Relationships are hard. They take time and are often messy. But I was reminded recently of their importance and how often I fail at making them a priority. We were created for community, and it is imperative that we learn how to cultivate our relationships if we want to live out our purpose in the world.
I actually once heard an insightful man say that air condition and attached garages killed our neighborhoods because we closed ourselves off inside our homes and no longer talked to one another. While that may be overstating it slightly, let’s face it, we have some issues. Even as much as technology has aided our connectivity, devices are often more of a hindrance to real conversation than an aid. Add to that a dose of mind your own business, a pinch of not wanting to be a bother, and a moderate to heaping scoop of self-doubt, and there’s little wonder we have difficulty building friendships that will last.
With that in mind, I wanted to invite you to join me in a little exercise that I hope just might put us both on a path to more authentic relationships.
1. Choose Your Three
No one is telling you that you can only have three friends, okay, but for the purpose of this exercise choose three specific people that you would like to connect with more intentionally over the next few months. Of course it would be nice to think that you could pull up your friend list from Facebook and throw a party tomorrow with all the people who love you, but let’s be honest, how many of those people would even have your number programmed into their phone if you called tonight? Besides, even Jesus limited the number of His closest companions. So go ahead and take the first step: write down your three. You heard me. WRITE THEM DOWN! I don’t care if you have to pick up a rogue Cheez-It and etch the names onto your couch pillows. Write them down! There’s something about the practice that commits you to the completion, so go ahead….I’ll wait. (BTW, feel free to use the comments section below if you’d prefer to save your pillows).
2. Communicate Immediately
Yes. That’s right. Pick up your phone right now and text the first person on the list. If texting isn’t your style or it’s 1 AM (like it probably will be for me), fire off an email or send them a message on your social media network of choice. You see, one of the biggest barriers to healthy relationships is that we simply don’t communicate. Think about it. It’s actually possible to go to church, sit in the back during Sunday School, listen intently to the sermon, leave quickly to make it home for the football game, and never actually have a real conversation with anyone in your church FAMILY. But this is your chance. All it takes is a few keystrokes. Obviously, feel free to write your own message, but I’ve even included a couple of templates below just in case you need the help or want to use them as a place to start:
Sample Text Message or IM: Hey, [Name]. I read something that made me think of you today. Got any time for lunch or coffee in the next few weeks?
Sample Email: [Name], I know this may seem kind of random, but I have realized lately that I’m really not good at staying in touch with people, so while this is really out of character for me, I wanted to shoot you an email to let you know that I want to be more intentional about that. I suppose this is the first step and even though I know we’re both super busy, do you have some days/times that might work for you for a phone call in the next week or so?
3. Do Something Together
You may have noticed that we laid the groundwork to this one in the sample messages above. Try your best to make some time to actually be together in the same place if possible. Go golfing. Plan a craft night. Schedule your oil changes at the same time. Be creative. Even if physically being together is out of the question, there are some incredible ways technology does allow us to overcome barriers to communication that only a few years ago would have seemed impossible. Just recently I was able to spend about an hour on Skype with one of my close friends who is serving as a missionary in Spain. The execution of it was so simple and the time passed so quickly as we caught up and shared visions and dreams that as I write this, I am scolding myself for not having talked to him since…which brings us to step #4.
4. Schedule A Follow Up (And Another)
I’m really not trying to be demanding and this may be the easiest step so far, but I have one more task for you: take out your calendar or whatever you use to remind you of the things you need to do (I recommend Todoist but that’s another post for another day). Now input at least two times within the next month where you will repeat steps 1-3. Obviously, the next text you send or the phone call you make won’t have the same feel, but plan now that you will not let this be a one time thing. Set a reminder on your phone or put a post-it on your desk at work. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but find a way to remind yourself to continue to connect.
If I haven’t lost you yet and you’ve stayed with me to the end, let me emphasize now that there is no guarantee this is going to change anything for you. Ultimately, it’s success will be determined by your dedication and your choice of friends, but the real point is that if we want to have more lasting and authentic relationships, we’re are going to have to decide that they are worth the effort. I know I want that for me. So maybe all of this is just a reminder to myself that I need to work harder at cultivating my community, but I hope, perhaps, it might inspire you to do the same.
- Get your spouse or significant other on board. If he/she doesn’t support you, it’s not gonna happen.
- Don’t overthink it. You’re not asking someone to co-sign a loan; you’re asking them to talk to another human being for a few minutes.
- Don’t expect too much. This is hopefully only a small step toward a larger goal. Enjoy it.
“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”