A young, less-active friend of mine recently popped by for a visit, and mentioned how disappointed she is in the circle of friends she’s made at the local gym, where she spends several hours a week. In between workouts their main interest seems to be drinking and partying.
A man I know complains that he really doesn’t have any friends at all; he’s too busy working to make any.
And an older woman in another state feels trapped in a group of women she’s known for years, but never truly liked.
Friendships are tricky to navigate. We often fall into friendships with people we meet, for no other reason than the fact that we’ve met them. We carpool. We sit by them in class or at work. We’re in their ward. We share a sport or hobby.
But real friendship takes more than a matching schedule. Yes, of course we should be friendly with everyone and love our fellowman as Christ taught. But how do you find those special individuals you can count on in a storm, those soul mates you consider your very best friends who will walk in when others walk out, as the saying goes?
You have to drop your guard and genuinely care about someone else’s dreams. This means taking the risk that you’ll get hurt when your devotion isn’t returned, but it’s the only way to bridge the gap from friendly to friend. And the only way I know to get over the fear of betrayal is to reach out anyway. Will your efforts be rebuffed by some? Yep. Will you learn that certain folks aren’t to be trusted? Yep. But reach out anyway. And when someone treats you disrespectfully, be glad you aren’t someone who would do that. Move on until you find appreciation for your friendship.
I told my young friend to stop looking for friends in the wrong places. Most folks at the gym are just fine, but she had managed to find the fanatic, self-absorbed bunch whose top priority is their appearance, and “having a good time.” And you can find groups like this just about anywhere.
They are not people who are used to sacrificing or giving in a relationship, which explained why they were always angry with her when they called at 2:00 a.m. and she couldn’t drive them home from bar hopping. I told her to volunteer for a charity such as Habitat for Humanity (or the church… hellooo??) and then the odds will increase that she can find someone who has already learned to find joy in serving others. She will be drawing from a pool of already big-hearted people.
In the Especially for Youth booklet, it says, “If your friends urge you to do things that are wrong, be the one to stand for the right, even if you stand alone.” I wonder how many young people read that and think it will be different someday, that once you’re grown up peer pressure will evaporate. All your life you have to make tough choices and keep your standards in the face of rejection. But you’re in good company; scriptures are filled with examples of those who wouldn’t back down from their principles just so they could run with the crowd. Learning to do it when you’re young makes it easier when you’re old.
The man who is too busy to make any friends has likewise allowed his life to get out of balance, unable to give even five minutes to another person. You can’t make friends if you can’t make time. Paramahansa Yogananda said, “There is a magnet in your heart that will attract true friends. That magnet is unselfishness, thinking of others first; when you learn to live for others, they will live for you.” And it’s true-you need to seek out the unselfish but you also need to be the unselfish. If you’ve laid waste your powers “getting and spending,” as Wordsworth described, how can you be a good missionary? A good temple-goer? A good Home Teacher? A good friend? This man needs to take control of his schedule and block out time for other people, if only to give of himself.
And the woman who feels trapped in a rut of unfulfilling friendships needs to summon the courage to make changes. Friendships are dynamic, changing things. Over the years as people make differing choices; the friendship may not be what it once was. When long-time friends no longer share her values, support her in times of sorrow, or inspire her to be her best, she needs to branch out and find companions with whom she is more equally yoked.
A friend who has become preoccupied with bitterness, greed, or envy, is not someone whose company she will enjoy. Sometimes friends get competitive, almost gleeful over your setbacks. Sometimes they treat you condescendingly. Sometimes you feel you have to do all the chasing because they no longer make time for you. Sometimes they abandon you when you most need them. As Euripides said, “Friends show their love in times of trouble, not in happiness.” In each of these situations, it’s time to reevaluate and pursue other social activities that expose us to new groups, new potential friends. And as we age and realize how precious our remaining minutes are, we are less inclined to squander them on unfulfilling relationships.
Of course, anytime we feel frustrated in our friendships, we need to look inward at our own flaws and contributions to the problem. Maybe we’re the one who have changed, and sometimes a course correction on our own part can salvage a precious relationship.
Often we forget that some of our greatest, most trustworthy friends can be our family members. I made up a phrase that we painted above a fireplace in one home, and which now graces a coffee table in another: “How blessed we are to have friends we would choose as family, and family we would choose as friends.” Making friends you love as if you were sealed to them is a grand blessing. But showing ultimate friendship to your family members is an investment in eternity worth making a priority every single day. Both are friendships that can last forever.
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