Monday, April 28, 2014

Making friends - good, hard work

A few weeks ago I was in a Sunday School class where several people commented that they’d had a difficult time meeting and making friends at church. This pained me greatly, as our church has been a wonderful source of friends for me – the kind of friends I could call in the middle of the night and they’d be there in a heartbeat, no questions asked. They’d also bring Diet Cokes. Quality people, these ladies.

But it wasn’t so long ago that I was the new person.  When we moved from Georgia, I thought, “I am a complete stranger to all these people. I don’t know a single person.” After leaving a place where I had lots of good, real girlfriends, being unknown was strange, new territory. I wasn’t a fan.

Finding and making new friends became my full-time job. And for each person I reached out to who didn’t need a new friend, I found others who did. It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy, but it was absolutely necessary and now, nine years later, I have some of the dearest, deepest friendships I’ve ever known.

So in honor of those ladies in the Sunday School class, I thought I’d mention a few things that made my transition not only bearable, but doable.

1. Say hi!
New person, it’s your responsibility to introduce yourself. People who are settled in a place don’t always look around to see strangers. Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. Maybe have a standard question that will help break the ice: “How long have you lived here?” If the person has a pulse, she’ll probably ask you the same thing, and all of a sudden, you’re in a conversation!

2. It’s on you
At the time we started attending, our church had one group option for women. So I arranged my schedule around that. I went, I met people and I made friends. Did this happen the first week? Nope. But it did happen over time and in large part it was because I kept showing up and saying hi.

3. Get that number
It’s not enough to give your phone number to someone. Life gets busy. People have wonderful intentions of calling the new person they met in church, but they misplace the paper the number’s on or they simply forget. If you have their number, you can call. And when you do, refer back to #1.

4. Join in
Attending church once a week will not enable you to make good friends. You have to get involved. Is there a women’s Bible study? Join it. How about a Sunday School class? Go to it. Read the bulletin and answer one of the calls for help – meals for new moms or the ill are always needed. And if you really want to meet people, volunteer in the nursery. The Children’s Minister will love you for it.

5. Stay put
Hoping to have life-long friends after three weeks of attending a new church is, in a word, ridiculous. You have to keep at it. Friendships take time to gel. They take time and shared experiences and time and more shared experiences. And more time.

I know it’s hard to wait for friendships to form. Believe me, I know it’s hard to wait! But this is one of those instances where you have to give it some time. Be patient with your potential new friends and especially be patient with yourself when those waves of loneliness wash over you. Being new is hard. Establishing new connections take time, effort and energy. But girlfriends are worth it. And before you know it, you’ll be singing the classic Girl Scout tune: Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other gold.

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On Wednesday I'll talk to the "old-timers" about ways we can help new people feel welcome. So many of the friends I have today are those who went out of their way to welcome me when I was new.