Ever since I was a child, I have had difficulties making friends. I thought it was the friends’ fault; they didn’t do a good job of being my new best friend. But it was really me.
I thought I was easy to make friends with. I was an outspoken, opinionated, confident performer, and I wasn’t shy. But that isn’t the truth.
To be shy is to be reserved, to hold back oneself from the crowd. And I think most of us, the older we get, the more reserved we become. It feels dangerous to expose our hearts. We’ve learned from experience that life — and friends — can be cruel, that our heart bleeds when stabbed, that wounds take long to heal.
So we protect ourselves by holding back, by shrouding the soul with a thick, black veil of shyness, formality, or reservation. Instead of openly reaching out to those around us and making an active difference in their lives, we hold back in fear or apprehension. Surely they don’t want me, or they would reach out toward me.
So I wait for you to reach out to me while you are waiting for me to reach out to you and nothing happens.
Social media intensifies, rather than solves, this problem. No one “likes” what I say in the church vestibule. I don’t have crowds of people “sharing” my bright greeting on the soccer field. I can’t count hundreds of followers at the grocery store.
Facebook, twitter, and pinterest are fun, but they make my real life seem lonelier and they don’t reinforce genuine #IRL relationships. Instead, they encourage me to further veil the truth and create images of happy, healthy fake me.
That’s why now, more than any time previous, I need friends in real life. And you do, too. We cannot allow our New Testament mandate for relationship discipleship to flounder any more.
It’s time to take off the veil — mine and yours — and reach out to change our worlds.
Last year, I resolved to do just that. I didn’t know if it were possible, but I prayed about it, took a deep breath, and started an experiment. I called it…
Here’s what I did. I tried this first with one woman, than another, and low and behold, it has so far worked with 100% effectiveness and my satisfaction is guaranteed. I felt very intimidated at first, but once I got started it was amazingly simple and pain-free. You try it, I dare you.
- Put the phone down, look someone in the eye, and smile. It’s ludicrous in it’s simplicity, but that’s an amazing step forward in our hurried-driven-text-really-quick culture. Sometimes, to shake it up a bit, I’ll say “Hi” or “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”
- Pick a casual acquaintance and start up a conversation. This is the hardest step for me, but it wasn’t as scary as I thought. I told a young mother a funny story about her child in the nursery; I sat next to another soccer mom and cheered for her child; I asked a neighbor about her flowers. Every single person looked at me with relief and answered back eagerly…as if they had been waiting so long for someone to talk with. Just like me.
- Follow up another way. Now that we have moved from the barely an acquaintance to almost friends in a couple conversations, I move it up a notch by changing the communication — friending on facebook, texting “wasn’t that a great game?”, or sending a snapshot I took of our children together.
- Invite for coffee. Or lunch, or carpool to a meeting, or sharing snack day. I find something we can enjoy together so we can get to know one another. I learned something surprising from this step, too. No one has enough lunch dates on their calendar. Everybody’s gotta’ eat, right? No matter how busy we are, we all look forward to a coffee date or girl’s night out, and we never have enough.
- Rinse and repeat. I had such good response to my friendly experiments that now I’m at several different stages with different new friends.
This morning, I was feeling so very rushed and defeated. I wanted to be the supermom (again) but I was failing (again). I sat down at my desk to try desperately to catch up, but I was interrupted by the thought that a friend of mine was likely having a worse morning. So I texted her that I was praying for her and for her sons. She answered back that she was praying for me, that she knew I was having a trying day even though I hadn’t told her.
Her prayers that morning changed my world.
Ordinary friends ARE extraordinary. When you dare to have that uplifting influence on those around you, you will be startled to know how they enable you to see God working powerfully.