It started as a simple plan—“Come meet us at the splashpad with your little ones.” This email from the Children’s Director at our church was a great idea. Moms bringing their toddlers to play on a hot day: a good plan, yes?
Then why was I so terrified to go? Why did the idea of meeting other young moms fill me with such anxiety that Monday morning?
I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Others have told me that making friends as an adult is not easy for them either. I met most of my good friends in high school and college, and the few friends I’ve made since then are typically several life stages ahead of me. For some reason, there is a sort of barrier with forming friendships with people my age.
Often, that barrier is a set of unspoken expectations or fear of comparison. For example, when I’m with other “young moms,” I feel the pressure to fit in with that mold. I wonder what they think of how I’m disciplining my daughter, what they think about whether I work or stay at home, and the list goes on.
I end up so concerned about what they think, and so focused on my own choices, that I am not able to interact with them as a friend. But you know what? Other young moms probably aren’t sitting there worrying about me and my decisions; they’re likely worrying about their own decisions and what people think of them!
It’s a ridiculous cycle. But here’s the deal, I find that when I’m free of this cycle, free of the pretense or expectations, I am free to be myself. Perhaps that is why I am more able to be a friend to people in different life stages, or with people I’ve known for years. There isn’t the same flawed expectations and sense of comparison.
As I’ve struggled with this, God has continued to impress on me several things:
1. Don’t be afraid to look outside the box
First, we need to broaden our expectations about friendships. We need to realize that “our people” might not be who we thought they would be. I’m reminded of Mary, mother of Jesus, and her cousin Elizabeth. The Bible tells us that when Mary was pregnant with Jesus, she went to spend several months with Elizabeth, who was many years older than herself (Luke 2). We don’t exactly know why Mary sought the company of someone so much older, but perhaps she felt judged by people her own age, for being unmarried and pregnant? Whatever the reasons, the several months that the women spent together must have been something special.
In my own life, I have also found unexpected friends. At school, for instance, people might expect me to fall into the group of “young teachers” on staff at my school. And while there are many young people on staff that I love dearly, in actuality my dearest friend on staff at school is twice my age.
Sandy and I meet for breakfast regularly, and we laugh and giggle and pray and cry together. With Sandy, I find wisdom, experience and perspective, instead of competition and comparison. It would seem to the outside world that we are an unlikely pair, but with her, I’m free to be myself. I don’t have to struggle to fit into the mold that is expected of “young teachers today.” I don’t need to worry about being “cool” enough or “liked” enough. Through my friendship with Sandy, I realize that we should not be afraid to look outside the box when it comes to friends.
2. Focus on who God says you are
Secondly, while we surround ourselves with diverse friends, what do we do with our peers? Do we just give up on making friends who are in the same stage of life?
I think we can be reluctant to reach out to our peers, because we worry we are falling short of a certain set of expectations. But where do these expectations come from? My ideas of what it means to be a good wife, a good mother, a good teacher—are these expectations something I created and imposed on myself?
There is no doubt that social media has exacerbated this issue of competition and comparison. We see the best and the brightest on Instagram, and we aim to align ourselves with that image. If we fall short, we feel as if we’ve failed. When I can’t meal plan as efficiently or cook meals as delicious as all those other Pinterest users, I feel like I’m not as good a wife as they are. No wonder I’m worried what other young moms think!
But here’s the problem—though social media intensifies this type of competition and comparison, ultimately it isn’t social media’s fault, but mine. I am the one allowing these voices to shape my thinking about who I am. I let these voices get louder than the One Voice that matters, and as a result, I am insecure and self-centered.
But when I allow God’s voice to shape my thinking, I am no longer captive to thinking about myself when I stand in front of another person. I already know who I am. I know to whom I belong. I am free to be selfless, to love, and to encourage the person in front of me, because I am no longer preoccupied with getting myself affirmed or patted on the back. I am free to be a friend.
So, I need to steep myself in the Truth of God more than the “reality” of social media. This means asking some hard questions of myself: What do I turn to when I first wake up? What do I prioritize in my day? What gets my attention?
We have the ability to choose whose voice we listen to. Will we step forward confidently in our friendships because we already know who we are? Or will we meander, anxious and ineffective, constantly looking for affirmation and trying to be good enough, but never quite getting there?
3. Welcome others
Jesus told us to come to Him like little children. He does not set flawed expectations. He does not want pretense. He does not mind doubts. There are no restrictions on who I have to be, no meaningless standards I have to live up to. I am welcomed because I’m loved. If I can just stop thinking about myself, then I can look closely at those in front of me. Who are they? What do they love? What do they need? How can I be a friend to them?
C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, says that if what you want out of friendship is a friend, then your purpose is misaligned. I’m beginning to see how selflessness is key to being a friend. Instead of friendship being about us getting something (a friend), it is more about enjoying and delighting in a common bond or shared experience together. What do you enjoy? Who do you have something in common with? Begin there. Begin by sharing and enjoying each other’s company, not in trying to get something out of it.
A few years ago, at the first meeting of a small group with our church, we played an icebreaker where everyone talked about the toys they loved and played with as a kid. It was amazing to see walls and barriers come down and people being able to bond over their love of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Polly Pocket. A common experience to enjoy or reminisce on can do wonders for friendship-making.
4. View friendship as a process
In friendship, we will never be able to say “I’ve arrived.” Friendship is not an end result, but a process—the winding road of ups and downs, of grieving at a friend’s dad’s cancer diagnosis, of rejoicing in a positive on a pregnancy test, bringing meals during a sickness, or having a dance party when you need to let off some steam. True fellowship is about living life with people all along the way, enjoying them as God’s blessing to us, not about “getting a friend.”
So, I went to the splashpad that morning. It wasn’t life-changing or altering. I tried to be kind and smile. I spoke to a few girls I recognized from small group. One lady I didn’t know introduced herself to me, which was kind and gracious.
It was nothing huge or momentous, but it was a small step toward vulnerability, toward selflessness, toward making friends and building relationships with the other young moms at church. I’m taking it one step at a time, trusting His voice about me, thinking of others before myself, trying to enjoy life and each other as gracious gifts from our good God.