Making friends in high school and college was easy. I had several girls I automatically saw every day at lunch or in my dorm room. We had “touchpoints” where we could learn basic info about each other, but also have opportunity to go deeper. However as a working adult, I had fewer “automatics.” Then when I stayed home with my babies, the only people I automatically saw every day were my husband and my kids. To see anyone else required effort, like phone calling and emailing. And many times we don’t have the energy to make the effort in our busy adult lives. A lot of women never make this shift and then wonder why they feel so lonely.
When I moved to Nolensville, I decided to be intentional about creating some “automatics.” My friend Heidi and I carpooled kids to preschool two days a week. And two days a week, we took an hour or so to chat. We also started a Supper Club with three other couples so that we had people we “automatically” saw the frist Friday of every month. Those “touchpoints” have allowed those friendships to grow to depths I had not known in high school or college.
In our modern culture where we seem very connected (facebook, cell phones, etc.), we are actually very disconnected. We have become isolated, and many women don’t even know how to be a friend or how to make friends. I’ll never forget an older woman who approached me after she overheard me talking about “automatics” and “touchpoints.” She told me that when she moved to Tennessee, she decided to homeschool her children. She never felt like she was able to build friendships with other women because she was so focused on her kids and their activities. Now her 20-something daughter was asking her how to build friendships with other women. This woman had no idea what to tell her because she had never learned how herself. My heart broke when I heard her story.
Last year when I studied the story of Ruth and Naomi for Women Who Dare to Believe, I talked about what they showed us about making and keeping true friends. These six truths that have fueled my friendship with Heidi and many others, and I wanted to share them with you.
1. True friendship requires sacrifice. Ruth left everything she knew to be in relationship with Naomi. She left her own family and her own culture where she felt the most at ease. She left the religious systems she had known from birth. Boaz’s relationship with Ruth also cost him something. He gave up some extra grain and offered her lunch. Looking back at what he gains in the end, I don’t think he saw those things as a sacrifice.
However, as modern women, even the slightest inconvenience can keep us from relationship. We want to keep our life as comfortable as possible, and if the friendship is “easy” and doesn’t cost me any time or money or discomfort, I’ll do it. Like Ruth, we have to be willing to make sacrifices for friendship. We need to make room for friendship. Sometimes our standards are too high. We miss potential friends because they aren’t the right age or their interests and values don’t perfectly align with mine. What are you willing to sacrifice?
My friendship with Heidi grew quickly because of carpool. We “automatically” saw each other two days a week. I had to “sacrifice” passing my daughter off to the preschool teachers in person, but I got to see the teacher in the afternoon when I picked up. We were both willing to “sacrifice” two hours that we could use to do housework or squeeze in errands so we could talk to each other, often with four children running around. When I look back at the friendship we enjoy today, what we gave up hardly seems like a sacrifice.
2. True friendship requires loyalty and commitment. Ruth doesn’t leave even when Naomi is mean or depressed. She made a covenant promise to Naomi (Ruth 1:15-17). Ruth doesn’t leave when they get to Bethlehem, and she is gleaning in the hot fields all day. She could have decided to look out for herself and leave Naomi, but instead she takes on the responsibility of providing for Naomi. Naomi also sticks with Ruth. She doesn’t try to get rid of her when they get to Bethlehem. She looks out for Ruth’s interests by trying to find her a husband.
As modern women, we can be quick to abandon a friendship when our feelings get hurt or when things don’t go our way. When our friend goes through something difficult and we don’t know what to do or say, sometimes we don’t do anything. Our fear of messing it up paralyzes us, and we end up avoiding the other person. We need to be willing to stick around even when it gets tough, and sometimes risk getting our feelings hurt. Depressed people like Naomi can say mean things, and they aren’t always easy to be around.
I remember when Heidi was making difficult decisions after she tested positive for the breast cancer gene. I had never been through this with anyone or watched anyone close to me go through it. I had no idea what to do. I told Heidi, “I want to be a good friend to you. But I’m afraid because I don’t know what that looks like. I need you to help me know what you need, but I want to be there for you.” Since then, she and I have walked through many more difficult things together. But even when we don’t know what to do, we don’t leave. Often just being there makes a big difference.
We also need to follow Ruth’s example and be willing to risk vocalizing our commitment. It is a risk to tell someone you want a deeper friendship with them. In our culture, people don’t often vocalize those things. But it is so good for the friendship when we tell a friend that we value her. Especially when I’ve been hurt by someone, I’ve said, “Normally I wouldn’t bring this up, but my friendship with you is important to me. I value my friendship with you. I don’t want there to be anything between us, and I need to tell you that I was hurt.” I know it’s terrifying, but it is worth it.
3. True friends treat each other with kindness, honor and respect. They let each other feel their feelings. Ruth doesn’t try to “fix” Naomi’s depression. Her kindness toward Naomi is one of the things that attracts Boaz. Boaz treats Ruth with respect and kindness when she is in his fields. “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” (Ruth 2:13)
You will experience a different level of relationship when you can let someone share their feelings. In my friendships, true intimacy has come from those times when we let each other be hurt, sad, angry or lonely without trying to fix it and make it all better. Most of the time what I need is someone to hear what I am saying. My friends need my attention and my presence more than they need my advice and wisdom. The word “compassion” literally means to “suffer with.” That’s what true friends do for each other. But my friends also love me too much to let me stay wallowing in my hurt and sadness. At the proper time in the right way, they call me to action.
4. True friends call each other to action with humility, steadfastness and boldness. Ruth’s steadfast commitment to Naomi gives Naomi the ability to press on to Bethlehem. Naomi told Ruth to go to see Boaz, which is a very bold move. Ruth humbly accepted Naomi’s advice. Ruth approached Boaz with humility, yet she called Boaz to action. He had to accept her or reject her. Later Boaz, with humility and boldness, approached the closer kinsman. Boaz called him to action and asks him to make a decision about redeeming the land and Ruth.
We need to speak truth to each other. Often I wait until God gives me the compassion and mercy to approach my friend in a way she can hear. I don’t want to go in a spirit of judgment, pride or fear. If we are going to do this for our friends, we also have to be willing to be open to our friends saying hard things to us as well. Sometimes my friends call me to repentance, to prayer or to the next step of action. Many times I have told them I don’t want to do that or that I’m afraid. But deep down inside, I know they are speaking wisdom. I have to humble myself and listen to their words spoken in love. I have told my friends before to remember what I say to them because some day I will need them to tell me the exact same thing. (see Galatians 6:1)
5. True friends minister to each other’s needs. Naomi took Ruth’s companionship even when she had nothing to give back to Ruth. She had no more sons to offer in marriage and no livelihood to provide. When the got to Bethlehem, Ruth provided for Naomi’s need by going out and gleaning. She did for Naomi what Naomi was physically incapable of doing. Boaz looked out for the needs of Ruth and Naomi by being overly generous in the fields. When Ruth needed a husband, she humbly took Naomi’s advice on approaching Boaz, despite her fear. When Naomi saw a way to provide for Ruth’s need for a husband and long-term livelihood, she helped Ruth know what to do in a foreign culture.
In our culture it is a bad thing to be needy. I’m afraid to take from someone if I don’t have a way of repaying them back. I had a friend who told me she was willing to watch my young children. However I was always afraid to ask because her children were older, and I could never “pay her back.” But then I realized how much she enjoyed being around my kids, and that joy was all she needed in return. I got over my pride and my self-made rules about only taking what you can re-pay.
Risk is involved in asking friends to meet your needs. Every time I ask a friend to meet a need, I risk being rejected. This is what often keeps us from asking in the first place. But when I live in authentic relationship with others, I trust them to tell me no. That’s how it was with my friend who loved watching my kids. I called her to ask for what I needed because I trusted her to tell me the truth. I’ve had friends who felt like they had to say yes and then my kids weren’t such a blessing and I felt guilty and I never called to ask for a favor again.
Sometimes we are afraid to go next door and borrow an egg for a recipe because it will make us look disorganized and forgetful. But when I went to my next-door neighbor for the first time, she told me she was so glad to have a neighbor who could borrow things. Will you take the risk and be needy?
6. True friends dream big dreams for each other. When they left Moab together, Ruth joined Naomi’s dream for a better life. She kept going toward that dream in spite of Naomi and her depressed state. Naomi dreamed of a better future for Ruth when she saw how she had found favor with Boaz. Boaz took action to help make that dream come true when he confronted the kinsman redeemer.
One of the greatest gifts my friends have given me is that they dream big dreams with me. This past year, I decided not to teach a Bible study at church and instead take time to write a Bible study of my own. It was a big switch going from teaching and getting pats on the back every week to sitting in front of my computer all by myself. Whenever I felt like giving up, my friends reminded me why I was doing what I was doing. They wouldn’t let me believe the lies that my work didn’t really matter and would never impact anyone. They reminded me of the places where God had given fruit and shared with me the fruit of their lives. They kept me accountable to my goals and encouraged me to say “no” to the things that distracted me along the way.
When we don’t share our dreams, we miss out. It is a risk to share these things with someone else. Sometimes the dream fells too big and too ridiculous to even say out loud. But something inside us changes when we tell someone else what we dream and what we feel like God is calling us into. Will you take the risk and share your dreams?
True friendship is terrifying and amazing all at the same time. It’s terrifying to be honest about how you feel and what you need and what you hope and dream. However a true friend who knows how you feel and what you need and what you hope for and loves you anyway is the picture of Christ in your life. I stand as one who has taken the risk and faced the fear and found it to be worthwhile. My hope is that you will find the same.