“And Elijah said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left…” II Kings 19:14
All too often, women feel isolated, lonely, and uncared for. When I hear this, it breaks my heart. I truly hurt that anyone feels alone; it pains me, because this is not God’s plan for His treasured daughters. We are stronger together, and Satan knows this and uses the tactic of isolation to his advantage. We can see this in the lie that Elijah professes in the verse above. When in truth the Lord responds, “You are not alone…I have seven thousand servants in Israel which have not bowed unto Baal…” Clearly Elijah feelings did not match the truth, but rather were being manipulated by his enemy.
But beyond feeling broken for my sister who believes she is friendless, I also find myself a bit baffled. Looking around, it seems that friends are everywhere. Sometimes I want to grab her by her shoulder and start pointing, “There’s a Friend! There’s a Friend! There’s a Friend!” I feel like a virtual relationship Oprah, because everyone can have friends! They are all around us. So why are so many of us not finding them?
I was sharing this puzzlement with a friend of mine who is also in ministry. She looked at me and said with her typical uninhibited exuberance, “But, Heather, you know what you are looking for! That is why you can see it and they can’t!” That truth has stayed attached like a barnacle to my brain ever since she said it. Many women don’t have friends because their enemy (Eph. 6:12) has hidden what friendship really looks like to the point that they walk right past relationships that God wants to bless them with.
So how do you find these friends in hiding? Here’s two simple truths to help you:
Truth One: Friendship is found in different people, in different areas, at different times.
I’m not sure how it happened, but somehow many of us have somehow believed the notion that there is one perfect friend out there, and we are suffering in loneliness because we can’t find that one “bosom friend” to share all our hopes and dreams and spend our every free moment with. That worked for a young Anne and Diana, but even they found it was not a perfect answer to adulthood. While God may indeed bless us with some amazing “besties,” if we try to find one person who can meet our emotional needs and understand our every hurt and joy, we are placing an impossible criteria on another limited human being. That’s not friendship, and it’s certainly not fair.
When we look to the Scripture in regards to friendship, we will see that Jesus had many friends. (Some will try to argue that he had a best friend- the disciple John. While John was part of Jesus’ inner discipleship and prayer group, he is only named the disciple that Jesus loved when he is writing about himself! No one else calls him that.) Jesus had outgoing friends like Peter and melancholy friends like Thomas. Jesus had friends whom He stayed with when in their town: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. He had a friend that was also in ministry and was related to him though He did not always have the opportunity to be physically close to him: his cousin John the Baptist. He had friends like Mary Magdalene who understood the agony He was headed toward when no one else did. He had many friends. He knew how to enjoy life and ministry with others.
Even David who had the stirring accountability and encouragement from Jonathan, also shared friendship with other mighty men (see II Samuel 23:8-38 for starters) as well as other counselors and co-workers (if a king can even have those): Hushai and Joab. Moses had Miriam, Aaron, his in laws, Hur and his mentee Joshua.
There is a balance in true friendship. A true friend is willing to give and to take and knows that too much of either one can break the balance of friendship. Some will only “need” from you. That is someone you can love for Jesus’ sake not expecting anything in return but is not a true friend. Then there are those who give to you but won’t ever take from you. That is a “blesser” that God put in your life. Be thankful for them but understand that they are not a friend either. However, those with whom you share life with in some way and who respond to your giving by accepting and even reciprocating care in return….that is a friend!
I have friendships with the people I work with. We are doing life together, and I am so thankful to be able to laugh with them about the quirky things to alleviate the pressures of the job. We send each other silly memes and gifs of the interests we share or based on conversations we just had. They are my friends.
Ladies I serve with are great examples of friends. It is impossible for me to serve with someone and not connect with them. I’ve had some hilarious moments with a lady who plans women’s events with me to the point that my stomach aches afterward from laughing so much. I share prayer requests with another lady who does our stage design for these events. We text each other as we remember to pray. These ladies are my friends.
Ladies I am in the same stage of life with are a source of joy and encouragement. I’m amazed at the connection that parenting brings; sharing book recommendations, funny family stories, and parenting fails and triumphs are all powerful connectors. I can only imagine that no one understands the pain of miscarriage or failed pregnancy like another lady who has been there. Other working moms just “get it.” I’ve got friends who my kids played ball with. They are sure to be tagged on Facebook with all the hilarious kid sport videos I see. And there’s no friend to a woman in ministry like another woman in ministry. My friend in Florida is always ready to pray or make me laugh when I’m going through it! She understands without me having to give all the background details, because she’s living it, too! All these women are my friends.
So you see, you do not need to look for one person who shares your every interest and matches your personality and is always available for your every need or activity. Instead, look around to those people who you are already connecting with and enjoy those relationships. Build on what you have; recognize their value.
Truth Two: Friendship is ultimately your choice.
“A man that hath friends must show himself friendly.” Proverbs 18:24
Here’s a hard but freedom bringing truth: some of us feel sad and lonely because we are choosing this life for ourselves. Our enemy has been selling us the lie that others are unkind and don’t understand us. But here is the truth that brings freedom: no one else can offer you friendship if you are unwilling to be there to receive it. Hermits don’t have friends because no one else is invited into their space. Here are five ways to un-hermitize your life and invite friends in.
1. Show Up. Living in isolation is NOT God’s plan for you!
This one is simple, but not always easy. GO TO THE THING! Whether it is a birthday party, a church event, or a small group, go to the thing!!! I get it- I really do. I am a fellow introvert (though admittedly 60/40ish), but I am determined that in addition to having some alone time to recharge that I will go to a ladies event. I attend activities that I do not run or speak at! And, yes, it’s always a bit scary to an introvert. What will it be like? Who will I end up sitting by? But it is always an opportunity for God to impact my life by and for others. Pray about it. When I am nervous or even dreading something, I ask God to help me to bless one other person there. It is amazing how this shifts my focus. My attitude changes. It is not about me anymore but about encouraging just one other person, and I’m trusting God to help our paths to cross and to give me His words and ways to bless them.
2. Serve Often. As Christ-followers, we are supposed to be serving others as He has served us, so get involved with your local church or nearby ministries. Try a new area of service for a few weeks or months- you might love it and if you don’t, you’ll likely meet some people with different giftedness than you- all potential friends. Serving consistently in a place with people will create a bond that is unlike any other!
3. Smile. Seriously, smile, y’all. New friends are like wild animals…they are more afraid of you than you are of them, so put them at ease. Your face won’t break, but the ice just might! And some of y’all just look downright angry, so just smile a little, please. ☺ When we are nervous or insecure, our faces typically portray anger rather than fear. I try to remember this when I am feeling uneasy, and make sure that I go the extra mile to smile- even if it is shaky! (When very nervous my smile really does shake- it’s both weird and hilarious all at once.) A shaky smile is a million times more inviting to others than a solid scowl.
4. Say something nice. Tell her that you love her dress. Even better go beyond the outward and tell her something that you admire about her character. Ask open-ended questions (not “yes” or “no” questions.) People love to talk about ourselves- it’s one subject we know plenty about! Ask how long she’s attended your church, lived in your area, had pets, or been married to her husband. Ask how many children she has, how many hours she works, how many jobs she’s held, or how many M&M’s she can fit in her mouth! (Okay that last one might be better for your second or twenty-second interaction- I’ll trust you to feel that one out!)
5. Share something real. This is where some get stuck— I mean really stuck deep. While we should use wisdom as to when and how much to share with others about the hard things in life, we should share. Your Bible study and/or small group is just the place. If you are worried that others will judge you if you open up and ask for prayer, then it’s a strong likelihood that you’ve been judging others. So confess it, stop it, and realize that if you share it with a group of eight women and five of them judge you but three pray for you, then it was worth it. Most of the time, honesty endears us to others rather than alienates us. Remember, real flowers don’t grow in astro turf, and lasting friendships won’t bloom out of superficial soil.