Last week, in a Latin American country, Nathan and I taught a seminar on how to retain resilience. When we came to the section on the importance of socialization, I wondered if it was even worthwhile to discuss this topic in a country that is so highly relational. I began to ask questions to the participants, all of whom were involved in full-time ministry. Unanimously, they agreed that this was an area in which they struggled. All cultures are changing as daily life becomes more driven by technology. After full days of working with people, it is normal to crave some down-time, alone. Yet, building and maintaining a network of friends represents the single most important factor in promoting vitality and personal well-being.
For women, socialization is even more important than sleep or exercise. This is because when gals get together socially, and communicate at a deep level, their brains actually produce chemicals that promote emotional health. Historically, women shared activities such as gardening, gathering, canning, and quilting. Over the years modern conveniences along with the opportunity to work outside of the home has re-placed this sense of community for many women.
Transition has become a way of life for most of us. After multiple relocations, it is tempting to pull back from making new friends in order to avoid the hurt of eventually having to say “good-bye.” Too often, this behavior leads to isolation and depression. Maintaining friendships requires intentionality. The following list suggests some tips for keeping socially connected:
- Learn to listen. Show an interest in other people. Dale Carnegie made the statement, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
- Start a small group. Bible and prayer groups are always meaningful. For people in ministry, however, it might be helpful to organize a group that helps you escape your everyday church-focused life. For instance, I have always enjoyed English literature, but have never had an opportunity to formally study. A few years ago I asked my friend, an English professor, to help me launch a monthly reading group. Between my hectic schedule of overseas travel, these women, a group ranging from college students to retired grandmothers, have become dear and trusted friends.
- Guard confidentiality. Nothing will kill a relationship faster than failed confidences. Certainly if you are worried about a friend’s mental, emotional or spiritual stability, it is appropriate to address the issue. However, ask permission before sharing these confidences with a third individual.
- Invest in positive friendships. Seek friendship with individuals who give you energy. Avoid seeking the friendship of people with whom you only share negative emotions and common issues of conflict. These kinds of friendships fail to provide encouragement and strength during times of distress. Remember that “a friend is someone who is delighted to see you and does not have any immediate plans for your improvement.” (author unknown).
- Make a date. Everyone appears to have limited amounts of free time. The only way to have time for friends is to schedule ahead. Pick up the phone, make the connection, and write down a time in your weekly planner. Be creative and flexible. Make time for a cup of coffee; a brown-bag lunch at the park; or a walk through the neighborhood. Recently I shared a lunch with my friend and her toddler son. After picking up “drive-through” sandwiches, I accompanied her for an hour of errands, chatting along the way. The important thing was that we were together and able to share in person. This friend energizes me and I always leave her presence feeling better than I when I arrived. Another friend and I take “destination walks.” We walk a mile or two to a cafe, talking as we go. The walk provides exercise, sunshine, and a wonderful dose of socialization.
- Initiate the invitation. When you move to a new place, don’t wait for others to include you in their established circle of friends. Make the effort to seek new friendships. Consider inviting people to your home for a simple meal. Restaurants and coffee shops are a great place for catching up with friends or grabbing a quick bite to eat after church. But for deeper conversations, there is no better place than in the privacy of your kitchen or dining room. And the food does not need to be elaborate or labor-intensive. When Nathan and I moved to a new city, a couple often invited us to join them for lunch or dinner. Away from the hustle and bustle of a noisy restaurant, we enjoyed many Chinese take-out dinners around their table. These folks became some of our best friends and we continue to practice what they modeled: Invite people into your home for meals, and make it simple.
- Hang on (to the phone or computer) during tough times. When you find yourself isolated and without friends, write e-mails, texts, and telephone (or skype) as much as possible. These tools are not as effective as “in person” friends, but they will enable you to stay connected even in times of necessary isolation.