He put down his coffee cup and summarised the problem:
“All I do is work, and take care of the children. When I get free time, I’m tired. I could go out, but what would I do? I don’t have friends to go anywhere with.”
He’s lonely. And he’s not the only one. He may not realise it, but he’s got plenty of company in that feeling. There are so many variations of it, in so many different kinds of people—married, single, young, old—and the feel-good Christmas movies and songs playing constantly right now only highlight the problem more.
We are made for community, and when it isn’t there, it leaves an awful gap in our lives. But how do we bridge that gap? Where do we start? I know from personal experience how easy it is to chase people away by trying too hard to make them be my friends. I’ve seen the looks. I know how people can get awkward and distant when I get awkward and close. What I’ve learned from these painful experiences is that approaching friendship this way is approaching it from the wrong direction. I was trying to make people be friends with me, instead of focusing on being friends with them. I know that might not sound very different, but it changes everything. It did for me, anyway.
The idea is simple: Try to be a friend to anyone you can, in any way you can.
It’s a shift in perspective—instead of focusing on solving the problem of our own loneliness and need for friends, we can focus on solving the problem for others. Instead of focusing on ourselves, we can turn our eyes out to the needs around us. This way, you don’t need to wait for people to be friendly to you, you can just go ahead and act like a friend to them. You can encourage the people right in front of you, today, whoever they are, whatever circumstances they are in. You can reach out, make a move, take a first step, in any way you can. Maybe they won’t accept your offer. That’s ok. But I think you might be surprised by how many people are looking for friends. They might seem too busy, but a lot of loneliness can hide under the cover of a full schedule. They might not seem to have a lot in common with you, but if you’re both human, that shared humanity is enough to build a friendship on. The differences can make it even more interesting—as my grandfather used to say, you can learn something new from everyone you meet if you take the time to listen well and ask the right questions.
Finding friends can be hard. But if you spend your time and energy loving and serving the people around you whenever you can, however you can, with whatever you have to give, then eventually you might be surprised to see that you’ve got real, deep friendships growing all around you. So many people are looking for friends. If you’re friendly, then they are looking for you. This Christmas, why not take the opportunity to reach out to someone?