Friendship is work.
The older I get, the more convinced I become that it’s true. That’s because when you’re younger, you have natural and regular points of personal connection with the same group of people. You see them every day at school, you play beside them on the court or field, you sit next to them at lunch. These are friends, sure, but they are friends by association. Or, if you’re a little more cynical, they are friends of convenience.
But as you get older, you become more established. You acquire more and more responsibilities. The schedule gets busier. And as a result, friendships are affected. You no longer have as many of these natural and regular connections, and as a result, you have to work at friendships. Every relationship has a cost, and you have to subconsciously weigh the value of that relationship against the cost in time, resources, and energy it will take to maintain and grow it.
I suppose, then, it’s a bit natural that real friendships get smaller in number the older you get. Natural, but still a bit sad. Perhaps that’s one of the many reasons why moving into the empty nest phase of life is so difficult – it’s because parents center their lives around their children, and with the children moving out and moving on, they find a lack of shared interests and a lack of other relationships.
Friendship is work. It is costly. You have to work at it. And to that end, there is one, simple question you can always ask a friend:
How would you like me to pray?
Notice that this isn’t a statement like, “I’ll pray for you.” Nothing wrong with that, certainly, except for the fact that a statement like this often becomes an empty promise. We intend to pray, we think about praying, we mean to pray, but we often don’t really pray. Not so with this question.
This question is not just a statement; it’s a commitment. It’s not just a blanket statement, but the specificity behind it indicates a firm conviction. What’s more, it’s a question that actually invites a greater level of disclosure, which is one of the other issues with a statement like, “I’ll pray for you.”
When we say, “I’ll pray for you,” it can often also become a way of exiting the conversation. When someone is sharing details that are too intimate or too uncomfortable or too painful, we can extricate ourselves pretty neatly with a statement like that. But in asking, “How would you like me to pray?” we are actually pressing in. We are inviting more disclosure. More knowledge. More intimacy. We are choosing to step closer rather than step away, and this is what a true friend does. A true friend presses in.
And when we press in as friends, we might actually be surprised at the answer to that question. Though we might have assumed we know now our friend feels, what they desire, or what they’re really worried about, we are still just assuming those things. This question is an opportunity to really know.
Is there someone in your life in pain this week? Someone in need? Someone you are intending to pray for? Then why not take the opportunity to take a step closer? Ask them the question, and then make good on the commitment. Don’t just pray generally. Pray specifically as a friend should do.