Right before my first day of kindergarten, my mom sat down with me and, over a bowl of chicken noodle soup, she shared the secret of finding great friends. The next day I showed up at school wearing my glittery gold stick-on earrings, sat down, smiled at the girl with the long, curly, jet-black hair sitting next to me and said, “Hi. I’m Ashley. Will you be my friend?”
And in kindergarten, that strategy worked really well. Nicole ended up being one of my best friends that year. She clapped the loudest for me during show and tell. We were always buddies on our field trips. We helped each other learn how to read.
As I got older, I started to realize that making friends sometimes takes a little more effort than simply asking someone to be friends.
If I walked into my local coffee shop today and asked the person at the counter next to me to be my friend, I’d be more likely to hear uncomfortable laughter than I would be to gain a lifelong friend. (I’m not saying it couldn’t happen; I’m just saying one scenario is more likely than the other in my neighborhood.)
Thankfully, though, I do have the privilege of sharing in several authentic friendships these days, so I don’t necessarily need to go stake out the coffee shop unless I’m pining for a mocha. Over the last month, in fact, I’ve been able to visit several of my closest friends. When I sit down and think about these close friendships, I realize they all seem to have a few things in common.
First, we all had to show up to find each other. Each of my most authentic friendships required a healthy dose of calculated risk to get there. I met one BFF when I took a semester-long break from college and moved across the country. I met another when I decided to attend a writer’s conference by myself. Still another became one of my heart-friends when I took a challenging summer job five hours away from home. If I’d stayed in my comfort zone (ie: reading books by myself in the backyard), I never would have met my friends. In fact, it took a little bit of stepping out for all of us.
It’s not just about showing up once, though. Real friendship usually requires showing up over and over again. It’s definitely possible to have an easygoing, wave-at-each-other-across-the-room kind of friendship if you talk to someone once every year or two. But we often find it’s easier to have an authentic friendship if we have more than a couple of interactions, and sometimes we have to sacrifice things like time, money, or comfort to make that happen.
Second, we had to start sharing real life with each other. This meant we had to move beyond surface conversations about the weather or our favorite television shows to talk about deeper, more complicated things. With some of my friendships, those conversations came easily, but with others it took us years to get to the place where we trusted each other enough to go there.
Those conversations weren’t and aren’t always comfortable. Sometimes I’d rather hide my embarrassments, failures, or anxieties from my friends, but when I do that I lose out on a really important piece of authentic friendship. My truest friendships are those where I’ve stopped trying to present myself as a perfectly polished picture of what a person should be and instead let them embrace me as the person I actually am.
Third, we needed to stick with it. Sharing real life with friends can sometimes get messy. Misunderstandings happen. Time passes and we may not be able to stay in touch as well as we’d like. Sometimes feelings get hurt. But unless the relationship is truly unhealthy, sometimes the best way to encourage an authentic friendship is to stick it out, talk through the misunderstandings and hurt feelings, and jump back in.
Also, friendships naturally have an ebb and flow about them; certain friends might feel nearer in certain seasons. Just because a friendship has faded into the background for right now, it doesn’t mean it’s dead. We never know how God plans to use our friendships with those who have stood with us in the past as we move into the future.
How did you meet your closest friends? What are your best tips for cultivating an authentic friendship? Share them with us!