By her simple question, my new friend showed interest in connecting. She knocked on the door of my library and I invited her in, and a friendship was born.
by Joy Clarkson, adapted from Girls’ Club: Cultivating Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World by Sally Clarkson, Joy Clarkson, and Sarah Clarkson
I (Joy) think we idealize friendship the way we idealize falling in love: someday the right person (our future best friend forever!) will come along, we will click, we will never disagree on anything, and it will fill in all the cracks in our heart. Just like that—just like magic. Sometimes there is a kind of magnetism or a particular situation or season that bonds us close and fast with someone. But I am of the opinion that in friendship, as in romance, even the most magical of connections will wither and fade away without intentional cultivation. And often the best friendships are not the ones that fall into our laps but the ones we actively pursue.
We all long for close relationships, but more often than not, we languish in loneliness, wishing someone would come along, initiate a relationship, pursue us, understand us. And this is not unreasonable. But it is good to remember that we all want to be pursued in friendship. Isn’t the most sensible thing, then, to be proactive? One of the most rewarding decisions I’ve made is to be an initiator.
Initiating simply means being willing to be the person who makes the first move. Be the house where people know they can come. Ask the person you always have those interesting conversations with at church to have coffee with you sometime. Invite the person you think might be a kindred spirit at work to go on a hike with you this weekend. Host a movie night, make popcorn, and take pride in being a fabulous hostess.
I like to think each one of us is like a house with many rooms. There’s the front hall—it’s pretty small, but it’s where we invite most people, where we keep our basic information, where we invite our acquaintances. The people we really like, we invite to take off their coats and explore further. There’s our library—that’s where we keep our favorite ideas, beliefs, books, music, and movies. There’s the garage, where we keep all the things we’re working on, the projects we hope to send out into the world. There’s our kitchen, where we keep all the things that feed our souls, like food and beauty and celebrations. There’s the hall, where we keep the portraits of all the important people in our lives and the pictures of our favorite memories. There’s the small room with the pretty view where we pray and read. There’s the attic, where we put all the broken things in our lives, along with all the things we don’t need anymore but hesitate to get rid of.
To really become friends with someone, we have to get past the front hall. But of course we cannot just storm around someone else’s house investigating all the corners of their home; we must be invited into each room. I think a question is like knocking on the door. In the first weeks of grad school, all my classmates and I were making the same mistake: we were knocking on the front door, stepping in the front hall, taking a look around, and then leaving. We were asking questions that didn’t open up the potential for further connection. By her simple question, my new friend showed interest in connecting. She knocked on the door of my library and I invited her in, and a friendship was born.
This brings forward two principles we should consider.
First, we must make a habit of asking questions. This seems simple, but it is easily neglected. I have, from time to time, been shocked by conversations in which I was the only one who asked questions. I’m sure all of us have had those one-sided conversations where someone talks about herself, her opinions, and her day, with hardly a pause for a breath. Under the right circumstances, we all love to talk about ourselves, and it makes us feel closer to our conversation partner. That is important: talking about ourselves makes us feel closer to the person, but it doesn’t necessarily make them feel closer to us. For both people to move towards closeness, there must be a sense of mutuality.
I once heard that a conversation ought to be like a tennis match: I serve the ball with a question, and you hit the ball back with a question for me. Think about questions like wandering through the other person’s house. Perhaps you’ve taken a long time in the library, so why not knock on the door of the garage? If you are an internal processor and have a hard time coming up with questions on the spot, think ahead of time of some questions to ask. A good conversation is like an invigorating game, with each partner hitting back an interesting question. A conversation will get very boring if only one party always serves the ball.
So what do we do if someone never asks us a question? The first thing is that we mustn’t attribute motives to their lack of questioning; the other person might be shy, insecure, or a narcissist! We cannot know, and it is not our business to judge. But I think that it is okay to acknowledge that not everyone will be our true, close friend, and if someone seems incapable of hitting the tennis ball back, she probably won’t be. If, with a particular person, you find that your interactions consist solely of you asking all the questions, with her pouring out her heart while you are left feeling unknown, it’s okay to not invest in that relationship. I have a five-question rule: I will ask five good questions, and then, if the other party does not respond, I quit. This isn’t out of anger, just realism. I won’t be able to have a friendship with someone who doesn’t want to draw me out. If you find yourself in such a situation, bless the other person and be on your way, pursuing a friendship with more reciprocity.
This brings us to a second point: do not feel guilty for not investing in friendship with people who are drainers. You are not obligated to let anyone into the house of your heart. If someone never knocks, don’t continue to pursue that person! If someone feels unsafe, pushy, or critical, you have every right to graciously back away from her. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should throw out every relationship that is not beneficial or life-giving— certainly, being a follower of Jesus precludes this way of life. There are some relationships in which we will mostly be the givers; Jesus has modeled this for us, and we can do this with love and purpose. But when it comes to friendship, we should look for companions, kindred spirits who can give and take.
Girls’ Club: Cultivating Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World by Sally Clarkson, Joy Clarkson, and Sarah Clarkson
In a time when many women feel lonely and isolated, Girls’ Club calls us to embrace the delight and comfort that can be found in life-giving friendships with women— and to cultivate relationships that not only offer emotional affirmation and acceptance, but also inspire, educate, and stretch us to live out our God-given potential.
Told through stories and encouragement based on the authors’ experiences—Sally, a seasoned mother and well beloved author; her daughter Sarah, an Oxford scholar and new mother; and her youngest daughter Joy, a professional young woman pursuing her doctorate—Girls’ Club will speak to the importance of cultivating deep and lasting friendship at every stage in life. Join Sally, Sarah, and Joy as they explore the power, difficulties, potential, beauty, and satisfaction of friendships that help us live purposeful, Godly lives and that satisfy our longing for meaningful and intimate companionship.
Also available: The Girls’ Club Experience (9781496436115), a companion guide to help women plant and deepen the roots of friendship.