We’re sharing some of our favorite posts from over the years! This post was originally published in October 2014.
Are you satisfied with your relationships? If you’re like most Americans, you probably aren’t. According to a 2018-19 survey, 61 percent of people in the U.S. feel lonely, and among Gen Z, it’s even higher at 79 percent.
So … what can we do about it? Here are five practices for developing deep friendships.
1. Invite God into your friendships.
In “Life Together,” German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that true community is only made possible by God’s power through Christ’s death and the Holy Spirit’s ongoing transformative work in our lives. We don’t just “build community.” We receive the community that God established through Jesus.
If making deep friendships was based on human effort (how nice or fun we are), we’d inevitably be disappointed. We can be those things for a while, but the more people get to know us, the more they see our faults and brokenness.
The friendships that Bonhoeffer described start with the love of God and then flow through Jesus into us. In John 15:9-10, 12 Jesus shared how the Father loves Jesus, Jesus loves us, we remain in Jesus’ love, and then we love one another. In light of this amazing vision, how silly would we be to make our friendships just a product of human effort?
The first step to inviting God into our friendships is admitting that we need him. Be honest with yourself. Then make space for God this week to pray and journal on John 15:1-17.
2. Make time for your friends.
Friendships aren’t Hot Pockets. As much as we’d love to pop ’em in the microwave and have them be wonderfully delicious in two minutes, meaningful friendships take time and hard work.
Jesus valued friendship. At the end of his ministry, Jesus declared that his disciples were no longer just servants but also his friends and that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Rich Lamb uses a single word to break down Jesus’ strategy for prioritizing friendships: time. Jesus spent quality time, even sacrificial time with his disciples.
Most of our time is jam-packed with work, school, church, and service. Don’t get me wrong — these things are good. But how are we supposed to lay down our lives for our friends when we can’t even grab a few minutes with them?!
A few years ago, I joined a weekly bowling league. This was significant because I don’t bowl, and I’m rarely free the same night every week.
But nearly every Thursday for a three-month stretch, I made time for bowling. Deep friendships formed. Even though I’d known some of the guys for years, seeing each other regularly allowed for a new depth that hadn’t been possible before.
So let’s start making time for friends now. Set aside time each week for friendship — no studying or working. Join a bowling league! Don’t let time with people be the first thing to go when you’re busy. Make time for your friends as Jesus did.
3. Focus on a few.
Most of us have hundreds of “friends.” But too often our friendships run a mile wide and an inch deep.
Jesus forged deep friendships because he focused on a few.
I, on the other hand, have a serious case of FOMO. Every time I see pictures of friends, I wish I could have been there. It leads me to tolerate shallow friendships so that I can always be available for the next fun outing.
Focusing on the “few” for me means having the wisdom to know who God has placed in my life for this season, prioritizing them, and not stressing out over every potential new friendship or experience I might entertain in the future.
Which “few” in your life might God want you to focus on? How could you invest in them so that they can make an impact for God’s kingdom?
4. Call out the elephants in the room.
Maybe you have friendships where you regularly spend time together. But something feels superficial and shallow.
Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck describes this as “Pseudo Community.” It’s where most communities start — and often where they stay. In Pseudo Community, we’re nice, polite, and tolerant, but we avoid conflict, vulnerability, and challenge at all costs.
A few years ago, I led a pretty intense missions trip. The students felt the program wasn’t being run well, and the staff felt the students weren’t being teachable.
I clung to Pseudo Community like a drowning man to a buoy. I ran from the conflict. And for the first half of the trip, things appeared to be going smoothly, though we all knew there was a big problem.
Eventually, one of the staff confronted me. We both agreed that the issues needed to be named. After some painful conversations, God slowly took our community to a deeper level. Apologies and forgiveness were exchanged. A new level of honesty and depth developed. Students became more teachable, and the staff became more understanding. I learned a hard but necessary lesson that conflict avoidance hinders deep community.
We often settle for superficial friendships and Pseudo Community because going deeper is scary. When we call out areas of tension, we have to deal with conflict, be honest, and give and receive challenge. It’s safer to stay in Pseudo Community. But I think we all know deep down that it’s not better.
5. Get help with blind spots.
The most frequent derailers of deep friendships are interpersonal blind spots. We all have them but often can’t see them in ourselves (hence blind spots). We can, however, easily spot them in others.
Think about a friend or acquaintance with a particularly annoying habit that everyone knows about except the person themselves. I have this nagging tendency to dominate conversations. I’d make way too many jokes and interrupt people with my “funny” stories (often I was the only one who found them funny). People even gave me the nickname “Senator” because I sometimes acted like a smarmy politician, desperately trying to get people to like me.
Thankfully, I had a few close friends who lovingly pointed out how I was alienating and annoying people and taking up way too much social space. I’m still working on it, but without friends who were willing to bring it up to me, I don’t know where I’d be today.
Invite your friends to help you with your interpersonal blind spots. Read a book on self-awareness with a group of close friends. Often our most derailing interpersonal blind spots are the ones that are the most hidden to us, so don’t give up too easily.
Deep friendships are possible!
We don’t have to settle for mediocre friendships. We were created for more. But pursuing deeper friendships won’t be easy. They take time, effort, and risk. They may not turn out how we hoped. But we have a marvelous example in Jesus. And we have a God who empowers us and walks with us every step of the way!
Now I often find myself hunched over my phone in line at the grocery store or sitting in my car checking TikTok for some fresh hits of dopamine before I set out on my way. It’s like I’d rather have something take up the space in my mind than be alone with the quiet of my own thoughts anymore.
Healthy accountability friendships give us space for self-discovery and for deep and genuine friendships. This leads to less anxiety, higher performance at work and school, and spiritual transformation.