Written by Mackenzie King, Australia
My friends once lamented to me how hard it was to form new friendships once we hit a certain age. I was visiting them in the United Kingdom in 2016, where they had moved for new opportunities. While they had settled in fine, making friends was something of an issue. One friend had resorted to using an app in hopes of finding new friends, but it hadn’t been very successful.
One problem, my friends reckoned, was that most people in their workplaces were partnered up, or had young children, and so didn’t have time to meet up for weekend brunches. Then there were others who already had their own set of friends and didn’t feel the need to make more (new) friends. It’s also tough trying to “break into” a long-established circle of friends who have a shared history.
Having spent a large part of my life moving towns and countries, I know too well the pain of having to start all over again and make new friends. I am fortunate in some sense that, unlike my non-Christian friends, I usually have a local church to connect with in the new place I find myself in, which gives me access to an “instant family”.
Now, I’m not saying everything would turn out perfectly whenever I connected with this “instant family”, and that I’d immediately find my “tribe”. The friendships I made in churches had their share of complications—heartaches and disappointments (and fending off unwanted suitors). But it also came with a toss of delightful and unique friendships that I wouldn’t have found anywhere else.
Friendships are one of the most precious gifts God gives us, and if I could rewrite Proverbs 18:22, it would say, “He who finds a good friend has found a good thing”.
Below are three things I have learned through the different friendships I have formed in church.
1. Friendships come in all ages
Quite often, when we think of new friends, we usually picture peers in our own age group. Which is fine, but focusing on just that can cut out the potential for meaningful relationships with those who are older (or younger) than us.
When I first accepted a job with a regional newspaper in a provincial town, I was anxious, wondering if I’d be able to make any new friends there. To help ease my anxiety, a church friend put me in touch with their relative, who happened to be living in that same town. I was initially a bit apprehensive, as I didn’t think she’d want to hang out with a stranger in her 20s (she was in her 60s).
But we struck up an easy friendship. She was warm and welcoming and regularly invited me over for meals. I’ll always remember going to her house, which was always warmed up by a heater on cold evenings, with the smell of food in her kitchen, and the quiet burble of a Christian radio station playing in the background.
If there was one thing that I took away from our friendship, it was her unwavering faith in God. God was an ever-stable presence in her life, and to her, nothing was too small or too big for Him. Prayer was part of her everyday life, and whenever I had a bad day at work, she’d comfortingly say, “We’ll pray about it”, without sounding condescending.
It has been seven years since I left that small town, but we have managed to keep our friendship alive through text messages and present exchanges in the mail.
2. Friendships can be seasonal
Contrary to my naïve wondering about whether the small town I was in had any young adults (instead of plenty of cows in paddocks)—yes, there were.
It was a relief knowing there were peers I could meet up with on a weekly basis. And despite our different backgrounds—I was from the big city, while they grew up in a rural country town with plenty of rolling greenery and fresh air—they didn’t make me feel like an outsider.
And as it turned out, they were the lifebuoy which I depended on when I found myself in an incredibly toxic workplace. I remembered crying in one of our life group sessions—perhaps it was a really hard day, or the lyrics from Hillsong’s “Glorious Ruins” (And I’ll look to the cross/As my failure is lost/In the light of Your glorious grace) simply opened the dam. There I was, a mess on the floor, and when one of them said she ended up crying when she saw me crying, it made me feel like they cared for me, that they were those who rejoiced for those who rejoice and mourned with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).
I also appreciated how our friendships seeped outside of our weekly life group meetings. When my birthday rolled around, one of them showed up to my house with a homemade Filipino dish of adobo (a stewed pork dish), while another turned up with a pack of sausages for the barbecue and a gift card.
When I eventually resigned from my toxic workplace, I felt sad saying goodbye to them as they were such genuine people. And despite our well-meaning intention to “keep in touch”, life pulled us in separate ways. These days, the only contact I have with them is liking their social media posts.
As much as I’d love to be actively involved in each their lives and vice versa, I have also come to accept that sometimes, God puts certain friendship groups in our lives for just a season—perhaps at a time when we can meet each other’s need—and that’s okay too.
3. Not all friendships work out
I just got out of an incredibly hurtful church environment recently. The friendships started out surface-level friendly enough—the after-church lunches, life group studies—but things slowly took a pear-shaped turn.
It started with an unpleasant run-in with a fellow life group member, and the event was recounted by someone to another set of mates who had no connection to the event. And then things slowly snowballed from there. There was the betrayal of a friend whom I had mistakenly thought liked me. And my descent into a pit of hurt was fuelled when a leader rang to see how I was going, only to offer pat answers on how we should be grateful for everything.
The reality is, the church is still made up of broken, sinful people (including me), and so there’ll inevitably be hurts and disappointments. I’m still working on forgiving those who had hurt me (it’s a battle of one step forward and 10 steps backwards). And maybe reconciliation can happen someday, though I still don’t know when or how.
All that said, there were some truly genuine people within that church, and I’m still good friends with some of them. But I now also know that friendships aren’t always smooth sailing.
Being able to experience the whole myriad of friendships has shown me more of who God is—the God who supplies all my needs (Philippians 4:19) by providing me with friends I can rely on, but also the God who is constantly faithful even when I and my friends are not (2 Timothy 2:13).
It isn’t easy to form new friendships, and sometimes we do end up getting hurt by (or hurting) our friends. However, friendships are a priceless gift from God, and He uses them to grow and mould us.
Today, if you’re looking for a friend, why not search for them outside of your age or interest group? I have found volunteering (for church or non-profit), signing up at a sports club, or sometimes just being friendly to the new person in church (striking up a conversation with them, inviting them to after-church lunch) to be good ways of meeting and forming new friendships.
Or if you know someone who might be struggling with something, why not lend them a listening ear? Or perhaps you have been hurt by your Christian friends and are unsure if you can trust anyone—take this time to let the God of love heal you as you seek Him.