This article is part of the Open Letters series.
I’ll challenge you in moment, but first, an encouragement: if you are aware that you struggle to forge friendships, then you’re further along than you may feel. Our culture is experiencing a friendship famine—at least in terms of true friendship. Many don’t even realize they’ve been on a starvation diet of deep relationships. So, be heartened that you realize your need. Awareness is progress.
But how do you move forward from here? I’ll share a few things you should know, and a few steps you should take.
First, you need to know that your ache for friendship doesn’t mean something is wrong with you, but that something is right with you. God said that it was “not good” that Adam was alone (Gen. 2:18). The deepest problem in the world is sin, but the first problem was solitude. So, if you want better friendships, of course it’s partly because you’re broken—as we all are—but it’s also, and most deeply, because you’re human. You were made for friendship.
You also need to know that you’re not alone. The truth is, many people feel disconnected or lonely. Data shows a steep decline in close relationships in America. The UK recently appointed a Minister for Loneliness. Rent-a-friend is an increasingly global business. And while social media helps us increase our connections, many of us are still left without any true companions.
Your ache for friendship doesn’t mean something is wrong with you, but that something is right with you.
Finally, you need to know that forging friendship is especially hard for men today. Many of us are mobile—maybe school or relocation for work moved you hundreds of miles from friends. Many of us also don’t build relational margin into our schedules, so we always feel too full for friendship. And as we connect more digitally, we find ourselves connecting less deeply. We can add to all of this that men in our culture find it hard to share deeply or express affection and affirmation. So, mobility, busyness, and technology team up with our relational shortcomings as men to make deep connection quite difficult.
But each one of us can take a step into the lost joys of real friendship. What can you do? More than can, what must you do? I say must because we need to take clear, concrete steps. That’s the only way life will change. And, men, let’s face it: we are often far too passive when it comes to forging friendships. Let’s put the same effort into friendship that we put into sports, family, or working out. Here are five steps.
1. Make this your daily prayer.
Ask the God who orders your life to bring you true friendships—relationships that are marked by affection, truth, and trust. God has always existed in a triune communion of love, and he made you in his image for something of that kind of close companionship. Ask him, directly, to bring a close friend in to your life. And ask him to help you grow as a good friend. Value this enough to make this your daily prayer. It’s that important.
2. Stay flexible and don’t give up.
As you take steps toward people, some may not respond as you wish. One may seem too busy. Another uninterested. Another unresponsive. That’s okay. Stay patient, keep engaging, and especially remember this next suggestion . . .
3. Focus on being a friend more than finding a friend.
Being a good friend requires intentionality and transparency. You can’t expect a good friendship to develop if you’re not ready to initiate conversations and model openness. Make sacrifices to get together with other men. Stare at your schedule until you see how you can reshape it to create some relational margin. And when you talk with other men, plunge down deeper than the surface superficialities.
In all of this, don’t focus so much on finding a friend. Instead, love people well. Lean in and listen to them, talk with them, and encourage them. When you walk into a room, look for the loneliest guy in there. Look for someone who may need a friend.
4. Create relational rhythms.
Sometimes our relationships wither because we don’t cultivate them. What would happen to a garden if we only tended it when it came to mind? Like working the ground, you and I need to create patterns, or habits, for connecting with people. We need to create rhythms for our relationships.
For example, open up your Monday lunch hour every other week to connect with someone. Then open up your Wednesday nights to invite people over or out for good food, drinks, or dessert. When you plan to watch a show, movie, or game on Sunday evenings, invite someone to join you. When you go to your church’s Sunday service, show up 10 minutes early, leave 10 minutes late, and use those minutes to connect with people and set up times to get together in the week.
5. Know that you already have the truest friend.
Everything we wish we had in friendship, but don’t, we can have in Jesus. When the apostle Paul looked back on his life in his last days, he remembered Jesus’s companionship. He remembered how, at a great moment of trial in his life, at his first defense, “no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:16). But Jesus stepped in to do what friends should have done for Paul—he stood by him and strengthened him (4:17). Jesus was his truest friend, the one who entered when everyone else left. He is the one who remembers when everyone else forgets.
If you trust Jesus as your Great Friend, moment-by-moment, then you’ll never walk into a room alone again. You won’t need to seek friends as though you don’t have any. You won’t need to keep tweaking your mask to be more likeable to potential friends. Because you already have the friend of the friendless with you. And he knows you, the real you—not the you that tries to win friends by being someone you’re not. And he loves you.
With this friend by your side, you can take a deep breath, walk into that room, and finally focus less on needing a good friend than being a good friend.
May our Great Friend encourage you with the constancy of his companionship, and may he lead you in the next step you need to take to recover the lost joys of real friendship.