6 Ways of Cultivating Better Friendships.
Recently, my friend shared that he doubted if he would still be a Christian if it weren’t for the friendships he had cultivated in 2018!
That was the year he had lost a very dear cousin to sickness. And then, barely two months later, the rest of his cousin’s family died in a tragic road accident. In that short period, an entire family had been annihilated: Father, mother, son, and daughter.
My friend was devastated and struggled to understand why God allowed it to happen.
Providentially, we were part of a small group fellowship with two other friends when these tragedies occurred. When we heard that his cousin had died, we immediately rushed to his side and took turns staying with him.
When the second tragedy hit, some of us were in different countries, but we changed our flights immediately to head home to be with him. We cried, grieved, encouraged, laughed, and rebuked one another with the truth (especially when we were entrapped in self-pity). He knew he could count on us to be there whenever he needed us.
2018 served to shake and deepen his faith in God all at the same time. Looking back, my friend is eternally grateful that God had used that critical time in his life to show him the importance of friends and relationships.
Friendship is the Chief of Happiness
C. S. Lewis once said, “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me, it is the chief happiness of life.” If we want to experience this happiness that Lewis describes, we need to pursue deep friendships—just like my friend experienced when we came together to help him in his time of need.
Such friendships do not grow overnight, but I believe the pointers below will help us go beyond our surface-level friendships to cultivate deeper ones:
1. Be intentional in asking deep questions
As we spend time with those we love, plunge your conversations below the shallows and into the deeper waters of life. Some of the questions that I have found helpful are: “How are your faith and heart?”, “What can we be praying for over your life in this season?”, “Is there something in your life we can thank God for?”
Initially, your friend’s response to these questions might not be as detailed as you hoped. But as you grow closer and become more comfortable opening up to each other, you could ask questions like: “What sin are you most struggling with right now?” or “What are the practical ways I can love on you?”
Over time, you’ll get a glimpse of what’s within their hearts.
2. Be present for them
One of the best ways to love someone is by being present. Rightly spoken words encourage our friends, but more than that, our mere presence assures them that they are not alone.
Jesus Christ had the presence of his three closest disciples with Him on most occasions. They slept when Jesus needed them to pray for him (Matthew 26:36-40). Yes, they deserted him in his hour of need; however, these examples are learning points for us all, reminding us to be physically present and emotionally and spiritually present with our friends.
I believe my friend, who lost his relatives, was grateful that we were present with him in all ways humanly possible: physically, emotionally (listening, and sometimes when words would fail us, we would be silent and cry with him), and spiritually (constantly reading the Bible and praying with him).
When we make time for our friends, we give them a priceless gift (our time).
3. Be a good listener
“Be quick to hear, slow to speak…”
We live in a time where deep and genuine friendships are hard to cultivate. In some ways, we are blinded by “digital illusions” of being more connected than ever when we’re more disconnected from our peers. We may have a long list of friends and followers on our social media accounts, but these friendships are often shallow as a pan.
A friend and I were discussing how we felt unimportant, invisible, and uncared for when we opened our hearts to our friends, only to see them scrolling on their phones or occasionally peeping at them.
We then resolved always to keep our phones away (and on silent) and to listen to one another when we meet up actively. Being a good listener could look like not interrupting our friends as they share, asking follow-up questions, and checking in on them regularly.
4. Be an encourager
One of the best ways to deepen our friendships is to find ways to constantly encourage our friends. If they’re going through struggles, remind them of their identity in Christ; if they’re struggling with depression, remind them of God’s goodness; and if they’re feeling uncertain and lost, remind them of God’s faithfulness.
The author of Hebrews calls us to “exhort one another every day” (Hebrews 3:13) and to “encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25). For me, I have learned the importance of celebrating my friends’ progress, no matter how small. Recently, a friend’s business was struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She shared how hopeless she felt and regretted leaving her job to pursue her passion. We ended our time together by praying for one another and encouraging each other to take it a day at a time.
Two months later, God graciously sent two clients her way. When we next met, I quickly reminded her how far she had progressed in those two short months! I also affirmed her by telling her I’m proud of her perseverance and hard work. By the time we went home, we felt rejuvenated, vibrant, and happier.
5. Be willing to work through conflict
Every friendship is bound to go through difficult times. It could be a misunderstanding, a disagreement, or differences in perception or priorities as we go through different seasons of life.
If you find you and your friend confronted with a misunderstanding, talk it through with them with graciousness and patience, constantly forgiving one another as we have been forgiven in Christ (Colossians 3:13).
Friendships grow stronger through difficult times. This has been true in all my friendships, including my marriage. While I often avoid conflicts, I have friends who do not shy away from them. They have consistently made us work through our misunderstandings, find resolutions, and forgive one another—all while reminding me that they love me despite my shortcomings.
Their willingness to work through conflict has created a safe space where we can share our struggles and sins and feel loved and confident in our friendship, knowing that we will never give up on each other—but will continually help each other grow in Christlikeness.
6. Bear each other’s burdens
We all need friends who frequently meet our needs by presenting us to the Lord in prayer and/or our physical needs.
It is an encouragement to know that I’m not alone and have friends who pray for me, especially when I struggle to do so. My friends’ prayers have strengthened me in my Christian journey, and I hope my prayers do the same for them.
Be the friend who is quick to pray for the needs of your friends, and if you can go beyond praying, then do so! One of the most helpful strategies I apply to ensure I pray for my friends consistently includes praying when we’re together, praying over the phone as we talk, and writing their prayer requests down in my journal. This way, I neither forget their prayer requests nor my promise to pray for them.
These are just some ways God has used to deepen my friendships. If this list seems daunting to you and you have no idea where to start, here’s an idea: choose just one or two ideas from the list to focus on, and exercise it with someone you’re hoping to deepen your friendship with.
My prayer is that God will grace us with wisdom and intentionality as we seek to become better friends and, in so doing, glorify God in our friendships.