren’t always good at considering and including others–especially when we’re talking about teenage girls. Cliques abound, self is priority, and let’s just face it: who’s actually scouring the room to find that one person hiding in the corner?
If you want to build relationships, you have to put some effort into it yourself. Yes, even if you’re the new kid. Chances are, you’re not the only one on the outskirts.
Be the finder. Look for those people, even if you are one of those people, and pull them into your circle. If you wait until you’re “qualified,” you’ll probably just lose your chance. God can send somebody else to take that outsider under their wings, and you’ll be left there, empty-winged, empty-hearted, and all alone.
Is it depressing? Totally.
Is it true? Unfortunately, yes.
If you’re struggling to find your people, if you’re lonely and don’t want to be stuck in the corner anymore, you have to fight your fears and do something about it.
Failure 2: Quantifying
“But she’s so popular!”
Ah, yes, popularity: the abstract idea of an individual being better than her peers simply because she has more followers on Instagram, more people at her parties, more selfies with her squad.
The issue of quantity versus quality is one so common and significant that most people have probably already received a pep talk/lecture on this before. At risk of redundancy, I still think it’s worth mentioning.
Having one or two real friends, friends you can vent to, rant to, freak out over school work with, cry in front of, and be continually participating in the mutual ministry of prayer with… that is worth infinitely more than a crowd of people who don’t know you any deeper than the layers of mascara on your perfectly groomed lashes.
Look, it’s kind of obvious, and really pretty simple. But I know that doesn’t make it easy.
It’s hard for me, when I’m sitting on the piano bench wondering if my friend group just shrank from three to two while Little Miss Perfect’s twenty billion friends are constantly showing up in her winter-wonderland themed Instagram feed.
But like so many hard truths in life, I have to believe it anyway. I have to trust that God’s got it all under control and he’s given me everything I need in my little handful of friends. I have to remember the weird ways I met those people and how it only could have happened by God’s design, and to appreciate all the ways I’ve been blessed, encouraged, and challenged through those few friendships. And I have to tell myself, no matter what I feel in the moment, that those friendships are enough.
Discontentment doesn’t solve the problem; in many cases it is the problem.
Failure 3: Arbitrary Expectations
And here we come to one of the most detrimental ways I’ve failed in my friendships: expectations.
I don’t know where I got my ideas of what friendship is supposed to look like, but I’ve accumulated quite a few expectations over the years. From how often we meet up in person and how much fun we have during those times to how quickly they should respond to my texts, there are all these arbitrary standards by which I’ve been judging my friendships.
Somehow, based on these rules whose origins I can’t even trace, I figured that interaction outside of school or church was the definition of friendship. It sort of makes sense; after all, if someone’s your friend, they should be willing to make time for you. But my perspective was always distorted. I thought that once I’d been invited to so and so’s house or once I’d done x, y, or z with them, then we’d truly be friends. Again, I was wrong.
Friendship isn’t about any of that. In fact, my best friend lives 954 miles away and I didn’t even get to meet her face to face until two years after we first “met”. (Just to clarify, I’m not advocating befriending random strangers you find on the internet and inviting them to your house.)
What makes her my best friend, my closest friend, is that regardless of the thousand miles and four years in age separating us, she and I actually know each other, love each other, support and challenge and encourage and grow each other. It’s not about being able to go to the mall on Saturdays; it’s about having someone to count on when life gets tough and knowing they’ll be there to really listen and remind you of the truth.
If we have to set standards for our friendship, let’s set real, meaningful ones, not arbitrary goals defined by culture or our vivid imaginations.
Don’t walk into friendship with the wrong expectations.
The Right Kind of Friendship
Friendship is hard. Investing in people is hard. Initiating conversations, much less life-long relationships, is a huge burden! We’re putting our hearts at stake here.
But this blessing, this opportunity to do life with another human being is far worth all the struggle it takes to get there.
Find friends. Take the risk of putting yourself out there. Pour into other people’s lives so that you can point each other to Jesus.
The best thing we could ever do with our lives is to worship God, and the same is true in relationships. Go find somebody to care about, and celebrate Jesus together.
Don’t expect friendships to happen on their own. Invest in a few people who have an interest in your life, and just live and grow side by side, for his glory.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)