By Bethany Pitman
Whether you are responsible for men’s ministry or women’s ministry, you will find those who seem to be on the periphery—who struggle to connect with others—or those who are just lonely for one reason or another. Let’s reflect back to “the beginning” and consider this observation: It is amazing how young children can become instant friends on a playground. Together they bond over running around, kicking the ball, or making the merry-go-round spin faster. Fast forward 30 years, and making friends looks very different. When people are in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, it can feel overwhelming and difficult to build meaningful relationships.
What makes building relationships in midlife such a hard and daunting task? When people reach their 30s and beyond, they are often no longer surrounded with a built-in community of people in the same life stage. People at work vary in age and experience: Some people are single. Some are married. Some are divorced. Some have children. Finding common ground and the time to connect with one another can be difficult. As we age, our willingness to be vulnerable with others seems to decrease. It is scary to put ourselves out there and let someone know we are looking for a friend. We worry that if we reveal too much, people might reject us, deeming us too much work, too annoying, or too emotional. The fear of vulnerability and rejection often keeps people locked in a world of isolation, longing for deep relationships but unable to break down the barriers to achieve meaningful friendships. In a world that is aggressively challenging Christian beliefs, it is more important than ever for Christians to find meaningful and supportive friendships that are life giving.
Jesus calls us to be in relationship with one another. Throughout the Bible, he consistently works to build community with people. Jesus understood the threat of rejection when he chose to engage with the friends in his life. He knew what made Mary and Martha different and lovable. He built meaningful relationships with other men. He asked questions, told them things many could not understand, and loved his disciples with an unshakable brotherly love. Jesus knew the loneliness of isolation and understood the importance of community.
So what does that mean for us today? Unlike college days, cultivating community takes more effort than simply popping into someone’s dorm room or sitting with one another in the cafeteria. Midlife friendships often start off slowly. When looking for friendships, consider people who have similar interests, and invite them along. It is easier and less awkward to talk while doing something. This can be as simple as going for a run together, inviting another family to play at the park, asking for or offering help with a home-renovation project, watching a favorite show together, or getting a group together for a few hangouts after work at a local restaurant. It’s okay to keep the conversation at surface-level things at first!
As you spend more time with potential friends, try taking the conversation a notch deeper each time. If you are worried about making a good impression, chances are others are, too. Recognizing that vulnerability is a conscious choice is half of the battle. Offering bits of affirmation goes a long way in developing meaningful relationships. Listening intentionally and asking follow-up questions shows that you are genuinely interested in getting to know someone.
While Jesus is a model for building friendships, he is also our most faithful Friend. Nothing we do or say sounds silly to him. He knows us inside and out, and he respects and loves us for who we are. Jesus also wants to be part of our walk on earth. He loves listening to our requests and he knows the work and vulnerability it takes to develop an adult friendship. If you are seeking meaningful friendships, know you can go boldly before Jesus, asking him to bring friends into your life and equip you with the courage it takes to be vulnerable while developing those relationships. Ask him to bless your efforts and guide you towards life-giving relationships. As you wait for opportunities for friendship to present themselves, take comfort knowing Jesus is sitting with you as you wait.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, you know the struggles of living on earth. You know the importance of life-giving relationships and the courage it takes to be vulnerable in developing them. Please bring people into my life who will be positive friends. Give me courage and discernment to develop friendships with those in my life. Thank you for being my forever, faithful Friend. Amen.
Editor’s note: Consider gifting a What a Friend Scripture Magnet to those in your care—a good reminder that Jesus is our best Friend!