©Joy Dunlap  https://joydunlap.com

Is your life today FRIEND-full? Or has life impacted your friendships in such a way that you feel a void? Changes related to career, relocation, health, finances, marital status, aging parents, or children – even grandchildren – may have altered how you interact with your friends and how often you do it. Life may be so busy or too much of a roller coaster that you’ve found it difficult to keep up with longtime friends much less make new ones. A move, retirement, or even the loss of a dear friend may have taken you out of the sphere of some friends

Have you realized your friendships are dwindling or changing? Some relationships can become stagnant when not nurtured or when individuals pursue divergent paths or transition between life stages. While longtime friends benefit us with knowledge, understanding, established trust, depth and shared life experiences, the arrival of friends in our lives can add energy, fresh conversations and different perspectives. When we stay open to new friendships, we give ourselves the opportunity for interesting encounters and to see who God wants to bring into our lives.

September is International Women’s Friendship Month so now’s a good time to reflect on our friendships and the value they bring to our lives. Why not also think about how others might enhance our lives or how we might bless theirs if we expand our friendship circle?

Sometimes it seems it was easier to make friends when we were younger. We were able to spend time with them in more concentrated periods – in neighborhoods, dorms or apartments; on road trips, school breaks, or summer camps; in groups like sororities and interest-based clubs. We were willing to invest time with others because our lives were less encumbered with a myriad of responsibilities.

Proximity often facilitates friendships. Young moms find friendships with mothers of children of similar ages as their own. Career women develop connections with compatible workers. Older people find new ones in retirement communities. Friendships can be found at all ages; it’s just a matter of choosing to pursue them.

How can we continue to develop friendships throughout life in its different stages?

Be Intentional

Making new friends requires reaching out – and sometimes that’s a vulnerable place to be. About two weeks after I started a new job in a city where I’d lived for about two years, I asked a colleague to lunch. Her answer? “Well, I suppose I could go to lunch sometime, but I’m not really looking for any new friends.” Yikes! It may not always work out, but it’s important to make connection attempts. When we meet someone we’d like to get to know better, asking them to meet for coffee, lunch, a late afternoon snack, or a dessert sampling is a great way to open the door. Of course, every interaction doesn’t have to revolve around food — but it can sure be good in multiple ways when it does!

It’s true some people just meet and automatically have a connection, but even when that happens, action is still needed to move the relationship forward.  Other ways to be intentional about developing friendships include carpooling to an event, meeting to exercise or walk together, or taking a shared interest class. One way to get people interacting with you and others is to host a gathering at your home or a local restaurant and invite a group of acquaintances, friends and colleagues. Instead of hosting segmented group events, why not mix it up and see what happens?

What activity could you invite a prospective friend to join you to do?

Be Interested

When we encounter or get together with prospective friends we can show a genuine interest by asking questions, listening and following up. We’ll discover more about them and whether we have similar interests and values. People like to share about their lives, and when they sense someone cares that can be their catalyst to authentic discussions.

Want to get a head start? Check to see if they have a LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram site and glean some information about them. Think through some questions in advance that will help stimulate conversation.

What would you like to learn about an acquaintance who may develop into a friend?

Be Involved

Participate in activities that put you in contact with others. Depending on your age and stage-of-life, this can range from the PTA to a lifelong learning class; from women’s groups to service organizations; from churches to exercise classes; and from dog parks to museum tours. Alumni groups for colleges and sororities offer easy-access opportunities to connect with people who have shared a similar interest. Likewise, political and issue-based organizations help unite people who are passionate about similar civic matters.

Active participation in church beyond showing up for a weekly worship service can not only expose us to others who attend, but also give us opportunities for service and spiritual development. Bible studies and small fellowship groups can allow participants to discover one another’s character, values and concerns while sharing Scripture and prayer.

Sometimes the answer to interacting with new people and taking the first step to expanding our friendship circles is as simple as showing up with a smile and a genuine interest in getting to know others.

What group or event could you start to attend that could put you in contact with other women?

Be Intergenerational

Our lives can be enhanced by people of different ages and backgrounds. One fun trip I took to Busch Gardens with friends whose ages spanned decades had us dressing up in silly frontier clothing costumes for photos and riding roller coasters all day. One woman I first met as a military spouse; another I met at church; the other I met through mutual friends. Our time together that day was filled with laughter, but over time we learned a lot from each other.

Wisdom and mentorship from more mature friends as well as innovation and input on current trends and issues from younger friends can benefit us. When we restrict our friendships to those our own age or in similar life places, we forego the benefits that those younger and older bring to our lives.

Do you remember the last new friend you made? How did you meet and develop a friendship?

What can you do today to make a new friendship or renew one from the past?

The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. Proverbs 12:26 (NIV)

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