I once had a bad habit of setting up all my single friends on dates with each other. (If you were one of them, consider this my public apology). Spinning a web of my social circles was fun—until a close friend approached me and asked me to be more careful with her heart.
Playing matchmaker seemed innocent. But for me, it was a sign of something swelling beneath the surface. I sought to be understood without seeking to understand. I wanted more overlap, more easy access points and a clever way to find a place into others’ lives without the work.
What I packaged as my signature strengths of “woo” and “empathy” twisted into my signature weakness. My desperate need for instantly gratifying, mutually understanding friendships began to raid other people’s lives.
As we get older, community gets harder. Friendships came easy in college, when nearly every thread of our lives were woven together by place and life phase. But as we step into the rest of life, the Venn Diagrams of our lives intersect less and less. As we mature in our understanding of who God is, we can’t help but change. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18, God’s glory is always fine-tuning us: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
Losing relational overlap is an organic byproduct of saying “yes” to God’s individual call for us. And in that place, relationships get messy. But the solution isn’t to “fix” each other, hustling to recover the perceived unity we once reveled in. The answer is to celebrate the unique work of God, the faithfulness that transcends seasons.
If we take our biggest challenge and use it as our most valuable currency in community, we might just find ourselves walking into the sweetest calling of all: loving God and others as ourselves.
Here are four ways to practice loving others well in their unique seasons (instead of just trying to “fix” their problems):
Learn to Listen, and Listen to Learn
The act of listening has power to transform the speaker and listener alike. Nineteenth-century philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “Truly, as there may be a power of speech which can almost perform wonders, so there is also a power in the listener which can work wonders if he will … he says ‘I wish to be edified,’ and lo, he is edified.”
Imagine the Kingdom of God as a diamond with infinite facets, each one radiating the beauty of its object differently in a specific direction. If we step back from our agenda of being understood and truly listen to those in different seasons, we’ve gained a valuable prize: perspective. And as we listen, God continues to fine-tune us, maturing us in the art of empathy.
The most important thing I’ve learned about empathy: it doesn’t mean advice or fixing. Fixing tells someone their situation is broken, while empathy means going down into that dark hole with someone and saying “me too,” as researcher Brene Brown tells us.
So when your single friend is lonely, don’t scan your iPhone for someone to set him up with. Sit in the moment with him. And when your new-mom friend complains about not getting any sleep, humble yourself and recall a time you felt exhausted by life’s demands. A “me too” packs much more power than a “you should.”
This is the beauty of the Body: God appoints weakness and strength at different times, and He calls us to bear one another’s burdens. In Mark 2:1-12, friends of a paralyzed man carried him through a roof and into a meeting where Jesus was, believing He could heal him. We are invited to live the same way in our strong seasons, holding our loved ones before the Lord and believing He will heal.
One vulnerable scene in someone’s life doesn’t necessarily represent the whole story. When I made the mistake of assuming all my single friends wanted dates, I only saw the outer situation, making no effort to look past the veneer of emotion and into the heart, where God was.
As 2 Corinthians 4:16 says, “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” This is the perspective God desires—living in light of eternity. We’re called to value our friends’ souls over their seasons, probing their hearts instead of their life phases.
Celebrate a Common Mission
In the end, no matter what our lives look like on the outside, we all have something in common—a thread strong enough to bind us together. No matter what our education, career, relationship or family status, as Jesus’ disciples, we have a single, ultimate mission. He has commissioned us to illuminate the Gospel with both our gifts and wounds, inviting a hurting world into unity and purpose.
Our Creator and our Savior weaves the threads of our lives into a great tapestry, and He’s holding it before us. It’s time to lift our eyes and love each other well in every season.