This pandemic has been hard for so many reasons, but I wonder if friendships may have been affected the most. In some cases, we’ve grown closer to our friends because that’s what happens in the midst of hardship. But I fear that our isolation has kept us from growing friendships. When I say “growing friendships” I mean both cultivating established friendships and making new friends. If you’re not singing that old girl scout song “Make new friends, but keep the old”, then you are now. Since it’s February, I’d like to take a few weeks to talk about how to love the people in our lives. I’m starting with friends, because I’m a mom and I tend to neglect friendships when I get busy. But, they’re also the relationships I need the most. So, how can we cultivate that garden of friends?
Tend the Perennials:
I’m not much of a gardener. In fact, one of the selling points when we bought our house was the user-friendly landscaping it came with. But we do plant a vegetable garden each year. And no matter how many times I visit a nursery, I always have to look up the word perennial. I think I’ll remember, but then I’m in the aisle trying to remember if those are the ones that come up every year or only once a year. Spoiler, by definition, they are plants that live more than two years. In terms of friends, these are the ones you’ve had for a while.
In plant terms, these friendships are hardy. They survive the dead of winter and still pop up in the spring when we need them most. But just because these are hardy friendships, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t cultivate them. In fact, we should tend to them even more because they are so valuable. How do we tend to perennial friends?
If a friend is on your mind, don’t assume it’s an accident. Text her, call her, or pray for her. If God has put this person in your life, he’s using you to show his love. So, those little nudges may be God urging us to reach out. Why not have a list of 1-5 friends you pray for daily? Imagine how that would grow your relationship if you spent time in prayer every day for her?
Cheer Her On:
I don’t know what this looks like in your stage of life, but find a way to be a cheerleader for your perennials. Maybe she’s into a new diet or has a new job. While those things may not interest you, take the time to connect around them. Allow her to feel heard. When she’s struggling, be there to encourage her. When she’s winning, be there to cheer for her.
Cherish Time with Her:
Cultivating perennials means spending time together. This is something I really need to work on. I’m the queen of “we should get together sometime”. But sometime hardly ever happens. I run a monthly craft club with women who use that regular meeting time to connect with their perennials. They enjoy making the crafts, but they do it for time with their friends. Carve out the time because these are your most valuable plants.
I’ve been blessed this past year with some new friends. Whether it’s the kindergarten parents of Grady’s friends, my new book club, or my Bible study group, when I come home from time with these new friends, I feel energized. It’s fun to meet new people and find things we have in common. Especially after the isolation of the past two years, these new plants are good for the soul.
So, how do we cultivate those new plants?
When I meet new friends, I have this tendency to want to impress them. The first time I hosted book club, I worked so hard to make my house spotless. I didn’t want them to think for a minute there could be something in my life that’s even a little messy. But when they arrived, I realized they were all like me. They had the same struggles and the same messes in their lives. Once I became real with them, we really began to connect.
Some of my new friends are younger than me. The sweet girls in my Bible study are new moms who haven’t had a full night’s sleep in months. I’m finally passed that stage, so now’s the time to be intentional with them. To have a purpose for our friendship. My purpose is to be an encourager. I want to be there to let them know they are doing a good job and be a listening ear for when things feel overwhelming. And the cool thing is, time with them gives me encouragement too.
New friendships can be tenuous. The roots aren’t deep yet, so if you feel like the friendship has potential to be a perennial, be available to your new friend. Allow those roots to grow by being a listening ear or suggesting a coffee date. Sometimes little gestures can do wonders for a new friendship.
Know When to Prune:
My biggest gardening failure is allowing weeds to take over. I always start the summer with beautiful rows of plants growing in dark, rich soil. But then I forget to get out there and tend to them and soon, the soil is dry and cracked and hardy weeds have taken over. I don’t know what pruning you need in your friendships, but remember -pruning is cutting something back for the overall health of the plant.
Sometimes it’s an activity that needs to be cut out. If margarita night causes you and a friend to talk about things that aren’t helpful, maybe cut out that ritual. Go for a walk or have coffee instead. Be honest with your friend about why. Let her know that you are making some changes so you can grow. A good friend will support you even if she's a little hurt by it.
Maybe it’s a certain topic that keeps creeping in, like whenever you bring up this one person, you fall into the temptation of talking ugly about her. Maybe it's a situation in the past that's been rehashed a hundred times, but talking about it makes you feel justified in your bitterness. Let it go. Again, be honest with your friend and say, “Please let’s not go there.”
Maybe it’s the relationship itself that needs to be pruned. I know that sounds harsh, but some friendships aren’t good for us. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” If you have a friend who is constantly making you dull instead of sharp, it’s time to get some distance. I don’t mean to be cruel to her or gossip about her. But don’t allow her the same access to your heart as you do with friendships that are healthy. Love her and pray for her, but don’t allow her to be a weed that comes in and takes over the garden.
For an amateur gardener, I sure stretched that metaphor as far as it can go. I once heard someone say, “If you want to see how someone will turn out, look at their friends.” The company we keep is so important. And life is so busy. I want to spend my precious time with my perennials and new plants. I want to be intentional and consistent. And I don’t want to be choked by weeds that never want to see me grow. Here’s a secret: I want that for you too.