When I was younger I had a hard time making and keeping friends. In grade school and middle school I was extremely shy so I knew that in order to have friends I had to find ways to fit in so that people would like me. Up until the 4th grade my mom would dress my brother and I in matching boy/girl twin outfits. We would get made fun of all the time and as cute as my mom thought it was, she was really cramping our style. While my brother remained kind of nerdy I was on a mission to ‘fit in.’ So I got involved with sports, after school clubs etc to become more sociable. In middle school I started to develop a bad attitude, expected my mom to buy me name brand clothes, skipped meals so I could be skinny, allowed classmates to cheat off my homework and exams and did anything I could to emulate what the ‘cool’ kids were doing in order to be popular. Little did I know that my ‘fake’ image only brought about fake friendships.
Entering high school and realizing how difficult it was to make and keep friends I started to give up and isolate myself. Almost none of the people I ‘hung out’ with from ages 8-15 remained friends with me in high school; my friendships were about as deep as a puddle of water at the top of a hill. I didn’t like who I was and I eventually realized that if I would have any friends at all they would have to accept me for me. In those years I only had three people I could call friends of which only one is still a friend today. Needless to say, I was not good at making or keeping friends.
I share this history because I think a lot of people can relate. If I were to comprise a list of friendship qualities, many of us would fall short and be pretty disappointed in ourselves and others. In the years since I have read multiple books on relationships. Please don’t misinterpret this, I am no expert on friendships or relationships – I fail every day! But I have been able to identify my weaknesses in order to get better and have learned a lot since those days. I pray that with my new awareness I can develop lifelong bonds and friendships with many people.
In learning through my mistakes, reading a lot of books in the LIFE leadership system and listening to audios from people who have had great success in relationships, I have been able to narrow down some specific and intentional practices that have worked to develop many of the great friendships I have today (in no particular order):
- Finding Purpose
- Taking responsibility
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Matthew 11:15
- We are ALL guilty of failing here! There are so many distractions that make this simple task so difficult. People just want to be heard. I still fail at this a lot but there is one thing that’s made listening a whole lot easier: scheduling it – it’s a lot easier to listen and be prepared for conversations when it’s planned – especially with the heavy stuff. I like to meet over coffee or while going for a walk. Whether it’s scheduled, just a conversation in passing or I am talking on the phone I try to keep any and all distractions out of sight (i.e. phone, computer, etc), I make eye contact with that person, acknowledge and empathize with their concerns, celebrate when they are excited and unless they are looking for advice or solutions, I try to speak very little. There is a saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.” Meaning we should listen twice as much as we speak.
“Pleasant words are a honey comb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Proverbs 16:42
- I admit, this is the most challenging one for me! I am naturally a very isolated person so I have to be very intentional with my communication. I have learned that multiple forms of communication are better than none at all. I struggle with talking on the phone so usually my phone conversations end with setting up a time to meet in person. The 3rd line of communication I like to use is text or e mail. While we know it is the most ineffective way to build a relationship, it does serve an important role in staying connected. I am not afraid to send a friend I haven’t talked to in a while a text message that says, ‘I miss you,’ or, ‘how are you doing?’ Many times this sparks a re-connection which leads to a phone conversation or coffee date. But for the friends, business partners, etc I am most associated with, I make sure to communicate with them in some form at least once a week (on the phone or in person if possible) and it helps to put a reminder in my calender to ‘check in’ with them.
3) Finding Purpose
“Many plans are in man’s mind, but it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand. ” Proverbs 19:21
- There is nothing more appealing and attractive to others than someone who knows who they are and whose they are. I believe that in order to find yourself it requires a discovery of ones purpose. And many people don’t know who they are because they don’t know why they are… Without this piece, how could I ever expect to have lasting friendships or relationships. It was hard to create depth with another human being if I didn’t have eternal depth with myself and God. Many people go their entire life without ever figuring this out and sadly end up very lonely at the end. Find your purpose and you will find that your friendships and relationships will be stronger than ever.
4) Taking Responsibility
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16
- A lot of my friendship train wrecks resulted in blame. I would justify or make excuses for myself and then blame others for the break up. It wasn’t until I finally owned up to the fact that relationships are a two way street and that I was just as much at fault as the other person – that things started to change. In fact, many of the great friendships I used to have that are no longer present today I have now taken full responsibility for. When I finally took responsibility it made it much easier to forgive them (see #5). This has really been the primary motivator for me to change and get better.
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:!4-15
- I have been hurt by many people – not just friends, but family as well. When we are hurt, it is natural to be resentful or hold grudges. The worst physical pain someone can feel doesn’t even measure up to deep emotional pain inflicted from another person. But what I have learned about resentment and grudges is that the only person it is really hurting is you! I have chosen to forgive anyone and everyone who has caused me physical or emotional pain and can peacefully say that I hold no grudges towards anyone. Everyone makes mistakes – we are all sinners saved by grace and if God can forgive us for our sins, we should certainly be able to forgive one another.
Just like anything worth having, friendships take work. It requires identifying weaknesses, learning from mistakes, humbling oneself and putting in the effort that is required. Try this, write down the five people you consider true friends. Now, ask yourself, “would those five people put me on their friend’s list?” If you think they would, you are on the right track but if you have any doubts then it might be wise to seek resources to grow in this key area of life.
LIFE Leadership offers world class information about relationships and friendships. Maybe it’s picking up a People Skills Pack with incredible information produced by best selling authors Orrin Woodward and LIFE founder George Guzzardo. Or studying a classic like How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. The resources are endless, all that’s required is a hunger to master these skills. As the great Anthony Robbins says, “the quality of your life is the quality of your relationships.”
“Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor.” Romans 12:10