Very few subjects are trickier for women than developing friendships (except perhaps that pesky submission business). In my experience in ministering to women, many have explained how dating boys felt easier than becoming friends with their female peers. On many levels, women are complicated, are we not? I kind of love that about us. I mean, it does make us rather mysterious, but at the same time it can make opening your heart to another female problematic.
Do they really like me, or do they just need something?
Can I trust them with my past, struggles, vulnerabilities?
Are they going to gossip about me?
They seem so together, and I’m afraid I will seem so awkward and ridiculous if I open up.
I often feel pressured when I’m with this person but I don’t know why?
I feel let down over and over by this woman, but everyone else seems to love her- what’s wrong with me?
Recently I’ve heard these statements, or ones like them from friends. All around me women are crying out for community, but can’t figure out how to find it. And of course, we’re not talking about “male community”- the kind where men get together, joke around non-stop, eat something unhealthy, talk about sports and work, laugh some more, give each other the chest-bump-one-armed hug and call it “relationship”. Because that just won’t cut it for us. While all that is fun and fine, and the men are actually building relationships that way, we want to walk away from coffee or lunch feeling we know something deeper than when we started. And most especially, that someone knows us and still likes us. And we’re not talking about superficial, “see and be seen”, social climbing either. Because let’s face it- that’s not friendship, that’s nonsense. (Ain’t nobody got time for that!) No, we are talking about sisterhood. Beautiful, vulnerable, truthful, you’ve-got-my-back, cry together, laugh together, love Jesus together friendship. Possible? Absolutely! Difficult? Yep. So here are some pointers if you find yourself struggling against fears, and hurts and just lack of friendship skills to help get you moving in the right direction.
Make the goal of your friendship honoring God. What does that mean practically? That you really want your friendship to be free from sin (gossip, complaint, lies, people pleasing, competition) and full of God’s grace and truth. This would look like telling the truth about yourself. It would look like serving each other. It would look like holding in confidence your friend’s thoughts and feelings. It would be full of freedom to be who you are. However, if I am really your friend, and I see you eating rat poison, and I love you- then chances are good I’m going to ask you “what they heck are you doing???” right? It’s part of a God-honoring friendship to care about sin is our friends lives. But that does not give you license to confront them about your opinion. Big difference between the two.
Learn the difference between alligators and roses. Dee Brestin, in her book The Friendships of Women, presents this concept. A rose is worth having, even though sometimes you get pricked by the thorns. An alligator is always going to be dangerous, even though they smile sweetly. Some women are not healthy. They are in a place emotionally and spiritually that would be dangerous for you. You can certainly love them, but to try to develop deep friendship will surely end in a deep wound for you. Most women are roses. Beautiful, worth investing in- and yet, you’ll discover that in every person there are parts of them that may hurt you. A really big clue as to the difference: healthy women can take responsibility when they fail and make changes to their behavior. (If you find yourself running into a lot of alligators, you may need to do a little study. A really great book is Safe People, by Henry Cloud and James Townsend.)
Recognize that everyone wants to be loved and liked- just like you. It doesn’t matter how “together” someone appears, we all have insecurities. We all wonder if people will think we look foolish at times. We’ve all been hurt by sin and brokenness in this world. A big part of becoming closer friends is affirming your “like” and “love” of the person. Let them know you are excited to get to know them better. That you see good things in them. The things you would want to hear yourself.
A good friendship feels like a see-saw. There should be an ebb and flow in any relationship. You give a little, they take. They give a little, you take. If it feels like you are always on one end or the other, think about that. It may be that you are trying to be friends with someone who does not have the time to have a deep relationship with you. And that is not a rejection of you- simply a reality. Not everyone will like you or want to be a close friend. But some people will! The key is to not give up or get discouraged. If you initiate plans once or twice and the other person does not reciprocate, take a step back and invest in someone else for awhile. You can’t force a friendship.
Once a friendship is established, nurture it. Like any other relationship, you have to invest time, energy, thought and prayer into your friend. Prayer, in fact is a huge blessing in friendship, because in prayer God can open your eyes to needs your friend has, ways you can bless, but also when you need to step back and let the friendship breathe a little. Nurturing and smothering are not the same thing, and God can help you to see if you are becoming possessive, needy or controlling. (This would indicate a heart issue in yourself that should be addressed!)
I am ever so grateful for the wonderful, talented, Jesus loving, unique friends God has given me through the years. I have been blessed with lots of new women in my life recently, but one very precious friend, who has walked with me the longest is who I was thinking of as I wrote this blog. We have traveled 27 years of life together…..through middle school, high school, youth group, college, marriages, babies, death……… She knows me through and through. I have not always been the best friend to her. I have failed many times to love her as Christ loves me. But she saw me as a rose and hung in there in my prickly moments. And I have done the same with her. And I can tell you, beautiful friendships exist in this life through Christ, because I have had this with Caryn. Love you friend!