Today Whitney Standlea continues her posting on “Alice.” You can read Part One here.
In my last post, we looked at print resources such as blogs, books and magazines. We examined how they can be a great resource, but lack the interactive feedback and observations that real-life relationships provide. It is through interaction with other Christians that the weaknesses and sins in our own lives can be exposed. We can get to the root of our problems, and even identify problems we didn’t know were there.
Whether you are struggling to have meaningful relationship or you think you are already “plugged-in,” keep reading because you may discover some ways to deepen your relationships and pursue new ones that will challenge you more than you knew was possible.
Taking the first step
For those of us who don’t naturally build relationships or reach out of our comfort zones, it can be difficult to connect to people in a church body. Developing friendships starts with time and effort. Unless you are blessed to have someone pursuing you, you may have to get out and go pursue! This means inviting people in to your home, or even inviting yourself into someone else’s home. Observe people. When you find someone who has a quality you admire, pursue them! When we first started attending our church, there was a couple who really intrigued us. The wife seemed so kind and gentle, and she seemed to be an amazing mother. I wanted to learn from her. I wanted to know what sustained her in her busy days caring for the children. I wanted to know more about being a mom from her. It didn’t seem realistic to invite her family of 10 over to our little apartment. Besides, with all those babies needing naps and such, when would they have time to come spend with us newlyweds? So, we called and invited ourselves over! It was just a simple, “Hey, we’d really like to get to know you guys and spend time with you. We know it would be hard for you to bring your family here. Is there a way we could just come hangout some evening after dinner? And by the way, we are free tonight and tomorrow.” We were welcomed over that very evening!
Finding a variety of people
Although there is a limit to the number of quality relationships one person can maintain, I think it is very important to have several different kinds of people to spend time with and glean advice from. I love to have friends who are like-minded in thinking and interests and similar to the same season of life I am in, and these relationships provide a ton of encouragement to me. However, relationships with people in the seasons ahead of you provide wisdom and perspective that you can’t get anywhere else. Are you parenting toddlers for the first time? Make an effort to spend time with a mom whose toddler is her youngest. She’s walked down the road a few times before and will have wisdom to share. And don’t be afraid to make friends with women significantly older than you. I have several “friends” that are my parents’ age. They have kids my age! Isn’t that weird? They are people who have already walked the road before me. They can look back and proclaim God’s faithfulness in the hard times. They have made mistakes that I can benefit from. These women have the experience and wisdom to do what Titus 2 admonishes: “Older women …. are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” (Titus 2:3-5, ESV)
Some general tips to keep in mind
· Keep in mind that relationships take time and sacrifice. Regular time that extends past a summer of fun BBQs, through years of offending and forgiving one another! Even if you don’t agree with another women on every area of life, even if you have offended one another, allow forgiveness and forbearance to grow between you so that you can continue to be involved in one another’s life over the long haul.
· Mentoring, discipleship, and counseling are some terms that we tend to throw around a lot. These can vary a great deal in formality and frequency. It can mean structured weekly meetings, or casual family dinners every month or so. Either way the goal is to “speak the truth to one another in love” and build each other up with the truth of God’s word and the encouragement that comes from the Gospel.
· Sometimes even informal relationships require a purposeful statement of intentions. Friends we have had in our life for a long period of time sometimes require a formal invitation to be intimately involved in our spiritual growth. Sometimes I will remind women that I frequently get advice from, that they should feel free to share concerns with me. If I am often asking “Alice” for help with a parenting struggle, I might also say “And if you see anything I am doing when I interact with my kids that concerns you, please don’t feel awkward bringing the issue to me.”
I challenge you to examine your own Christian life. Instead of self-assessing your spiritual growth, try assessing how much others are involved in helping you grow. If you aren’t learning new things about life, faith, and your own heart from other people, if you don’t have others to encourage you in truth when things get rough, or challenge your thinking when life becomes stagnant, then prayerfully ask the Lord to help you pursue more meaningful relationships. When Hebrews 10:25 says “do not neglect meeting together” it is not just talking about sitting in a church pew. It is meeting for the purpose holding fast to our hope and being stirred up to good works!