Before the age of 18, I had moved five times. I attended two different elementary schools and three different middle schools. By the time I made it to high school, I held the relationships I made loosely. I didn’t find it particularly difficult to make friends, but growing those friendships into deep and lasting relationships—well that was a different story.
As it stands, I only have one meaningful friendship from high school, and really that’s imparted to my sweet best friend holding on to me when I was admittedly not a great friend. Likewise, I only have two friendships that I’ve maintained from college.
I’d like to think that I’ve come a long way from my high school and college days when it comes to maintaining friendships but the reality is that in 12 years of marriage and ministry, my husband and I have moved five times—most of those moves being across state lines. Add in the additional layer of being the “pastor’s wife,” I’d say that finding friends who really want to know me as me is sometimes tricky.
Nevertheless, I believe that God has designed each of us to be in relationship with others. In the words of the apostle Paul, “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). In order to carry each-others burdens, we need to actually be in authentic and vulnerable relationships with others.
If you’re struggling to cultivate deep and meaningful friendships, you are not alone. Here are four suggestions to connect well, grow deep and gain friendships that might just last a lifetime.
1. Look Local
The second most important command is this: Love your neighbor the same as you love yourself… (Mark 12:31)
Our little family had just moved to a suburb of Salt Lake City to serve in ministry. While our daily lives were busy with the purpose of growing our local church, in my quiet moments I felt deeply alone and isolated. At church, I had a job to do: Be the pastor’s wife, fill in the gaps, and lead when and where I was needed. Leadership was—and is—a beautiful and divine calling, but it can also be very lonely.
Enter Stacy. It was the first week of kindergarten and I felt wholly unprepared to release my baby boy into the world of teachers and classmates and unsupervised snack time. I felt all the anxiety that a young mom carries and additionally I felt alone. I didn’t have a single friend to come sit on my couch and drink coffee and cry and miss our babies together.
One morning, as I walked my son into his class I heard another mom talking to her kindergarten-aged son. We looked at each other and hilariously locked eyes. She was holding a cup of coffee, I was holding a cup of coffee, and in a place like Salt Lake City finding another mom holding a cup of coffee in public was definitely grounds for establishing friendship. We held our coffees up to each other in solidarity and then she said the words my introverted soul had been hoping for, “Hey, would you want to, um, grab a coffee with me after drop-off one of these mornings?”
My soul leapt. That simple invitation has led to a deep and beautiful friendship, a friendship that I’m thankful to say has preserved even though my family moved—again across state lines—a mere three years later. A major takeaway from the formation of this relationship is this: When looking for friends, simply start by looking around you. You might be surprised by the people that God has placed in your own backyard. You might be surprised by the beautiful friendship that is waiting on the other side of a simple invitation to coffee.
2. Look Beyond the Surface
I have a friend who is way cooler than me. She is the epitome of rad. In fact, her whole family is so cool that I really didn’t think she’d ever have any interest in being my friend. I avoided connecting with her, even though her husband serves at our church alongside my husband. Without really realizing it, I had judged her. I assumed that she wouldn’t like me, and in an effort to avoid rejection, I pre-rejected her.
How ridiculous is that? Nevertheless, one afternoon my husband let me know that we were invited to her home for lunch. I bristled and wanted to protect myself, because I just “knew” she wouldn’t like me. Unbeknownst to me, she was doing the exact same thing. She had made assumptions of me, she had assumed that the “pastor’s wife” would want nothing to do with her.
Wow, isn’t Satan so tricky? We had both made surface-level judgments that were completely false. When we finally did get together, we discovered that we had more in common than less, we had similar interests and ultimately, we were both growing in our faith and needed a friend who would be an encouragement and source of strength during difficult seasons. This friend has been a source of encouragement for me—and I her—during the thick of the pandemic. Our friendship has begun to personify the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”
Imagine if we had both allowed ourselves to cling to those surface-level assumptions. We would have really missed out on a great friendship. Please, learn from my mistakes and make every effort to look beyond the surface when you are looking at the people around you. If you are still struggling to find friends, I always think that a fantastic place to start is within your local church; if you’re not plugged in to a local church, consider this a gentle nudge to get connected.
3. Look After Each Other
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. (Ecclesiastes 4:10)
A couple of weeks ago I had a really rough parenting moment. I was exhausted and my kids were fighting non-stop. I finally lost it and came down on my kids much harder than I should have. After taking a few minutes to cool off, I sat with my children and apologized to them. Together we prayed and repented and asked God to forgive us. My children immediately forgave me and told me how much they love me. Nevertheless, I was wracked with guilt.
I reached out to a couple of my girlfriends and asked for prayer. I was authentic and vulnerable with them and told them how heavy my heart was. Each of them could have responded with judgment or harsh critique, but instead, they all reached out to me with gentleness, compassion, and love. Although my heart was heavy, I felt a little less alone. I knew that my girlfriends were praying over my situation and that meant the world to me.
These are the kind of friendships we need in our lives. We need friends who will stand in the gap for us, who will pray down Heaven when we are struggling, we need friends who will lift us up and point us to Jesus when we fail.
In the words of Jesus himself, “in this life, we will have struggles.” Our struggles may be internal, our struggles may be with a specific sin, our struggles may be seasonal, but the reality is that there will absolutely be struggles this side of eternity. And so, in the midst of it all, there is nothing better than a friend who loves you enough to face the storm and struggles right by your side.
4. Look for Ways To Love Well
The recipe for loving our friends well is often simpler than we make it out to be. Loving each other well requires listening and hearing, seeing and responding, and showing up even when we’re not quite sure how best to support each other.
John 15:12-13 says this of loving well, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Laying down our life for a friend doesn’t necessarily mean giving up our life, instead, it can mean that we lay down our time and show up for a friend who needs us, even if it’s inconvenient. It may mean that we lay down resources to support a friend going through a rough time. It can mean laying down our opinions and just sitting with a friend even if they’ve made a bad choice.
Ultimately, laying down our lives can mean laying down our own self-preservation and saying hard things in love to a friend who needs to be pointed back to Jesus.
These acts of surrender, help grow us as a friend, they help us love well, and at the end of the day they can become a reflection of biblical friendship and a deep and true commitment to the friends that God has given us. And greater love has no one than this.
Rachel Baker is the author of Deconstructed, a bible study guide for anyone who feels overwhelmed or ill-equipped to study the word of God. She is a pastor’s wife and director of women’s ministries, who believes in leading through vulnerability and authenticity. She is a cheerleader, encourager, and sometimes drill-sergeant. She serves the local church alongside her husband, Kile, in Northern Nevada. They have two amazing kiddos and three dogs. Rachel is fueled by coffee, tacos and copious amounts of cheese. For more on her and her resources to build your marriage, see her website: rachelcheriebaker.com or connect with her on Instagram at @hellorachelbaker.
This article originally appeared here.