As bad as it is to admit, for much of my life, I generally viewed people as interchangeable parts. In my eyes, friends had their purpose for my specific situation at the time. As my life situation changed or someone moved away, I figured I could always make new ones.
I have had many people in my life with whom I have lost touch. These people were important to me at different times but that importance faded away as my circumstances changed. I had convinced myself that maintaining contact with those who were no longer in close proximity was a pointless endeavor. It felt like wasted energy that could have been better spent elsewhere.
As I look back, I have come to realize that I was thinking of even my close friends as disposable and this makes me sad. Even though true friendships are hard to find, I was too willing to walk away from them. Now, as I reflect, my understanding is that friendships provide us strength during the bad times and help us celebrate the good times.
As our society becomes more mobile, our friendships are at greater risk of becoming short-term, lacking depth, and developing what I call "newspaper relationships."
These are relationships where conversation consists of little more than news, weather, and sports. Those engaged in these relationships do not share struggles, disclose vulnerabilities, or encourage each other. Emotionally, there is no downside, as this is a safe way to interact with each other. However, limiting your engagement with people in this way prevents you from experiencing the possibility of true friendships.
More recently, the relationships I have built with my friends have deepened through being vulnerable and sharing my own fears and shortcomings. In nurturing these friendships, there are 4 questions I ask myself to identify true friendship:
1. Can I be my true self with my friend?
2. Can I express both my vulnerable moments and times of strength?
3. If they prayed for me, would they know what I need?
4. How would my friend answer these same questions about me?
When we know someone well enough to answer these questions, we are able to give and receive support and encouragement. God knows that this is good for us and directs us as Christians to share with, and confess to one another.
I encourage you to take a few moments and think of your current relationships in light of these questions. Which of these questions is a consistent challenge for you? With whom? What changes do you need to make in that relationship be able to answer any of these questions in the affirmative?