It wasn’t until I had moved back to my hometown, post-graduation, and had to start all over in finding a community that I began to realize just how much I liked to receive from my relationships. In other words, I often got the whole you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4) idea terribly wrong.
Fortunately, God has been teaching me a lot about friendship in the last few months. Here’s what I’ve learned:
When I became a believer and follower of Jesus four years ago, I was hungry for knowledge and community. And for much of that time (for far too long, truthfully), I had felt entitled to be sought out. I felt like people should have been welcoming me, pursuing a relationship with me and pouring knowledge and wisdom into me. Me, me, me. I was always concerned with how I could benefit from my relationships, not how I could support anyone else.
But I’ve since learned that we should strive to dive right into a community and seek to get to know others, even when it seems like no one’s taking a particular interest in pursuing us. If we simply put ourselves out there, we’ll start meeting people and we’ll make new friends along the way.
Consider ways to have a deeper discussion when catching up with friends. Ask what they’re struggling with, how you can be praying for them and for an update on their lives since you last spoke. Take a step past the often cliched, surface level connections, as seen in “Miss you,” and “Hope you’re doing well.” Can they be truthful, necessary or encouraging? Absolutely. But from those conversation starters, a meaningful conversation should stem.
Know When to Listen and When to Offer Advice
Sometimes, we just need a friend to lend an ear—we just need someone to listen to our fears, worries and problems. Other times, we’re sharing as much as we are because we’re seeking input and advice. As unconventional as it may be, I think that it’s simple and appropriate to gently ask the speaker, “Would you rather me to just listen, or would you like to hear my thoughts?”
Ask Good Questions
When we’re listeners, we have to make sure we’ve got the right understanding of what’s been shared first. Repeating back what you thought you heard and asking for verification is the best way to make sure the two of you are on the same page. Otherwise, how can your advice or encouragement be accurate or even helpful?
My biggest pet peeve in ministry and community is that most communities I’ve found myself in have developed a tagline of “Thanks for sharing.” If I’m sharing my testimony in a small group with a bunch of women I’ll be with for the foreseeable future, I would hope they would have more concern and compassion for me than that. We cannot listen to chapters of someone’s life story and not be willing to check for comprehension or continue reading―certainly not if we want to make fruitful relationships.
It’s especially important to follow up by keeping others accountable, checking to see if a past sin is a current issue, asking how we can be praying, and offering to be available to talk further. Hebrews 10:25 says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another―and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Let regularly getting together to discuss life and encourage others be a part of your relationships.
Call Out Greatness
Like me, you may not believe that encouragement is one of your more developed spiritual gifts, but use it anyway. As awkward as it can be to pull someone aside and say, “Hey, I really saw Jesus in the way that you…”, it needs to be said. Affirming others is one of the best ways to be a blessing, since every single one of us needs to know that Christ in us is evident.
Let’s be honest: life can be so busy sometimes―with school and work and family―that we may purposefully avoid engaging emotionally and mentally in our relationships. I get it. In seasons of life when it seems everything else is draining, the last thing I want to do is have deep conversations, but I have them anyway. In my own life, I’ve seen my vulnerability open up doors for great, deep and sustainable relationships. In fact, we are called to be open, and are told to confess our sins and pray for one another (James 5:16). If you’re like me, you value genuine relationships where you can be vulnerable and yet unashamed, so make it your mission to create them.
Relationships aren’t just about getting your needs met or relying on someone to string you along on your spiritual journey. Although we may not be as wise or gifted or financially blessed as those around us, we still have something to offer to our community. For that reason, we should resolve to be those who not only seek to be poured into but also those who pour out into others.