By the time I was in middle school we had moved a few times, from Tennessee to Kentucky, then on to Colorado via Virginia and then back to Tennessee. Several years later as a Junior, I attended three different high schools. I say all that not as a complaint or badge of honor, because I actually appreciated the perspective that growing up in different regions and towns provided me. However, moving schools across state lines was brutal on friendships. The friendships I had built became just memories without the proximity or ability to hang out with each other.
Over time, undeveloped friendships become like a pasture that never gets mowed. Weeds grow in the absence of care and intentionality until it is just an overgrown empty space. It is true that in different seasons of life different people provide the connections needed to transition to the next season of life. However, those connections sometimes carry through; and sometimes they do not carry through. It is almost as if some friendships are there to get you through just that time period, while others are with you for the long haul. Even still, any of life's transitions can be very lonely times. I want to speak to the loneliness in the transitions before moving on with a few more thoughts about friends.
If you are in the middle of a transition, you are probably experiencing some loneliness. Life's transitions have a way of changing the people with whom you relate. You used to be able to spend time with your friends or coworkers any time, but now, after a transition, you are faced with not really knowing anyone very well. Those transitions could be a job change, school change, city change, church change or even a grade change.
Summer time can be a major transition for a lot of teens into new circles of friends. The loneliness comes partly because of being the outsider. It seems everyone in the new circle of friends has their inside jokes and "remember when..." stories, but as the new member of the group, you are left in the dark. It could be you are feeling the tension of having to develop new friendships in a new context; and you may just be grappling with the change. Regardless, loneliness can shake up your emotions and mental well-being.
Here are two helpful things I have learned during my lonely times over the years. First, loneliness can be an invitation to get to know Jesus better. When I first moved back to Colorado over Christmas break during that Junior year, I had a full month of no school. I couldn't hang out with my friends — they were thirteen-hundred miles away. I didn't even have a way to make new friends since school was on break. I spent that month leaning into Jesus through prayer, worship, thoughts and Bible reading. While I did feel very alone, I also felt God very close. Use lonely times to get to know your Eternal Friend better. He is an "ever-present help in time of need. (Psalms 46:1)."
You might be surprised, however, when you take inventory of how much thought you put into others being a good friend to you versus you being a good friend to others.
The other thing that helped me in my lonely times is learning to be a friend to others. If you need friends, want more friends or need a change in friendships — be friendly. No duh, right? You might be surprised, however, when you take inventory of how much thought you put into others being a good friend to you versus you being a good friend to others. We are selfish by nature; and without the intentionality of looking to be a good friend we can often consume ourselves with how others treat us. If the goal is great friendships, then isn't it logical to work on being a great friend to others? Both going deeper with Jesus and being a good friend to others helped me focus on treating my loneliness rather than just trying to mask the symptoms of my loneliness.
You may not be feeling lonely but are experiencing tensions in your friendships. Let me encourage you, too. Tension helps us grow. It makes us stronger and more mature. Isn't that a big part of friendships anyway? Not one of us is the same person. We are each unique. When you put different people together, there is going to be friction at some point. Our lives are not designed to be lived in a vacuum apart from others. If this were the case, we would be very weak due to the lack of muscle development.
but we are best friends because we love each other and embrace each other's differences.
When you and your friends don't see eye to eye, that's ok. Actually, if you can accept that you see things differently and still enjoy each other's company, perhaps that is a step toward maturity in friendship. My best friend in middle school and high school and I were very different in many areas; but we were united under the fact that we had chosen to be each other's friend. We would argue — he always had to have the last word. I knew I was right, and he knew he was right; but we appreciated each other's perspective. I keep in contact with him to this day. My wife, Claudia and I are very different people; but we are best friends because we love each other and embrace each other's differences. She challenges me and helps me think more. We are better for each other because we can allow our differences to challenge our status quo.
Friendship is the best thing we can invest in through out our lives. While my .little blog post may give some insight and be helpful to a degree, there is so much more to be discovered, learned and practiced in friendships. I hope you will be a life long learner and investor in friendships. Dig deeper in the transitions intentionally pursue friendship with God and being a good friend to others. Embrace the tension in friendships allow it to teach you to be a more mature friend. Intentionality (deciding to be a good friend) can go a long way in fostering great friendships no matter what season of life you find yourself in. My only caveat before ending this post is that sometimes we do need to walk away from certain friendships. It could be the friendship is not a good influence on us or that we are mutually not a good influence on each other. We can talk about that at a later time.
(Side note: My last post I said I would post more on the conversation guide for healthy friendships. So as to not leave you hanging... You can find that here.)
What about you? What have you learned about friendship over the years? What has God showed you in scripture about friendship? What are you favorite things about your friendships? What are your most challenging things about your friendships? Leave me a comment, I'd love to chat with you and exchange ideas.