There are lots of things that hinder us in building friendships but I want to call out some of them as we think about the gift of friendship and the longing for friendship that God has placed within us.
I am my personality score/type
I’ve heard this quite a lot, especially from the more introverted, the tests people do at work or at home seem to baptise this with something verging on infallibility when all the time I worry that it is really robbing of us of something God designed to be life sustaining and joy giving. We are not the sum of our personality test score or result no matter what letters, numbers, or label it provides or what it claims to reveal about us. It’s not as simple as being an introvert or an extrovert and we mustn’t hide behind that. It may helpfully expose certain traits but what it almost definitely didn’t tell you is that all those things are because you are simultaneously a saint, a sinner, and a sufferer. There are parts of our character that are that way because we were made in the image of God and for those who follow Jesus as Lord and Saviour because we’re being remade in his image as the Spirit works in us and we cooperate with him, but there are also parts of our character are that way because we are sinful and not finished works of grace yet – these need recognising and battling against. Other aspects of our character have been formed and shaped by our experiences, especially the suffering we have been through in terms of loss and let down in friendship and other relationships – these need acknowledging but not idolising.
Now all of those are tangled together and freighted with emotion. We are all simultaneously saints, sinners, and sufferers even as our primary identity is as a child of God. And that means whatever your personality score tells you it is revealing those three realities. So what? We mustn’t hide behind, or settle for our personality test score, you are not just an introvert or extrovert, or whatever other label you have come out with. We are redeemed in Christ to be something more, to follow Jesus, to be remade in his image, not just to say ‘I’m not a people person’, or ‘But I’m not energised by community’.
But I’ve been hurt
Yes, you have and I am deeply sorry about that reality. I have no idea of the trauma of the experience you have gone through, or the long lasting damage that has caused. But as a fellow sufferer, and fellow cause of suffering in this area, I want to say it doesn’t excuse us forever from building friendships. There may be things we need to work through, there may be false starts, there is risk, and pain will be part of the process of building and investing in friendships. But the New Testament models to us painful friendships met by grace and love. As I read the gospels I am constantly amazed at the disciples mistreatment of Jesus; Peter denies him, John and James spectacularly misunderstand him, all of them run away from him, Judas denies him, and they constantly seem to fail to see who Jesus really is – and his gracious love for them that endures so much misunderstanding and outright sin against him. Truly Jesus is tempted in every way we are in this area of friendship and yet he is the friend.
We see that struggle for friendship and faithfulness continue into the early church, the Bible doesn’t hide from us that friendship sometimes hurts. That sometimes close friends desert us and the faith as Paul experiences to his immense cost – just read his words in 2 Timothy and hear his pain. The Bible doesn’t hide the reality that sometimes whole churches seem to reject those it previously loved being led by and yet Paul pursues them in Galatia and Corinth. Bear with one another in love isn’t something the Apostles wrote as a theory someone else may find helpful but it was branded on their hearts and seared into their psyche. They bear with, they love like Jesus, they extend gracious invitations of forgiveness and welcome. They invest in building friendships again and again and again because it is part of the call of the gospel.
I’m too busy
We have a real problem with time. We seem to rush everywhere and be overloaded by everything. We cram stuff in and teach our kids that busy is good, rather than giving time and space for conversation and relationships to develop. And yet we have time to spend hours on social media and consume a steady diet of box sets or latest must watches. I want to recognise that there are good things we invest time heavily in – families matter – Deuteronomy 6 emphasises that it is the family that is the primary means of training and discipling children in knowing and following Jesus and that takes time in the normal rhythms of life. We are created to work – it’s not a necessary evil, it is an arena where God places us to be his people and speak of him and serve him in whatever we do whether that’s preparing a sermon or procuring paper clips and stationary for the office, teaching children or sweeping floors. We are made to sleep, in fact it’s ungodly not to sleep – it is a rebellion against God’s creation and a lack of faith in him that wants to rule and control all the time.
But even if you take those three out we still have considerable time to build and pursue friendships, time is just the excuse a distracted society/church lazily reaches for. But part of our problem is that we compartmentalise those things in life rather than think about life holistically. We need sleep lets take that as a given. But we have to move beyond compartmentalising the other areas of life. We have to stop ensuring no box – be it the box of work, family, church, gym, sport… – ever touches the other apart from at our wedding – and let’s be honest that’s just terrifying and is why the seating plan is so complex and fraught.
We can pursue friendship in our workplace – take lunch for example, too often the pressure is on to work through lunch, but why not take a walk, ask someone to walk with you, speak to them, ask how they are, invest in them. Take a risk, build friendships. It’s the same in our families, family time matters yes, but families need to see us model friendship that is more than just occasional, virtual, and mediated through social media. Families need to not be under pressure to be our sole place of support and refuge. We as a family have benefitted massively from welcoming others into our family; sometimes having others live with us for a period of time, having others who regularly spend time and meals with us, having long term friends we do life with, and just having people drop in and out during the day. Every person we meet today God has ordained that we meet, what if that was so we could extend his welcome and stop and receive his blessing of friendship from them?
Ministers in particular have an issue with this. There’s always something to prepare, something to tweak and perfect, a pastoral issue to resolve. I’ve been awful at this. But I really valued some time away with another bunch of guys a couple of weeks ago that just reminded me it is more beneficial to take a break for a few days with friends than it is to plough on because I’m too busy. It reenergises us and readies us for service again. Don’t believe the lie you are too busy.
I wonder if those 3 lies we believe are the dams that bring to a grinding halt the flow of friendships we so desperately crave and need. We need to call them out for the lies they are.