This post is an excerpt from Christine Hoover’s new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships, which explores the joys and complexities of friendship among Christian women. Find out more about Christine at www.gracecoversme.com.
When it comes to school dances, Footloose was no lie, except for the part when Kevin Bacon, who’s been practicing punching and kicking the air in an empty warehouse, shows up and everyone suddenly becomes fantastic dancers and instinctively knows the choreography. Middle school dances are perpetually the beginning of that final scene in Footloose, where the guys and girls are on separate sides, no one dares talk to the opposite gender, the music is lame, and absolutely no one knows how to dance so they just stand against the wall trying to look casually cool. Everyone’s waiting for someone else to make the first move.
Making friends and even deepening the ones we already have feels eerily similar to being an awkward middle schooler at a dance. We show up. We put our best foot forward. We want to be invited and chosen, because we want so badly to belong. We gravitate toward the huddle of people just like us. It all feels desperately awkward and clunky as we hang out against the wall, hoping for someone—anyone—to make the first move.
Really, we’re all just separated by an unwillingness to be uncomfortable. It’s too uncomfortable to cross the floor. It’s too uncomfortable to strike up a conversation with someone who appears as foreign as a middle school girl does to a middle school boy. It’s too uncomfortable to reveal our lurching dance moves when no one else is dancing under the glaring strobe lights.
I am one of the most awkward people I know. I’m actually quite shy, I’m hopeless at telling a good story or delivering the punch line well, and I tend to ask penetrating personal questions way too soon after meeting someone.
And I have realized I’m not the only one feeling awkward in relationships. Everyone is uncomfortable. And everyone wants to be loved. Which means that anyone who is willing to resist and push through the discomfort has an incredible opportunity to make friends.
I learned this through church planting, because when you start a church in a city where you don’t know a soul, and when you have a three-year financial deadline to form a self-sustaining church that has actual people, you figure out how to push through awkwardness and meet people pretty quickly. I was crossing dance floors right and left—chatting up moms at the park, inviting strangers into my home, joining the PTO, and interacting with anyone who so much as glanced in my direction. Little ol’ shy, nerdy me. And guess what? People responded. They chatted back, they accepted my invitations, they were happy to have me volunteer. People are waiting for someone to care.
Sometimes, if you want to know the truth, it was awkward. They’d ask why we’d moved to town and I’d tell them about the church that we were starting in our living room–and they’d get quiet and stare off into the distance, unsure what to make of me and silently willing me to go away.
I learned to just keep at it, because I had started connecting with women and getting to know them and, wouldn’t you know, actually making friends. Making these connections had little to do with my personality or my marital status or the ages of my children. It had everything to do with my newfound willingness to push through my own discomfort and initiate with others over and over and over again.
We are women who long for community and to live lives of purpose, but just like anything else that is good and beautiful and worth having, these things don’t come just because we want them. The secret to discovering friends is to be a person who is willing to bust in like Kevin Bacon, ignore the gasps and the silence, see a person who wants to be known and loved underneath the casual cool, and move toward them. In other words, be someone who isn’t afraid to take the first step, look a little silly, and possibly be rejected or misunderstood. Someone who isn’t afraid to push through the awkward.
In order to be a friend and have friends, we have to get over ourselves and just go for it. Invite an acquaintance to coffee. Visit a small group in your church even though you won’t know anyone and give it time and effort before you decide whether it’s working or not. Ask an older woman whom you admire to get together. Start a book club in your neighborhood even though it’s possible no one will show up. Serve alongside others. Ask penetrating questions to turn the conversation onto spiritual things. Confess sin to someone you consider a friend. Host a game night and invite people you want to get to know. Say yes to an invitation from a co-worker even though you’ve never spent time together outside of work. Basically, do things that make you feel uncomfortable but will possibly invite deeper friendship.
Of course, it’s true that we may push through the awkward and then things will be, well, awkward. The person may not respond how we hoped she would. She may not get why we’re doing what we’re doing. Our expectations and hopes for friendship may take a little tumble. We may have to do the work of getting ourselves back up and dusting ourselves off.
But it’s also true that we may push through the awkward and experience all sorts of incredible things, like a freeing dependence on the Lord and a new or deepening friendship.
We simply can’t know unless we go for it.
Just like Kevin Bacon.
This book releases on April 18th, but if you preorder, you get all sorts of fun goodies, plus the book is almost 1/2 off right now!! Get your copy here.