The Pursuit of Friendship
Words by Mallory Manning
Cultivating friendship takes work.
When my husband and I moved to a new city two years ago, I felt lost in the pursuit of friendship. Throughout college and the years post-graduation, the relationships I’ve invested in and prioritized have dramatically shifted. Given the phase of life, women my age have babies. They go to grad school. They take jobs and move away. Friendships inevitably change, because we change.
Friendship’s transiency threw me for a loop, and I was exhausted just thinking about what new relationships in this new town would require. Sometimes I reached out in a moment of boldness, but any time plans fell through or first meetings were awkward, I experienced all the urges to guard myself and my desire to connect. I felt prematurely defeated by the thought that any relationships I developed would be temporary, as if my one-year rental contract transferred to my friendships. I desperately wanted to be liked. And I didn’t want to be disappointed by expectations gone awry.
My anxious behavior is to recoil, drawing inward under the guise of a “homebody,” secretly wishing someone else would take the first step so I wouldn’t have to. But Jesus, in his kindness, confronts my fear. He longs to bring water to my scorched places of past hurt and present apprehension. And he calls me to welcome other women into my life as I am spiritually formed and taught to walk in freedom.
God designed us to be in relationship when he spoke in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good that the man should be alone,” and Scripture is filled with instructions and exhortations to live well with each other. God gave commandments to the Israelites (Exodus 20), Jesus taught about conflict resolution (Matt. 18:15–20), and the early church shared all they had and devoted themselves to prayer and meals together (Acts 2:43–47).
But when Adam and Eve sinned, they set a precedent for imperfect relationships. Friends have inflicted me with emotional wounds, and I have done the same. We have been victims of gossip, denied invitations, and lack of pursuit. We have forgotten birthdays, failed to empathize, and chosen other friends. We’ve also just moved away from each other, into new cities and life stages. I’ve lamented some of these circumstances only in the last few years, and even forgiveness and reconciliation cannot remove the reality of that hurt that influences my willingness to engage in friendship (or my lack thereof).
I still struggle with the fear of rejection, of not feeling witty or thoughtful or whimsical enough to impress the women around me. Self-protection and self-monitoring can be comfortable patterns that seem like wisdom, when turning inward can actually perpetuate the selfishness of insecurity—which is exactly why this passage in James intrigues me:
“But the wisdom that comes from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17–18, NLT, emphasis mine).
Wisdom of the Lord means being willing to yield to others. I don’t think James means becoming passive doormats, but rather making ourselves available to be influenced by others, serving them and being transformed by God in the process. Living here for two years, I can name a small handful of women I trust, who affirm my identity in Christ and challenge my fleshly version of wisdom. But I still need to peel back the layers of self-protection and rely on his Spirit within me to resist any lingering fear or apprehension—for the sake of authentic friendship, his glory, and my good. Here are two questions I’m asking:
Where are my places of resistance?
What keeps me from moving towards women in friendship? Spoken or unspoken, I tell myself lots of stories about how I think I’ll be received, the time I have to invest or the awkwardness of a relationship in progress. How might these stories actually influence our interactions with the women around us?
Why do I choose to stay home instead of joining my co-workers for dinner?
Why does asking her to get coffee make me anxious?
What is intimidating about pursuing time with a woman of faith I admire?
I have an arsenal of reasons for not investing in and learning from the women right beside me. My schedule is maxed out. I’m exhausted at the end of the day. I’ll only be in this city for a short period of time. She’ll probably take that new job and move anyway. I don’t know what to talk about. I’m afraid I won’t be accepted. I fear my effort won’t be reciprocated.
Despite my desire for connection and authentic relationship, all these statements resonate, hidden deep within me or on the tip of my tongue. I’ll gladly concede that everyone has her limits, and we all need time to ourselves. I’d never encourage spending every splice of free time with people. But maybe these places of resistance hold more tightly than I realize. I’m finding the need to speak them aloud, diminishing their power and giving me permission to move forward anyway.
What does love require?
One of my spiritual mentors posed this question. I can apply it to a marriage context and list the places of sacrifice, the moments of courage, and the “moving toward” that love requires. But I often don’t consider what that question means for the women around me: what does the love of friendship require?
To pursue connection. To choose hope that doesn’t let shifting and broken relationships of the past make me skeptical of initiating friendship today. To meditate on the reality that my security is rooted in Christ. To walk in freedom that allows me to love without keeping score. To ignore the voices that say it’s not worth it.
We have incredible opportunity, right where we are, with the friends we have, to be present in the kind of relationships Scripture describes. Where we can meet together and prompt each other towards Gospel-minded living (Heb. 10:24–25). Where we can bear each other’s burdens (Gal. 6:2). Where we can teach and counsel each other in wisdom and truth (Col. 3:16). Where we can love each other earnestly, demonstrate hospitality, and serve the church with our gifts (1 Peter 4:8–10).
May we be women willing to yield ourselves to this communal, Gospel-centered life, leaning firm into the ways God gently nudges us toward one another and himself.