How to cultivate a true friendship

friendship

Friendship during the school years was relatively easy for me. When I was younger there were one or two friends at a time, and in high school we were a group of seven. Those are the friends with whom I spent most of my noon hours, Friday nights, and birthdays. In university I joined Campus Crusade and developed some healthy friendships with people who were like-minded and who challenged me to do more than study. (I also met my husband, who has been a very enduring friend!)

Going to school is like being in a friendship hothouse.

You become friends with those who are close by, and the friendships grow fairly easily because of proximity. There are some weeds (i.e. teenage hormones), and some people are toxic in close proximity, but I think many of us can trace at least one of our most enduring friendships back to our school days.

Four months before my wedding, I lost my sister.

After a childhood filled with the usual sibling squabbles, the past few years had been marked by a relationship in which we actually enjoyed being together. When our relationship was violently uprooted by a car accident, I lost someone who should have been a lifelong friend and confidant.

So how does one make friends when you can’t physically see them every day, or even every month? When you’re out of that fertile greenhouse?

Growing friendships now is more like gardening in rocky soil.

You have to till the ground, sometimes you have to relocate a rock, and occasionally there are toxic friendship weeds that need to be pulled. You plant the seed, but if there aren’t two of you invested in watering and fertilizing, not much will come of it.

I recently realized why friendship feels so hard now. When I was in school, we were a group. Each of us had some individual friends outside the group, but together, we were Friends.

Now, I am always the “individual friend outside the group”.

When I chat with other women, they usually have some sort of social network that they belong to, some network that I don’t fit into. It might be a group of homeschool parents, a group of friends they’ve had for years, a very tight small group from church, a book club, or a bunch of kindergarten moms who already seem to be best buddies. It’s easy to feel like a butterfly just flitting about from garden to garden, looking for the group of blossoms to call home.

Lest you think I’m complaining, I’m feeling quite comfortable with this idea right now, because I am pretty sure a lot of people feel this way. Most of us feel like we’re on the outside, but the truth is, there really is no “inside” anymore. It’s all an illusion.

So, how do we grow friendships?

As time-less mothers, as sister-less sisters, as child-less women – we all need the gifts and grace that godly friendships bring.

So many people are lonely but don’t know how to reach out.

I used to be afraid to reach out to other women, afraid of getting shot down. But I’ve discovered that most people welcome, and even long for friendship. No longer am I going to lurk in the corner, wishing I could talk to people. I’m just doing it! And it’s so freeing.

I’ve come to terms with the fact that not everyone I reach out to is going to reach back. And that’s ok. Maybe we’ll just stay friendly acquaintances. Or maybe after reaching out to each other over the period of a couple years, we’ll suddenly find ourselves actually friends.

I have found this with two friends who have, over a period of almost 10 years, become good friends. When I met these women, I was new to the church. One of them I thought was just the most hilarious and positive person on the planet, and the other really challenged me to think deeper about my life. It’s taken many years and many interactions, but I am so blessed to call these women my friends now.

Cultivating these frienships was like growing a blue false indigo flower.

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Blue false indigo is an incredible plant that I’m trying to grow in my own garden. Once established it is very drought and heat tolerant, and has these incredibly vibrant dark purple flowers. However, it can take up to seven years before it starts flowering. It is also very difficult to get to sprout from seed. I gave up on seeding it after I couldn’t even get it to germinate and ended up ordering a root from a gardening catalogue.

So my acquaintances and I, we planted, we watered, and slowly the plant grew. We spent time together working on church projects. We mourned over losses and difficult times. We celebrated the birth and adoption of children. Slowly the vines of our friendship became sturdier, more drought-tolerant. We took a trip together. We laughed. We took care of each other’s children. Our friendship bush started to bud, then to flower, and looking at them now, they are quite lovely.

Christie, the little lost butterfly, has a blossom to call home. More than one place, actually. You’re welcome to join me.

Ultimately, I hope that I’ll be able to look back on my life and see other friendships like these. Perhaps they are ones that are just in their seedling stage right now, or perhaps the seed hasn’t even been planted yet.

Strong friendships, like beautiful gardens, don’t grow on good intentions or out of feelings of loneliness.

I’ve learned that friendships take work, and you can’t usually see the enduring beauty for a long time. But when you do, it’s beautiful, it’s unique, and it’s worth the effort.

In the words of a garden stone I saw once, it takes a long time to grow an old friend.