Friendship ~ Reaching Out with Hands Held Open

Almost two years ago, we packed up our home and moved our family across the country to attend seminary. We said goodbye to dear family and friends. Many of those friendships having just been made three years previous. Having moved many times in my life, I have known this pattern, this rhythm of reaching out and letting go; the ebb and flow of changing relationships and life stages. With a mix of embracing the next thing that God had for us to do, with a sense of adventure for what lay ahead, and with the knowledge that my heart would grieve again as we said good bye to everything and everyone familiar, the Lord had taught me how to sustain and maintain long distance friendships while starting new friendships in a new location. It was challenging to walk through the emotional work of discerning where each new and old friendship fit into my heart and life.

As a married couple and as a family, we have lived in four different cities in the past 10 years. Each location being substantially far from the last one. I have invested much emotional energy into developing new friendships and have learned several things that have aided me in maintaining my treasured and valued old friendships, while taking the risk, time and energy of investing in the much needed new ones as well. Years of prayer have been put into the health and strength of friendships.

Whenever we have anticipated moving, I have prayed in advance that God would bring into my life a few really good friends. He always does! I pray for Him to direct my path to kindred hearts and allow the friendships to develop in God’s time. Praying and then trusting God to provide is an active discipline of faith. Sometimes the friendships have come quite quickly. At other times, I have had to wait a couple years before I saw the fruit of my prayers as I’ve actively reached out in my pursuit of community. In one season of life, the loneliness was almost too much to bear as the pursuit of friendship took much longer than anticipated. It was at that point that God provided a lovely and unexpected friendship with a much older sister in Christ. Though she was thirty years older than me, the depth of friendship I experienced with her was honest and real.  At times, through tears, I would share with her my friendship struggles, and my heart was ministered to in the counsel and empathy I received from her. Never think that your friendships have to be only with peers who are the same age. Some of my deepest friendships have been with ladies who are either much younger or much older than I. We are sisters in Christ and we can learn from one another.

Know Who You Are
To enjoy the fruit of deep friendships, you must put in the work to cultivate those relationships. Its a journey of intentionally seeking to know someone else, as well as becoming known. That journey begins with knowing yourself first. Realizing my personality type has given me an understanding of how I work in friendships, what I need, and my limitations in friendship.

I am an introvert, meaning I recharge when I have alone time, to pray, read, write, decorate our home, play music, sew, bake, dream and rest. This is how I create a calm in my soul and how I refuel for the times when I do go out and fellowship with others. I plan playdates a week in advance so that I can structure my day or week to allow for a renewal of energy.

As an introvert, I have to say no to many other opportunities so that I can stay healthy for my family. As well, I struggle with anxiety. As an introvert, this makes me even more introverted at times. Thankfully, those who know me well understand this about me and support me in the boundaries I need to stay healthy.

When a friend takes an interest in my family, writing, music, or my work as a birth doula, I feel that I have truly found someone who cares for me as a person and the way God has designed me. We feel loved by those who seek to know us. Knowing who you are, your limits and boundaries and what you can give to a relationship is key.

Maintain Old Friendships
Old friendships are a treasure and have a history with one another that spans years, and even continues to grow in new ways over the years if they are maintained in even just a little way, every once in a while. These friendships become the thread that tie our stories together from one chapter to the next.

Every once in a while, I send a long email to a friend, or a hand-written postcard and occasionally we have a video call. It is so good to catch up personally with each other, knowing that each of us has taken the time to reach out, spend time thinking about what is going on in the other’s life, and sending words of encouragement. Personal letters are a wonderful way to maintain the treasures of old friendships. I want to write more hand-written letters as well. In an age of much online communication, hand-written paper letters become a treasured keepsake or memento, tucked away in a box or basket for years to come.

It takes intentional work to keep in contact with those back “home” whether friends or family. Two of our dear friends have now moved to Asia, several are in the Northwest and still more in Canada. How can you keep in touch and maintain that closeness with people you hold so dear with the hindrances of distance and time? It can still be achieved. Though we are thousands of miles apart and though its not quite the same as living in proximity to each other, we feel strengthened by friendships that have stood the test of time. And when we finally do see each other, we can simply pick up from that last communication and continue the conversation.

Build New Friendships
Each place we have lived in the last 10 years has accommodated starting new friendships at different speeds! Having just one baby and then two, allowed me to have a couple playdates a week. Our weekly schedule included Bible study nights, women’s ministry, family nights, and hosting people for dinner. But having a couple mornings where I could connect with another mom either one on one or at our church playgroup helped fill me up with meaningful conversation and like-minded friends. Our third child was 3 weeks old when we moved to a new city far away. I was busier, adjusting to a new environment, preparing to homeschool, unpacking moving boxes, getting to know new grocery stores and amenities in our city, and focused on the busy schedule of caring for my two toddlers and a newborn. Investing in new friendships took a lot longer, but eventually, the friendships did come!

A year ago, we moved clear across the country to attend seminary. Because of our living situation, several friendships took off at lightning speed and a sense of belonging came much more easily. Perhaps because many of us live in or near the same building and daily borrow recipe ingredients, babysit each other’s children and hang out at the communal playground! We needed quick and deep friendships knowing that we would only be here for three years. But friendships still take time and with four little ones in our family now, my time is more limited, especially since my husband is taking classes full time and working several part time jobs. My limitations are at the greatest they’ve ever been so I am thankful for the playdates I do have, the coffee dates that get jotted on the calendar 1-2 weeks in advance and the little snapshots of conversation I have at the playground with other moms or the 8am morning knocks on my door requesting coffee! These are my seminary sisters and this unique season of life is one I will cherish forever.

Serving Others
When moving to a new city or pursuing new friendships, it is easy to get consumed with my own needs for friendship and to put self at the center of relationships. When I’m tempted to do this, the Lord reminds me to put Him first, to love Him and love others. In elementary school, there came a time when I was struggling with loneliness. I confided in my mother that I didn’t feel like I had many friends in my class. One of the greatest pieces of advice she gave me regarding friendship was to go and look for the people who had no friends, those who were lonely too, or new to the school and befriend them! So from that point on, that’s what I did. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was a way to serve Christ and serve them. God brought increased joy to me in this new mindset and I was able to live with hands held open regarding friendships, whether they continued on or faded with time.

The biggest thing for me to remember is to entrust my friendships and need for community to God. He knows we need community and supportive relationships. He is our Good Shepherd and our Provider. Life lived in community as the people of God, reaching out together to a world in need of His love is even more important to Him than it is to us.

As we have just over a year left at seminary, our hearts and minds are looking towards the next giant step of faith we must take. All the decisions and work that needs to be done before that are like stepping stones. I am already praying for the friendships  we will have in our new location, new ministry, and new city. At the end of our seminary journey, we will know many more like-minded friends who will be dispersed to different corners of the country and the world. We will, again, walk through the emotional work of discerning where each new and old friendship will fit into our hearts and lives.

Friendship is a gift but it is also an endeavor requiring much effort, grace, and service. In Christian friendship we find that it is not so much about fulfilling our own needs to be known, but to serve others in knowing them, a laying down of our lives for our friends. In laying down our lives for another in humility and service, it is there that we model the friendship of Jesus. In Him, we find the strength to bravely reach out with hands held open.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.
John 15:13

{Words and photography by Jennifer D Harris, copyright 2017}