I love dropping my little guy off at his preschool. At nearly four and a half years old, he still wants me to carry him inside every day. And I always do, because he is my last baby, and I know his snuggles and need for my arms will not last forever.
I carry him into the building and through a gym full of other kids. The other kids usually notice as we enter the room. Several of them always shout, “Jacob!” in the cutest most excited preschooler voices and come running to follow us. This is why he makes me carry him. Because it can be overwhelming to face a crowd of 3 and 4-year-olds clamoring for your attention so bright and early in the morning.
We wade through the crowd of kids to the back hallway where the cubbies are for his bag and coat. We put his things away and say our parting words. I make him give me multiple hugs and kisses. And then I must pick him back up and carry him back into the gym and straight into the arms of a teacher where he snuggles for just a couple extra minutes before he is finally ready to rush over to the crowd of waiting, eager preschoolers and play.
When I pick him up I’m always eager to hear the stories of the games he played and the fun he had with his friends all day. He has a couple girls who follow him around everywhere and get mad when they can’t play with him. His “best friends” change about as often as his favorite color (at least weekly if you’re not familiar with the ways of preschool color favorites). He has good days and bad days, but I’m fully confident that every day is filled with a whole lot of friends and laughs and fun.
Why can’t grown up friendships be as simple as preschool friendships?
A part of me is pretty jealous of my son, the popular kid. The kid who is so overwhelmed by the number of friends he has, that he needs me to be his buffer and help him control the crowd. My days are spent alone, doing my work all day, from my quiet house. I might get a chance to chat with a few co-workers over the phone or through Slack, but usually, it’s mostly business related. Somedays I’ll get a text or Facebook message from a friend and I’ll be giddy with excitement, even if it’s just a random question about running.
I scroll through my social media feeds in an endless quest for the social interaction that my soul so greatly craves. I tell myself that this is being social, this is making friendships, but I recognize that simple “likes” and “double taps” are not the community that life was created for.
My thoughts always tell me that there just isn’t time for great friendships beyond social media in my current season of life. I tell myself that everyone else is just as busy, or busier than I am. I tell myself that when the kids are older, or I have a different job, or when my old, grumpy dog passes away, or when we can finally move to a bigger house with cleaner carpets and new furniture, then I can invite people over and develop new friendships.
Or sometimes I’ll come up with an idea to be a good friend. I’ll see a friend in need and realize I have the time in my schedule this weekend to make an extra meal or batch of cookies to deliver to them. But I’ve never done that before, it will probably feel awkward. I’ll just let someone with more experience in meal and cookie delivery handle that.
How do we overcome the excuses and the awkward and the hard to create friendships as an adult?
I’m always allowing the lies my brain wants to tell me to keep me from truly developing real friendships. And I’m kind of tired of it. I’m ready for real relationships, even when it’s inconvenient, even when I’m too busy, even when it’s hard and awkward, even when my carpet is stained and my sofa is lumpy, my dog is mean, and my house is small. I just want to share all this imperfect realness with some other women and catch a little glimpse of their imperfect realness to help me recognize that I’m not alone.
Which is why I was totally psyched to find out the Lisa-Jo Baker wrote a new book all about how busy imperfect women can develop real friendships. In Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships, Lisa-Jo tackles the struggles that all women face when it comes to wanting, finding, and keeping friends. We all bring a lifetime of friendship drama to the table and it can be terrifying to want to walk into that minefield and navigate adult friendships, but we aren’t meant to live this life alone. Life is meant to be shared and lived in community.
Here are 5 things I learned from Lisa-Jo in Never Unfriended about what it takes to develop true friendships as grown up, imperfect women.
Loving Yourself is the First Step
“Until we can look ourselves in the mirror and see ourselves through the lens of love – we don’t have the practice necessary to love others.” – Lisa-Jo Baker, Never Unfriended, page 180.
The voices in my head like to tell me all manner of lies about myself. And I eat up those words as if they were gold. They tell me all the ways I am failing. They point out my imperfections and flaws and assure me that I will never get it right. The voices make me feel like I’m unworthy and not like everyone else.
But you see, those voices are just the lies that Satan is trying to whisper to me to drown out the extravagant love that God wants to pour into me. God loves me just as I am, not in spite of, but because of my flaws and imperfections. And He loves you too, my friend, exactly the way you are, because of who you are. He doesn’t see our flaws, He sees the beauty of His perfect creation.
Once we are able to recognize and accept God’s unconditional love for us, we can begin to grant that same unconditional love to ourselves. If the Creator of the Universe can love me as I am, then maybe I’m not so bad.
Dare to Go First
“The thing about friendship is that it takes work. A lot of work. It takes practice. It takes showing up. But when we keep showing up in the small things, those eventually become the big, life-changing things…” Lisa-Jo Baker, Never Unfriended, page 183.
I am an introvert to the core. I love solitary long runs that last for hours and early mornings of complete silence. Put me in a room full of strangers and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do. I try to scout out a face that looks as lost and confused as me but all the faces I see are confident, happy women laughing and interacting with each other like it’s the easiest thing in the world. And so I busy myself with finding a plate of snacks or playing on my phone trying to look important.
It can be scary to go first. To put yourself out there and start a conversation with someone. To call up an old friend and invite them over for a playdate or send a message to that acquaintance you’d really like to get to know better. Even scarier, showing up to the house of a friend in need armed with cleaning products and a hot meal. What if she’s busy? What if she already has food? Won’t it be awkward?
It will be hard, it will be awkward, you might not do it well, she might not appreciate it the way you expected, but it will be worth it. Small things help us learn and grow. Small things develop relationships. Little steps are what makes a great journey.
Be Unfine and Imperfect
“I am convinced that the shortest distance between strangers and friends is a shared story about our broken places.” – Lisa-Jo Baker, Never Unfriended, page 85.
One of my strongest memories in the days after my dad died is how much I hated the question “How are you?”. I didn’t so much mind it coming from close family or friends who were looking for the honest answer. My problem was with the store clerks and other random strangers who asked that question.
I vowed in those early days that I would never utter that question again because it feels so personal and intrusive. When you are anything but fine and yet all the social rules require that you lie through your teeth and pleasantly smile as you inform the random stranger that “I’m doing fine. How are you?” I was very unfine, awful, miserable, horrible, but you can’t actually say that to the random stranger ringing up your bread and milk.
I’ve gone back to my old ways of asking that question of strangers just like everyone else. It is such a strong habit and it comes out before I even notice, but I cringe every time I hear myself ask it. Because it is still personal and intrusive, but our answers always roll right off our tongue “I’m fine.” “I’m doing great.” “I am well, thank you. How are you?”
In the weeks just after my dad died, it was entirely acceptable for me to be unfine. Even a random stranger would understand if I burst into tears when they asked how I was doing (yes, this happened, more than once). But nowadays, when life from the outside looking in is great, being unfine is frowned upon. It makes people uncomfortable.
It’s okay to be unfine and imperfect, even on an ordinary day.
But the reality is that we aren’t just unfine when we face awful tragedies. Sometimes we can be unfine simply because we had a bad fight with our husband or we fell behind on laundry and had to send our kids to school in the dirty clothes that smelled the best. We might be unfine because we messed up on a big project at work or lost our patience with our kids, again. There are a million reasons to be unfine on any ordinary day.
What would happen if we were all brave enough to share our unfine with the people around us? Not necessarily unloading our bad day on every random store clerk. But when we run into a friend in the hall after church, could we admit to her that we are unfine and imperfect? When we meet that mom friend for a playdate can we have the courage to admit how hard parenting is and how much we’re struggling? I think we might just realize that being unfine and imperfect is universal and sharing these moments with each other can make us all stronger and better.
Be Generous with the Benefit of the Doubt
“…all through Scripture…is the theme of being redeemed by God for the singular purpose of becoming a witness of that same grace, mercy, and blessing to others.” – Lisa-Jo Baker, Never Unfriended, page 155.
We can get ourselves in a tailspin of arguments or misunderstandings with our friends without any actual interaction with them. A hurried text, a misspoken word, a last minute change of plans can cause our minds to come up with all sorts of stories about their “true intentions” and “actual feelings” about us. We assume we know some hidden truth about their opinion of our relationship and our feelings are hurt when they haven’t even said a word to indicate a problem.
Especially in our busy, overly digital culture, it is so easy to misunderstand and misconstrue things. We tend to believe every thought that passes through our mind. Lisa-Jo encourages us to always assume the best of our friends. We have to recognize that just because we think a thought, doesn’t make it true. We must give our friends the benefit of the doubt that they may have actually been in a hurry, or we might have misunderstood, or they really could have had a last minute emergency.
True and lasting friendships are rich with kindness and compassion. They don’t assume the worse, but always consider the best first. They shut down the lies that try to cause division and instead provide grace and mercy.
Friendship is Hard Work but Can Allow Us to Reap Great Blessing
“Friendship isn’t something we passively receive. Friendship is something we actively do.” Lisa-Jo Baker, Never Unfriended, page 83.
I think to summarize all of this is just the knowledge that friendship is really hard. It will include discomfort and awkward. It will be hard and sometimes it will hurt. Friendship might often feel one-sided and not even worth the effort. But we were not made to live life alone. We were made to live life together. We were made to be a blessing, to give and to love, and to serve, and to pour out ourselves in love to the people around us.
May we begin to see friendship, not through the lens of what we can get out of it, but what we can put into it. May we be the kind of women who keep showing up for each other. The kind of friend who forgives, repeatedly, who tries again and again. Who invites and includes and never unfriends. The kind of friend who is real and vulnerable. May we be the friend who listens and hugs and sits in the pain.
This is the kind of friendship that can transform lives, including our own, maybe especially our own. For it is always “more blessed to give than to receive”. Let us start first.
Today’s Action Step
Share this post with your friends and then step out of your comfort zone and find a way to be a friend. Send a text, plan a girl’s night, write a note, bake and deliver the cookies. You go first. Show up, exactly as you are, in all of your real imperfectness, and just go first.
And be sure to grab your copy of Lisa-Jo’s new book, Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships. Grab some friends and read it together. Mark the pages and jot down notes and ideas to help you on your journey to becoming Never Unfriended.
I am a proud member of Lisa-Jo’s launch team for this book. I was given an advanced reader copy of this book. All opinions are my own.