practicing friendship

kathyescobar friendship, healing, incarnational, relationships, spiritual formation 20 Comments

practicing friendships* this is part 2 to the last post:  let’s be friends.  oh wait, we don’t know how to!

i wish learning new things were as easy as taking a class, watching a youtube instructional video, or reading the perfect how-to book that provides all of the answers.  for fixing kitchen sinks, it probably works.  for cultivating long lasting intimate friendships with others, not so much.

there’s no clear instructional manual for these kinds of relationships because they are complex.  at the same time, the Bible has solid guidance on how to better love each other.  colossians is one of my favorite books for that.  when my kids were little, we used to have the NIV kids club videos & cassette tapes (yes, my kids are getting old) that were all about “singing the Bible and having fun.”  i can pretty much sing the whole chapter of colossians 3 to you if you ever want a laugh!   when it comes to friendship, though, there are some excellent words in there.  the passage that comes to mind today is “therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (v. 3:12).

compassion.  kindness.  humility.  gentleness. patience.

these are important ingredients to sacred friendships. they help cultivate grace, love, and acceptance, which are what so many of us long for in our relationships.

here are some practical ways i think we can nurture these qualities in relationships with others and bravely enter into new friendships–men with men, women with women, men & women together.

be honest about our fears.  the more we can say out loud “um, i don’t know how to do this very well”, the better.  it’s so much better than trying to pretend we’re good at something we’re not quite yet.  in our community, we have so many people learning how to be friends for the first time we talk a lot about it out loud and just call it for what it is.  honesty creates compassion because we can relate, we know the feeling, too.

lower our expectations. even though i love to dream big, i also believe in small baby steps of change rather than always expecting (and often demanding) giant leaps for ourselves & others, too.  if we don’t shift our expectations, we can  become mad all the time because things aren’t going the way we want them to be.  meaningful friendships take a long time to cultivate. they don’t come quick, especially in the midst of our brokenness & busy-ness.  this is why patience is such a necessary ingredient.

take responsibility for our own stuff.  this is humility, a willingness to look at our own log instead of focusing on others’ specks.  it requires soft hearts open to God’s spirit & getting honest about the patterns we might tend to bring into the friendship.  as we acknowledge it to ourselves & God first, we can then be honest about it with our friends–“i am sorry that i….when i get scared, i sometimes act that way.”  this helps us practice becoming safer people.

remember, everyone’s human, just like us.  it’s a magical, beautiful thing that somehow God can bring broken, jacked up people together in love & unity.  it really amazes me.  but at the same time, our messy human-ness is always going to be at play.  we will get hurt.  we will get annoyed.  we will get confused.  we will get uncomfortable.  the beauty is in respecting not only our humanness but others’, too.

don’t always do everything in groups.  groups are great.  community is awesome. but sometimes it’s really important to spend quality time together that doesn’t have all the wackiness of group dynamics.  i think we can hide behind it, too, always going to “men’s groups” or “women’s groups” but never just hanging out in a more intimate setting.  make time for it.  it’s always worth it. eye to eye, heart to heart makes all the difference over the long haul & helps us become more comfortable in our own skin in the relationship.

get some help when we need it.  this is one of the things i love most about our community.  we practice friendship and get help when we need it.  this looks like getting a few more people in the conversation to talk about how to do friendship better, what’s working, what’s not, how we can help honor each other more deeply, where we get stuck, and how to keep moving toward healthier connection.   it’s what the body of Christ is supposed to be about, helping encourage and challenge one another!

check in.  every relationship is different, but i do think that regular check-ins can  be helpful in developing friendships.  how are we doing?  how are you feeling in relationship with each other? what’s working? what’s not?  in developing cross-gender friendships, it’s extra important.

adopt a philosophy of “practice”.  one of my favorite phrases is “we’re just practicing.”  we expect ourselves to have so many things in this world nailed down when the truth is we are just learning & trying & practicing as best we can.  to get better at something requires practice; it also means we will flub things up and blow it and need to get back on track.  this helps with conflict in relationship because we can be honest and say “i’m practicing how to actually engage in a conflict with another person and not have it be devastating!” sometimes, too, we may practice with people who we end up not being able to be in long-term relationship with for all kinds of reasons.  that’s okay.  every time we make ourselves vulnerable and risk in relationship, we are practicing & learning & growing.  that’s what matters.

i am sure there are many others, but these are some off the top off my head. when i read back over these, i can really see compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience embedded in each of these practices.  yeah, without these, meaningful friendship just isn’t possible.

what are some others you would add? 

God, help us become people who cultivate compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience into our friendships.