The Gift of Friendship: 6 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationships

A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and one of the best things you can be. ~Douglas Pagels

I love Christmas. Now wait – don’t quit reading just because it might not be December when you read this.

I love December. It’s is filled with get-togethers where I see people I’ve not seen for months. I get cards from friends and relatives that I’ve not heard from in a year. And my inbox is full of notes and newsletters from those who no longer use snail mail to send their holiday greetings.

Then comes January. The world rushes back in with more demands than I can fulfill and I seem to lose contact with people who were so important to me just a few weeks before. Friends I promised to meet over a cup of tea. “Let’s do lunch” dates that never happen. “We need to get together” dinners that fail to get booked on our calendars.

God created us for connection. After Adam came Eve … then kids, grandkids, generations of people to fellowship with. Job’s friends commiserated with his misfortunes. Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, and her friends helped Ruth adapt to a new culture. David and Jonathan had such a strong friendship, it survived Saul’s hatred. Paul travelled with Silas and Barnabas and kept up long-distance relationships with numerous congregational friends. The disciples were Jesus’ friends and companions, as well as followers. The Upper Room was filled with 120 of Jesus’ friends and supporters.

Friendships are invaluable; yet too often, we take them for granted. I’d like to take a few minutes to encourage you to strengthen your relationships with these six quick tips.

Make time. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Good relationships need time and attention. I have a group of girlfriends who get together monthly to lunch and chat. Not everyone comes each month, but we stay connected in that time of sharing. If you are too busy to spend time with friends and family, you’re too busy.

Listen. The most valuable gift you have to give is your time and attention. Teach yourself to concentrate on what the other person is saying instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next. A good listener is worth her (or his) weight in gold! Listen ‘between the lines’ also. Empathize but don’t over-sympathize. Empathy understands while encouraging a change in attitude or action; sympathy is non-productive.

Hug. Nothing replaces physical contact. God designed us to draw strength and comfort from each other. Don’t be afraid to touch, to hug, to lay a comforting hand on someone’s shoulder or arm. Offer the gift of compassion and companionship through physical touch.

Set boundaries. Some ‘friends’ shouldn’t be friends. They need to be kept at arm’s length if they monopolize your time, or drain you emotionally or financially. It’s OK to create space for yourself. Don’t be a perpetual giver. Relationships require balance. Learn to say NO when you need to.

Don’t be needy. Friends are not a crutch. Yes, sometimes you just need to talk – and they willingly listen. But if you are a constant complainer, a conversation hog or need to always be the center of attention. stop it. Mentally step back and analyze your actions and attitudes. Then make changes. Good friends are comforting, not controlling.

Be quick to forgive. No matter how good the relationship, stuff happens. Words get taken out of context. Something that seems important – or even dire – to you may not be to them. And let’s face it, sometimes people just plain forget … birthdays, appointments, thank you notes. Don’t sacrifice a friendship because of some stuff.

The definition of ‘friendship’ is a connected personal relationship where each is concerned for the welfare of the other. In addition, God’s command is ‘love one another’. Everyone needs friends. And the best way to have a multitude of friends is to be one.

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