How do you make friends while raising young kids? If you’re anything like me, it’s a lot harder than you probably thought. And friendship is the most important, but least talked about relationship in the church. I’m convinced that making and forming biblical friendships in your 30’s (or late 20’s or early 40’s) is harder, more awkward, and more anxious than finding someone to date in your early 20’s.
But you cannot let parenting prohibit or interfere with you cultivating community. Raising kids doesn’t mean you avoid community, it means you alter community. You have to let the demands of parenting empower friendships, not excuse friendships. You have to let the exhaustion of parenting necessitate cultivating community, not neglect cultivating community.
The reality is that you’re probably lonely. It has been reported that post-pandemic 58% of all Americans indicate being lonely. The problem with this is that long term loneliness is as deadly as smoking 15 cigarettes a day!
The key word here in finding community is the word “cultivate.” Friendships don’t just happen randomly and magically. They must be prepared and developed. Intentional steps must be taken to grow or improve them. They must be worked constantly. Imagine a farmer who worked hard 1 day a year in order to reap the reward of an abundance of crops. It wouldn’t happen. A farmer spends constant effort focusing on very minute details in order to reap the reward later on. Friendships are formed the same way.
The sad reality is that many people find a stronger community in places outside the church than in the church. There was even a skit on Saturday Night Live recently about how hard and awkward it can be to form friendships in today’s culture, especially among men.
One of the concerns with Christian community today is that people often assume the gospel, rather than apply the gospel. Christian community is meant for applying the gospel together, but too often it ends up just assuming the gospel together. When I say friendship and Christian community I’m not wondering if you have some Christian friends to tailgate with at football games or to grill out with. Do you have people that cut you, offend you, admonish you, encourage you, and drill the gospel into your heart and soul? I resonate with what Jackie Hill Perry says, “The older I get, the less interested I am in shallow friendships. Bonding over music, shared histories, and coffee blends are cute or whatever but it’s not enough. I’m too complicated, too busy, too thoughtful, and go through too much not to have friends with depth and integrity.”
Three Big Truths About Community
- The Theology of Community
God is a triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is a relational God that works and cooperates together. As human beings born in the image and likeness of God, we literally cannot image God apart from relationships with one another. You were created for friendship because you were created in the image of God. Loneliness is the one problem you have because you are an image bearer, not because you are a sinner. It was not good that Adam was alone in Genesis 2 before sin entered the world in Genesis 3.
Human beings were born for dependency. Goslings hatch and are precocial within 1 month of being born, meaning they can walk, swim, and feed themselves without parental help. Can your kids do that? No! Human beings were born to need and rely on others!
2. The Idolatry of Community
Relationships and friendships are hard because we are all selfish sinners. The fall has corrupted every part of ourselves and our relationships. Relationships are hard because people are difficult. Our sin has made us all bent, broken, and busy. Sometimes we claim our kids get in the way of forming and cultivating adult friendships. Sometimes it’s our careers and others times it’s our cruises, camping trips, and other forms of vacation. We simply place more weight on these things at the expense and neglect of other things because we falsely believe that successful kids, more money or another promotion, or luxuries and travel will satisfy and cure our longings for worth and acceptance.
We also wrongly believe what the church is. A healthy ecclesiology sees the church more as a people to belong to and not an event to attend. The metaphor of the church as a family is seen throughout the New Testament. It’s God’s covenant and called out ones who assemble together. If your experience attending a worship service and watching the live stream from the beach house are the same experience then you are not doing church right. Attending a church service and belonging to the church are not the same thing.
The idolatry of community is that we believe that friendships can fix us. They can easily become our savior just like finding a spouse can be, just like having kids can be, and just like the right career can be. Both insecure and lonely people become insecure and lonely friends. The question is how to not be lonely even when you are all alone? And the answer is finding your identity in the gospel and in Jesus Christ. When you find your acceptance and hope and identity by being in Christ then you can allow friendships and community to fall into the proper place as good things and not as gods.
3. The Reality of Community
What are practical ways to being in community? I have been helped by Tim Keller here who lists four realities we see from the book of Proverbs:
- Constancy – friends are available (Proverbs 17:17)
- Carefulness – friends display a level of emotional sensitivity (Proverbs 18:24)
- Candor – friends are willing to tell you the truth and be honest (Proverbs 27:6)
- Counsel – friends are transparent and balance both encouragement and rebuke (Proverbs 27:9)
Do you have community and friends like this? Here are some barometers to gauge the level of relational depth in your friendships:
- When was the last time you prayed with a friend outside of a formal small group or life group meeting or before a meal?
- What are the majority of your prayer requests about? It’s not necessarily wrong to pray for your friends’ mom’s neighbor’s cat, but it probably should be more than that.
- Are your prayer requests more about other people’s physical health or your own spiritual health?
- When was the last time you offered/actually did watch someone’s else’s kids because you knew your friend needed a date night with their spouse?
- When was the last time you actually answered the question “How Are You?” honestly?
- Are you asking people that and are they asking you that and is there honesty and transparency and vulnerability in the responses?
- When was the last time you participated in an activity that wasn’t your preference for the sake of spending time with someone else for the sake of friendship?
- When was the last time you invited another family over for dinner for the sake of trying to build and grow a friendship?
- A recent Barna study reported that only 39% of Christian homes have someone that is not family in their home more than once a month which means that ⅔ of practicing Christians are not welcoming strangers into their home.
- When is the last time someone said something that offended you and made you defensive initially?
- When was the last time you had an intentional conversation with someone at least 20 years older than you?
- When was the last time you inflated the truth when asked a pointed question? For example: What have you been reading in the Bible lately and you give an answer from something you read 3 months ago?
- When was the last time you asked someone else what they thought of a “vulnerable” area of your life: finances (should I buy the boat?) intimacy (is it healthy?), church attendance (do you think I’m engaged in a healthy manner)?
- When was the last time you talked to someone about one of these areas of their life out of love and concern?
What Are Practical Ways To Cultivate These Types of Relationships?
- Believe the gospel and find your identity and security solely in Jesus. You can’t be a good friend without truly experiencing the friendship of Jesus.
- Give your spouse the gift of time alone and allow them out of the house 1 night a week to cultivate friendships.
- Find a couple friend and have men and women meet together at same time (one at each person’s house)
- Come early to church and stay late because small talk is important and leads to larger talk
- Show hospitality by not just smiling at someone at church, but inviting them into your life
- Give your kids a good ecclesiology (even by age 2). What is the church? Followers of Jesus who love one another and live on mission together. Church is a people to belong to, not an event or a building to attend. Teach and model this for your kids in the relationships you form and rhythms you keep outside of Sunday morning.
- Get off social media
- Come to church events/services/programs besides just Sunday morning services
- 7 minutes into a conversation be willing to take a risk
- Have to let theology trump biology. What you believe about God and His Word must be greater than what you know about yourself and your personality.
- Go up to someone in your kids class, in the lobby, in the bathroom and just say “I’ve seen you around, we have kids the same age, can I get your number I’d love to meet up sometime.”
- Have 1 hour of intentional conversation with someone every week
- “Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly ever about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” – C.S. Lewis
- Budget For It
- Prayer – who does God put on your heart? As he reveals, follow up (text, call, invite)
- Give thanks for those friends and relationships you do have as you seek to go deeper
- Build margin into your schedule to allow for it
- Don’t idolize bedtimes and kids schedules
- Invest and Mentor those younger than you in a different season
- Think about and plan for it (Romans 12:13, Hebrews 10:24)
Just like anything else, our need for friendships points us and reminds us of our need for the gospel. No person can be your savior and you cannot be a great friend to anyone else. We all fail and disappoint others and others all fail and disappoint us. Only Jesus is the perfect friend. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Only Jesus perfectly and fully and completely laid down his life for us. He alone is our source of identity and security and fulfillment. We can only be good friends by modeling and applying his friendship to us. We ought to seek to be good friends and lay down our lives for others by having the mind of Christ (Philippians 2:3-8) before we try to find good friends. Our ultimate hope isn’t any community and relationships. Our hope is in Christ and the finished work of the