When we’re younger, friendship comes naturally. We have school friends, club friends, church friends, family friends, etc. The relationships we develop in our youth are usually fairly straightforward.
Then we grow up, and our friendships do, too. Our friends move on. We move cities and get jobs. We have less free time than we did in college.
As a result, many post-grads experience adult-onset loneliness. You might feel it in the “married” small group where you find nothing in common with anyone else except for having walked down the aisle. Maybe you feel it when you’re sitting on the sofa watching a third episode of Parks and Rec while your roommate heads off to a night shift. Loneliness might even tug at your heart when you post another picture on Facebook and the only person who ever comments is your mom.
For all the small group attending, Facebook sharing and socializing we do in our adult lives, many of us feel like our relationships aren’t what they should be. Even though it seems a little crazy to feel utterly unequipped for and unfulfilled in adult relationships, it’s pretty normal.
Friendship can be hard to come by and maintain as an adult. It makes sense; the people we meet as adults are usually divided into categories like “colleagues,” “small group attendees” and “neighbors.” These are new relationships, and we’re not used to all the social rules that accompany them. Friends we made in high school and college often aren’t nearby to keep us comfortable. Plus, we all live on different schedules, in different places and even dispersed throughout various life stages.
Fortunately, having post-grad friendships is possible and can even be one of the richest blessings of adult life. Adult relationships can form and grow over many years, seeing us through more phases and even deeper changes than we usually experience in our youth.
There are several ways to ensure that the friendships that you form as an adult are full of life and able to endure. Scripture gives us many examples and words of wisdom on maintaining and deepening relationships.
1. Make Relationships a Priority.
In true Twitter fashion, many adult conversations are limited to 140 characters or less. Sometimes, our conversations are just for convenience or to fill the silence. Get-togethers tend to revolve around commitments and obligations, because we live in a busy culture. It can seem like you don’t have the time or energy to invest in getting to know new people.
But it’s foolish to think friendships will grow and deepen when they have no substance and no one makes an effort. You have to make relationships a priority if you want them to be meaningful. God desires this for us, urging us to avoid empty chatter (2 Timothy 2:16). Rather, we are to build one another up, making every effort to mutually glorify God (Romans 14:19).
2. Identify What You Have in Common.
Plenty of the things you had in common with your friends change when you’re an adult. Most adults spend eight hours a day doing totally different, unrelated things. We no longer have the automatic shared experience of growing up in the same city or being in the same classes.
When you meet someone at work or church, it may seem at first that you don’t have a ton in common—but there’s always something.
It may take time and a lot of small talk, but take time to identify what you have in common, whether it’s a shared love of cooking, interest in politics, or even a desire to see your church youth group grow. Shared goals, or whatever it is for you, give relationships purpose. This sense of purpose makes a relationship worth investing in and transforms “colleagues” into “partners,” or “neighbors” into “family friends.”
3. Be Vulnerable.
A part of having the type of friendship that challenges you and encourages you is being vulnerable. When we’re told to “bear one another’s burdens,” it is expected that we mutually share in our struggles (Galatians 6:2).
Every person has “high” and “low” points in life. Being vulnerable in our genuine friendships can lead to some awesome experiences of discovering what God intends for relationships to be like. Obviously, this doesn’t mean pouring out all of your deepest secrets the minute you meet someone, but it does mean not just automatically answering “good” when someone in your small group asks how you’re doing.
4. Pray for Your Friends.
Over time, we will continue to have friends move and change. Fortunately, friendships can last over great distances and shifting circumstances. One of the best ways of strengthening your love for your friends and your mutual commitment to your relationship is to be in prayer.
The Lord’s desire is that we love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:40). Don’t we pray for ourselves often, asking God to “give me this” or “do that?” Take up your friends and relationships in prayer likewise, remembering that God didn’t design people to be solitary. When we pray for our friends, our concern for and unity with them is strengthened.
5. Keep Your Higher Calling In Mind.
Paul considered it neglectful to not pursue our Lord together and to not spend time exemplifying Christ to non-believers. All throughout Scripture, we are given examples of Godly relationships. God has given us a higher calling: living in His glory and testifying about the reason for our hope.
In our hearts, the most important aspect of friendship needs to be the Lord. If we are unified with a friend in God, we have to be intentional about upholding the Truth. For a relationship formed with a non-believer, our ultimate desire should be to display the love of Christ.
How we choose to make and maintain our friendships is a part of our witness. When we grow anxious or jealous or mistreat our friends, it reflects on our faith. To make and keep meaningful adult friendships, we need to look to the Lord as the author of all things—even our relationships. We’re “good friends” when our idea of friendship is being worked out in our hearts according to the purposes of God.