Our recent pandemic changed how many of us experienced friendship. The quarantines, distancing, and other precautions created challenges for close community. While we used creative or digital ways to connect, many still felt isolated. Perhaps one positive result of these trials is how it revealed to us just how important meaningful friendships are to life. Perhaps Augustine’s words will resonate even more deeply now: “In this world, two things are essential: life and friendship. Both should be highly prized and we must not undervalue them . . . if we are not to remain solitary, there must be friendship.” 1
As we emerge from this pandemic, we have a fresh opportunity to embrace these essential relationships. We don’t just need to return to our pre-pandemic status-quo; we can move forward into something even better. So, how do we re-engage with friends that now feel distant? How do we establish and strengthen deeper connections? Here are seven tips to cultivate true friendship.
1. Whenever possible, get face to face.
The pandemic led many to realize afresh just how important it is to be together. We’re thankful for digital connection, but we know it’s not enough. God made us as embodied creatures. We are more than our minds, and communication is more than typing. God created us to enjoy relationships in a fully-embodied way.
This is why the Apostle Paul wrote to those whom he knew and loved deeply, “we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face” (1 Thess. 3:10). And the apostle John wrote, “I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12). We might say today, “I would rather not use texts and zoom; I hope to come to you and talk face to face.” And notice the connection between this physical presence and happiness—joy is not complete until we are together. So, whenever possible, prioritize being together with friends.
2. Establish friendship rhythms in your schedule.
We all have several essential priorities in our lives like eating, sleeping, communing with God, and so forth. In order to make any of them functional priorities, we establish rhythms. We build our schedules around them. If we value communion with God, we build a rhythm into our mornings. If we value exercise, we commit to a schedule. If we value eating with our families, we make a regular plan to do so.
What about friendship? As we emerge from the pandemic, we have a fresh opportunity to rebuild our schedules in a way that reflects our priorities. To make friendship a functional priority, set regular rhythms for connecting over coffee, meals, or other activities.
3. Take conversations one step deeper with good questions.
I recently heard about a man who wouldn’t get together with others because of the prevalence of superficial conversation. He identified a problem. But rather than blaming others, why not model the change we want to see and take conversations one step deeper.
How? Ask good questions. A good question shows people we care about them and value what they think. It moves conversation deeper in a natural way.
Consider what questions you want to ask someone when you’re on your way to meet them. Here are several options:
- What are a few themes in your life right now?
- What are a few things on your mind these days?
- What are you encouraged about recently?
- What has been discouraging to you?
- How are things going at home (or at work, or at school)?
- What are you reading recently, and what has stood out to you from it?
Find a few go-to questions that work for you and then stay curious and keep asking more.
4. Oxygenate your friendships with affirmation.
Romans 12:10 says, “outdo one another in showing honor.” To honor someone is to express esteem for them. It can include affirmation—and affirmation is relational oxygen.
One of the challenges with hiking at high altitude is the lower oxygen levels. When oxygen decreases we become sluggish and tired. This is what our relationships become without encouragement and affirmation. They feel thin, tired, and withered. But when we encourage one another with affirmation, we infuse the atmosphere of our relationships with oxygen.
Each one of us can contribute to creating an atmosphere of celebration and joy. That’s what our friendships need. Who doesn’t want to be encouraged and lifted up and honored? Who doesn’t want to walk into a room where they are wanted?
This can feel uncomfortable in the midst of a culture that makes it feel more normal to tear people down rather than build them up. There’s a fine place for some fun teasing, but regular jabs, sarcasm, and criticisms—even if “funny”—suck the oxygen out of our friendships. Spiritual growth happens through relationships. Jesus’s model of discipleship is deeply relational.
Here are two simple steps to take: First, any time you think of something you respect or admire about someone, reach out and let them know—right then, on the spot—over text or email or voicemail or in person. Second, every time you get together with someone, point out one thing that you appreciate about them.
5. Plan extended time away with friends.
One of the greatest ways to go deep with friends is to get away with them. Every year some friends and I go on an outdoor adventure together, usually rafting or backpacking. We call it MEWALO (Men’s Extended Weekend Adventure Liberation Organization). Most of us have been doing this together for twenty years. I also have other close friends with whom I go fishing. My wife likes shorter afternoon or overnight trips with friends. Find what works for you. Start with one trip. Use that time to take your conversations several steps deeper. Ask soul-level questions. Confess sins. Talk about how you hope to grow. Laugh and enjoy God’s goodness in creation.
If you’re married and have a family, this will be a sacrifice. My wife has seen over the years how important this is to me. She sees that the trips aren’t just for fun; they make me want to be a better man, husband, and father. She believes in these trips as much as I do so she frees me up to go. And I do the same for her—to make sure she has time to get an evening or weekend away with friends.
6. Arrive early and linger longer on Sunday mornings.
We can forge friendships by making the most of Sunday mornings. People gather on Sundays to hear God’s word, pray, sing, and serve. But we gather to do all these together.
Come 10–15 minutes early and look for people to connect with. Find friends and take the conversations a step deeper. Introduce people to one another and pray for friendships to start. See guests as potential friends of you or others, and connect with them. One of my closest friendships began with greeting one another in the hallway on Sunday morning. Then, after the service, linger longer in conversation and invite someone over or out for lunch.
7. Infuse your friendships with discipleship intentionality.
Spiritual growth happens through relationships. Jesus’s model of discipleship is deeply relational. When he called people to follow him, he invited them into a community. They grew as disciples and grew in friendship through extended conversations over many meals and long walks. When we watch Jesus with his disciples, we might wonder: is this discipleship or is this friendship? The answer is: both. Jesus called his disciples his friends (John 15:14–15).
Christians now continue this lifestyle of spiritual growth through friendship. We are to view churches less as events where strangers sit next to one another and more as networks of relationships where God’s word is central. We take a walk and talk about what we’re learning in God’s word. We have lunch and share what impacted us from the sermon. We meet to read the Bible with one another.2 We grab coffee and talk about our joys and challenges.
Making friends and making disciples aren’t two entirely different tasks. True friendship can be one of the greatest contexts for growing as disciples of Jesus. So infuse your friendships with discipleship intentionality.
- C. Ryle wrote, “This world is full of sorrow because it is full of sin. It is a dark place. It is a lonely place. It is a disappointing place. The brightest sunbeam in it is a friend. Friendship halves our troubles and doubles our joys.” As the dark cloud of the pandemic moves away, let’s step forward from here to experience the joy of true friendship again.
This is a guest article by Drew Hunter, author of Made for Friendship: The Relationship that Halves Our Sorrows and Doubles Our Joys. This post originally appeared on crossway.org; used with permission.
- Sermon 299D, http://www.augnet.org/en/works-of-augustine/his-ideas/2311-augustine-on-friendship/