“Mommy, those girls wouldn’t let me play with them today.” I heard the voice of my little four-year-old cutting through my thoughts, wistful and clear.
“Oh?” I asked. “What do you mean they wouldn’t let you play?”
“They just didn’t want to play with me.”
My heart caught in my chest as I felt that familiar sting. Rejection is never a pleasant feeling, but it multiplies when it happens to your loved ones. I took time to focus my attention, looking her straight in the face. I needed to tell her something important and I didn’t want her to miss this.
I didn’t want to miss this.
“Well,” I began, “did you know that even if others aren’t being very kind, you need to still be kind to them?” Her little eyes focused intently on my face, trying to take in all that I was saying.
“But they didn’t want to play with me”.
“It doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Even if it seems like they don’t want to play with you, you need to be friendly and try to play with them. Ask them if you can join in.”
I didn’t want to be harsh, and I wanted her to know that her feelings matter. When she hurts, I hurt too.
But I couldn’t risk allowing the seed to be planted in her little mind that somehow, our responsibilities in relationships hinge only upon what the other party is providing for us.
This idea, this way of doing “friendship”, is prevalent today, and it causes a lot of unsatisfactory relationships and unfulfilled friendships. And not just on the playground with a group of preschoolers, but unfortunately with adult women as well.
I am thirty-one years old, and I still find myself feeling those old, familiar feelings of being rejected, unwanted, or uninvited.
And just like my daughter on the playground, I have a choice to make. I can take my ball and go home, or I can choose to humble myself, be vulnerable, and initiate.
Too often, I see the women around me withdrawing when they feel unwanted and pulling farther and farther away from others when insecurity strikes. Sadly, the only thing that will ever achieve is a guarantee of loneliness and isolation. The farther they retreat, the more distant they feel from everyone around them, and the more convinced they become that no one wants to be their friend. If they would only realize that they, not others, are the ones shutting themselves out. And if they would only take the time to initiate, they would find that friendship is never very far away, and never very hard to find.
This seems to have reached epidemic levels in friendship among women today. And so as the mother of two daughters, I am determined to teach them a few fail-proof tips for finding friendship. I hope these five tips can serve them long into their adult lives.
1. Be willing to initiate.
“A man that has friends must show himself friendly.” (Proverbs 18:24a)
It doesn’t get much more basic than that. If you want friends, be friendly! Invite! Host! Initiate! Gather! Offer! Encourage! Reach out! Everyone is in need of a friend. All it takes is a little effort and you will find people ready and willing to forge friendship with, but you have to be willing to try.
When I got married and moved across the country to Oregon, I was the new one in town. I was new at work, at church, and in my neighborhood and community. Everywhere I went I was the new one. It would have been so easy to sit back and want to wait for everyone else to initiate. After all, I was the new one! They should be reaching out to me, right? If I had done that, those first years of life in Oregon would have been desperately lonely, and I probably still wouldn’t hardly have any friends.
So even if you’re the new one, don’t wait around. Ask to meet someone for coffee. Throw a party. Host a BBQ. You will find more friends than you know what to do with.
2. Show genuine interest.
It’s easy to be friends with someone who is always asking you about yourself, and showing honest, authentic interest in your life, right? So be that person to others. Everyone, no matter what they’re facing or going through, needs a listening ear. And not just a listening ear that’s interested in knowing “the scoop” so they can pass it on to others, but a listening ear because they actually care about you. And even when you feel like you always have to ask all the questions and initiate all of the conversation? Keep doing it. One day you will find a true friend who will be willing to offer that back to you.
3. Give others the benefit of the doubt.
So she snubbed your invite, or made a passing comment that hurt your feelings. Or maybe she forgot your birthday or didn’t visit you after you had a baby. Don’t sweat it. She might have had something going on at that time and totally spaced it, or she might have been battling her own personal insecurities that made her feel unable to enter into your friendship and life. Either way, it’s not your fault. It’s nothing you can control, and even if you could, you don’t need to.
Just continue to be a friend, humbling yourself to reach out even if it feels like she isn’t. It’s not all about us, after all. Christ was the Ultimate Friend, and He gave up everything for those He loved. He was the ultimate example of selflessness in friendship and love, to the extent of His life. So it shouldn’t hurt us that badly to show someone else grace, or give them a second chance.
4. Build others up.
Usually, it’s pretty hard to dislike someone that is genuinely kind to you. Impossible, more like it. As long as you make an effort to encourage, compliment, esteem and affirm the friends in your life, they will reciprocate that friendship to you.
Everyone needs to hear that they’re worthy, valued, and loved. Instead of waiting and wishing someone would say those things to you, say them to someone else. And before you know it, there will probably be some people saying those things back to you.
5. Notice the little things.
This isn’t something I’m very good at, but I’m really trying to improve. Take time to notice and remember the little things in the lives of others. Send them flowers on the anniversary of their grandma’s death. Pick up an extra bag of peaches at the farmers market, because you know they are a favorite. Send them that book on Amazon you know they’ve been dying to read.
It’s not rocket science, it’s not complicated, it’s not difficult. It just requires paying attention. These little “clues” are being dropped and made known in our friendships all of the time, it just takes a willingness to see them, hear them, and act on them.
Even though following these tips almost guarantees friendship, it is anything but easy. There is a whole line-up of obstacles ready and willing to get in our way. Pride, selfishness, and insecurity, to name a few. But if I expect my four-year-old to be brave enough to reach out and make friends, then at the very least I should be willing to do the same.