It’s rare that someone will take the initiative in friendship, so quit waiting for that to happen. Everybody is busy, and few people are prioritizing deep connection. In other words, plan to go first.
Connection takes stepping out and being intentional again and again. If you’re thinking, I’ve done that for so long, and nobody is reciprocating, let me gently encourage you to be sad for exactly one minute and then to get over it and own that role. You will never have friends unless you are willing to consistently initiate. Be the one who reaches out. Initiate and initiate again. You can’t expect to have friends unless you get good at this. Even though it’s frustrating. Even though it’s awkward.
We see enough of Jesus’s life in the Gospels to know that He was an incredible initiator. He noticed people. He stopped for a conversation. He even invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner.
I have been blessed to be able to do some work in Israel, and the thing that surprised me most is the tight radius within which most of Jesus’s ministry took place. Israel is a small country, roughly the size of New Jersey. Only five miles separate Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Communities were located intentionally so that people could return easily to the temple. We could sit on a boat in the Sea of Galilee and see the various places where Jesus spent most of His life. Most of the disciples lived just a few miles from each other, and most of their travels were day trips on foot.
Jesus lived small and simply, doing life with those immediately around him, but those few people’s lives would affect the whole world. He prioritized proximity, His family, intimate meals, and fireside chats. That wasn’t revolutionary in biblical times. It’s just how people lived.
And it mattered. People in small towns, living life together, was essential to the way the Church would grow and spread. The entire Church was birthed from a few uneducated fishermen and their friends, and it reached to the ends of the earth. And yes, someone had to take the gospel to the world. Paul and the apostles would travel and spread the good news, but all along the way, they settled into community contexts, staying with families, being invested in and supported by local churches.
Community should, in its truest form, reflect aspects of who God is and how He loves. Which brings me to a question: Who has God put in your life—here and now and right under your nose—that you haven’t really connected with yet?
The enemy wants to shut you down, make you afraid to initiate, cause you to not prioritize the people right in front of you. He wants us to live surrounded by people but never deeply connected to them, so we don’t change, we don’t grow, we don’t even fully live—and we mostly end up stuck in self-pity about how we don’t have any friends when dozens of people in front of us certainly would welcome someone reaching out to them at the very least.
In case you need help seeing the people in your life from this perspective, the following list will get you started. Granted, it isn’t exhaustive. But hopefully it will put words to what you need in the little team you are gathering around you—and help you notice the people who may already be filling key roles. These individuals may be of varying ages and cross your path in various ways, but the point is to look for people with certain qualities to play different roles in your life, not just seek out two to three people who are exactly like you and expect them to meet all your relational needs.
A village of people meeting different needs and loving you in different ways provides a fuller, richer way to live. And these people probably exist somewhere around you already, maybe family members or neighbors or people at your church or your work? You just have to spot what gifts they bring to your life and also own the role you play for others. What do you bring to your friendships?
Here are a few types of people to look for in your life.
This is the friend who listens, prays, and advises. They love for you to bring them a problem. They carry godly wisdom earned through study and/or life experience. They are safe and trust- worthy. The apostle Paul was a sage friend to Timothy.
This is the cheerleader, the friend who believes in you. They see the good in you and call it out. It is easy for them to speak hope when you are discouraged. They see the best in life and people. This person oozes belief and support.
THE FOXHOLE FRIEND
This is just a good companion. This friend gets their hands dirty with you. If you have an idea, they are all in! They will fight for you and fight beside you. I have a friend, Jenn Jett Barrett, who calls herself a dream defender and has helped along almost every dream I have ever built. Your foxhole friend may not use words to express what you mean to her, but she’ll be right beside you and share in whatever trouble you get into.
This is the friend who isn’t afraid to tell you the truth. They won’t let you settle, and they will kick you in the booty if you get off track. They might not be your easiest friend, and you might have to work through conflict here and there, but they make you better every time.
THE FUN ONE
This is the friend that brings the party. They might not have a two-hour debate with you about a theological issue, but they will make sure you laugh often. They are spontaneous and pull people together and say something inappropriate that interrupts whatever bad mood you find yourself stuck in.
This is the organized and thoughtful friend who makes sure you get together and makes sure the bill gets split up correctly during girls’ night out. She starts the meal train email and remembers your birthday.
I’m certainly not suggesting that you rush out and start interviewing acquaintances to play these specific roles. What I’m saying is that within your sphere of influence someone is likely already playing one or more of these roles, even if you haven’t yet thought of them as a friend. No one can be your everything, but everyone has something to say, something to teach you, and something to bring to your life.
Look for it.
Adapted from FIND YOUR PEOPLE: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World © 2022 by Jennie Allen. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, on February 22, 2022.
Jennie Allen is the founder and visionary of women’s organization IF:Gathering, the host of the top rated Made for This podcast, as well as the New York Times bestselling author of Get Out of Your Head, which was the #1 bestselling Christian book of 2020. Her latest book is Find Your People: Building Deep Community in a Lonely World. For more information, visit www.jennieallen.com.
Jennie Allen’s new book, “Find Your People”, will be our next selection for book club in the LO Sister app! Be sure to grab your copy here and join LO sis today to be a part 🙂 Can’t wait to see you there, friend!