By Jane Story
We all want to be known and loved. Many of us know someone who has maintained certain friendships over the span of time. Perhaps you have an uncle who still talks to his army buddies ten years out, or your parents still keep in touch with college friends from twenty years ago. I often looked on those adults with envy.
I grew up as a military kid, which meant I was great at meeting new people, but I had no experience maintaining relationships over time. Much of my young adult life, including college, has been dedicated to learning this exact skill. I’m not an expert yet, but I’ve learned a few things. We can’t control what our relationships look like, but we can practice being a good friend. In so doing, God may in fact bless you with friends who you’ll keep your whole life!
This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start. Here are some ways to pursue those kinds of friendships:
Initiate and Respond
This is going to sound like the silliest tip in the world, but I am shocked by how few people implement these rudimentary skills. If you meet someone who you want to be friends with, initiate with them. That means ask if they want to get lunch, or shoot them a text to ask how their day was.
One reminder is that, unfortunately, not everyone wants to be friends with everyone. You may come to a point where you discover that you are the only initiator in the relationship. Don’t be a stalker, and don’t pursue people who won’t pursue you back. But, in my experience, most people need to do more initiating, not less.
On the other side, if someone initiates with you, respond. This means text people back! I know this can be hard, but try not opening a text or DM until you’re ready to reply. Or set a reminder in your phone for a time when you know you’re free to write the person back. Even if it’s a person that you weren’t originally trying to become friends with, respond to them. Some of my closest friends are people I never would have expected. Give them a chance!
Listen and Ask Questions
You’ve probably heard the corny saying, “You have two ears and one mouth, so you should listen twice as much as you talk”. But the principle is a good one. Make it your goal to be a listener in conversations. You’ll actually learn about your friend, and you’ll make them feel valued. Most times people will return the favor.
Is your new friend a little quiet? Prompt them with some questions. You can start with basic things like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you study?”. But then pepper in something that’s interesting, but not too invasive: “May I ask, what’s your religious background, and does that impact you today?”, “What kind of kid were you in elementary school/middle school/high school?”, or “When you imagine your life 5 years from now, what do you see?”
And finally, ask followup questions. If they tell you they’re the only girl with three brothers as siblings, ask, “Wow, what was that like growing up?”. If they mention they might join the fencing club, ask, “Cool! Have you fenced before? What do you like about it?”
Demonstrating your interest in someone else will help the person trust you, and will help them feel valued. This is a worthy goal even if you never become their friend, but most times they’ll return the favor.
Move Towards Difficult Things
While the skills above are most useful in the beginning stages of friendship (although you should practice them throughout), the real secret sauce of the deepest relationships is their endurance through tough things.
Many of you are in college, and may not have experienced the worst of what life has to offer yet. So when your peer tells you they’ve just lost a parent, or been diagnosed with a debilitating disease, it makes you uncomfortable. We often fear that we’re going to say or do the wrong thing. Or we wonder if we can really support this person when they’re facing something so huge. The result is that we pull away from hard things and, without knowing it, pull away from the relationship.
This is a double whammy, because most tragedies and struggles make it hard to reach out. It is at this moment when someone needs their friends the most, that they find it hardest to ask for help. Your friend’s trial is the ultimate test of your friendship.
If you want to make lifelong friends, you’ve got to lean in. Google their terrible diagnosis and educate yourself, then go ask questions and listen to them. Send flowers when something bad happens, or whatever the dude equivalent of flowers is (maybe just a card?). Make them a meal or, if you can’t cook, ask them if you can bring them take out from a local restaurant. Go sit with your depressed friend until they feel better, even if you have no words to say.
It is more important to show up and feel uncertain than it is to be perfect. Often you can ask someone how to support them. If they don’t know, turn to a pastor or campus staff or a parent who might have ideas. But the point here is to love your friend at their lowest. That will bond you in ways nothing else can.
Christ the Perfect Friend
Think about this. God did not wait for us to initiate with Him. He sent Jesus while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:8). God is always listening to us, and often asks us questions He knows the answer to, in order to help us grow and to relate to us (Jonah 4, 1 Peter 3:12)
And God has moved towards us in every difficult thing. He came as a human (Jesus) and experienced every ounce of pain the human life can produce, even death. Then, Jesus came back to life and left earth, but sent His Holy Spirit. This means that, if you are a Christian, the God of the Universe is living inside you (1 Cor 3:16). God is with you through everything you will experience.
Human friends will sometimes let us down, but we have Christ the Perfect Friend. It is because we are already loved and secure that we can offer friendship to others. Go and extend the love of Christ to those around you! Friends will appear in the process.
What about you? Do you have any tips about how to form long-lasting relationships? Comment below, we’d love to hear them!
Jane is campus staff with Cru at JMU. You can connect with her by commenting below!