Friendships that Sharpen Me

FriendshipAccording to Facebook, I have more than a thousand friends. Some of them I’ve never met in person. Many are acquaintances. Some are closer friends.

Then there are the friendships that go deeper. These are the relationships that have stood the test of time. Friendships based on eternal priorities. Loving relationships that truly want the best for the other person…even when “the best” might be a little painful.

These are the friendships that fulfill Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (NIV).

What does this type of friendship look like?

They require good listening skills.

Good listeners take the time to listen. They’re not in a hurry and they allow me the space I need to process what I’m experiencing and confide in them when I’m ready. They listen between the lines of conversation—listening as much for what is not said as for what is said. These friends can look me in the eye and know when I’m holding back. This is a skill I need to continue to develop!

They are encouraging relationships.

These friends know when I need a phone call, a hug, or a card. They’re the ones who drop me an email to say, “This verse reminded me of you. How are you doing today?” Their encouragement is not flattery, but rather provides the fuel to keep on persevering when I’m weary. It’s difficult to encourage others if I’m self-focused.

They provide the opportunity to ask hard questions.

Small talk is nice. Surface questions are polite. But these friends have earned permission to ask questions such as, “What has the Lord taught you since we last met?” Or, “What has the Holy Spirit been convicting you of?” Still, how we ask those questions can make a huge difference. This is not an interrogation!

They offer the opportunity to give without expecting in return.

These friends give of their time for lunch or coffee or maybe just a phone call. They might send a card or a bookmark—something tangible to remind me of this precious relationship. Still, the relationship is not about the gifts. As the adage says, “It’s the thought that counts!”

They are relationships that include prayer.

Nothing beats the encouragement of being told someone is praying for me. To know that in their intimate time with the Lord, my name is being lifted before the throne of heaven is balm for my spirit. Praying for someone else communicates that this is a friend who is as concerned with spiritual and eternal matters as they are with temporal and physical ones.

This is not just the kind of friend I want to have. It’s the kind of friend I want to be.

How about you?

Nurturing Relationships…or Not

“Let’s get together for lunch soon.” How many times have I said those words in the past few years without actually doing it? Too many to count, I’m afraid.

Oh, I post on Facebook. I tweet on Twitter. And I blog. I’m so busy staying connected that I can easily go weeks without face-to-face social contact with real live individuals. I don’t mean teaching a class, attending a meeting, or running into someone I know at the supermarket. I mean pure social contact, where we intentionally meet just for fun and to enjoy each other’s company. A time to talk about nothing and about everything. It doesn’t help that I’m a writer – I spend more time with my laptop than I do with people!

Some argue that social networking brings the world closer together. Perhaps it does. But if we’re not careful, our array of posts will create a vast network of intimate strangers rather than cherished friendships. When I logged on to my social network this morning, I learned which “friends” were spending the day shopping, at the beach, or reading. I was advised of the weather in three cities, read seven Bible verses, and was motivated by five inspirational quotes. I was even reminded to wish two people a happy birthday, thanks to the handy-dandy reminder in the margin of my profile page.

But do I really know what is happening in their lives? What are they struggling with? What trials are they facing behind the smiley face icons and the countless exclamation points? A tally of my “friend” count yields 400+ names, but how many are acquaintances and how many are friends in the truest sense of the word?

Then, at the beginning of the summer, a friend in another state was diagnosed with cancer. It’s inoperable at the moment, but she’s receiving chemotherapy and hopes to have surgery in the fall. Before her cancer, she had focused on all the things needing to be done – lessons to be prepared, classes to be taught, and the duties that encompassed a wife and mom’s job description. However, during this battle with cancer, something changed.

She wrote, “I have to confess that I have not been out there cultivating new relationships or nurturing the ones that I already have. My priorities have been elsewhere…I have given much thought to the changes that I am going to make (when cancer is a part of my history and not a part of my present) with respect to my friends. I have been loving as the world loves and that is simply not good enough…When it comes to all matters of the person – social, emotional, spiritual AND physical – friends matter!”

After reading her words, I knew it was time for a change. I wasn’t impressing God with my service at the expense of my relationships. And if there was one thing that was a priority for Jesus, it was relationships. For more than three years, He poured Himself into the lives of the twelve disciples. On His last night with them, when He could have spoken about anything He wanted, He affirmed the value of relationships. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

So at the beginning of this summer, I decided to start living differently. I began contacting people with whom I had promised to “do lunch,” and started scheduling a specific time to meet. Breakfast, lunch, coffee – it doesn’t matter. It’s been wonderful to catch up with long-time friends for nothing more than to enjoy their company.

Funny thing is, a few of the people I’ve called or emailed have not called me back. Could be that they’ve been meaning to, but have just been too busy. Could be because they lost the message. I’d hate to think it’s because they’ve given up on the relationship, but that’s possible too.

Whatever happens, I just know I don’t want to settle for relationships with intimate strangers any more. Relationships require the gift of time to flourish into friendships. The alternative is to settle for an army of acquaintances.

So if I haven’t contacted you yet (and you know who you are!), please pick up the phone or drop me an email and let’s set a time to get together…for no reason at all.

What are you doing to cultivate new relationships and nurture existing ones?