by Jennie Allen
There was a time when what we now call intimacy was just called life. For centuries, the people you lived near were the people you worked with, the same people you raised your kids with, the same people you worshipped God with, the same people you cooked and ate meals with, and on and on. Daily life meant one continual opportunity to bump up against people, have your sin called out, disappoint a friend, and resolve conflict with a fellow church member.
I look around at our society today and constantly remind myself, “Jennie, you’re going to have to work for deeper relationship. It isn’t going to magically appear.”
Becoming and finding life-giving friends is the goal, and the path to reaching that goal is fairly straightforward:
• Ask deep questions.
• Tell people what you are grateful for in them.
• Share the real stuff.
• Talk about Jesus.
• Do fun stuff together.
We all want to become life-giving friends, but we have to accept our own tendency to self-sabotage and drain the life from our friendships. Here are just a few of the self-defeating traps we lay for ourselves:
• Wait for friends to call you.
• Be easily offended by your friends.
• Have lots of opinions about your friends’ lives.
• Assume your friends are mad.
• Talk negatively about your friends.
• Don’t share your hurts.
• Remember and hold on to friends’ mistakes.
If you have been hiding from intimate relationships because you are convinced that nobody wants to be your friend, then might I put on my big-sister hat for just a moment and tell you to go pay someone to be your friend? I mean it. Save up a few dollars and get yourself in front of a counselor worth her degrees. If every single person you have ever been friends with has wronged you somehow, then the common denominator here might just be you.
I know that’s hard to read. Trust me, it’s hard to say. But the truth is always difficult, until it absolutely liberates your life.
Whom do you need to make amends with? Whom have you given up on too easily or quickly? Whom have you pushed away? Whom have you ghosted?
You may have isolated yourself from the very things God wants to use to help you grow. Family, friends, church, small groups—yes, they hurt us, but they are part of the village community we were designed for. I don’t want you to miss them because they need some work or maybe they need another chance. We need each other. We need a group of people committed to each other and committed to Jesus to run with and to call us out.
Two weeks ago, I met with a couple of friends to catch up, and partway through our conversation, I risked saying something that was really candid and raw. I told the truth about a situation I was going through, and in response, I didn’t feel heard. In fact, one of those friends not only didn’t listen well but she one-upped my pain. Have you ever had this happen? You say that something is really hard in your life, and the other person responds by telling you about something she is dealing with that is even harder?
It stung. Really stung.
And yet by the grace of God, here is what I thought: She didn’t mean to hurt me. And the fact that she was insensitive to my update doesn’t mean I should quit telling the truth with her. She is dealing with some super hard things right now—that is factually true. What I can do right now is give her the listening ears I wish I’d had. My turn will come soon enough. I’m going to let this whole thing roll off my back for now and focus on being a friend to her.
She was probably just having a bad day.
Another friend of mine says that she tries to react to patterns, not one-offs. Everyone messes up every now and then; unless a friend is habitually disregarding or demeaning you, let it go. Choose to move on.
If you are noticing that what initially seemed to be a few one-offs has become a pattern of relational misbehavior, might I give you one final word of advice? Before confronting the other person about your perception that things between you are not going well, give yourself twenty-four hours.
Eat something. Take a walk. Get a good night’s rest. Pray through how you’re feeling.
Then—and only then—invite dialogue with your friend about this downward trend you can’t ignore.
I have never once regretted momentarily holding my tongue.
We have to fight to hold on to our people. Let’s notice the traps the enemy is using to divide and distract us from healthy relationships. I promise the battle is worth it!
Adapted from FIND YOUR PEOPLE: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World © 2022 by Jennie Allen. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on February 22, 2022.
Jennie Allen is the founder and visionary of women’s organization IF:Gathering, the host of the top rated Made for This podcast (17 million downloads) as well as the New York Times bestselling author of Get Out of Your Head, which was the #1 bestselling religion title of 2020. Her latest book is Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World.