Meeting People Where They Are: Social Serenity

Simplifying relationships is an art form that Jesus lived well. When we look to Jesus’ friendships, we can pinpoint practical ways to simplify our own.

by Madi Denton
Making friends as an adult is really difficult.

In school, it was simple. You walked into class, or practice, or rehearsal and sat down next to someone and struck up a conversation. It was that easy. You’d connect over common passions, shared hobbies, or the sheer necessity of needing a lab partner. Some of those relationships lasted, some faded away. The process of forming those connections, however, was simple. 

As an adult, it’s less so. Now, approaching a random stranger while out feels weird. Schedules are more difficult to sync. Or, you find yourself in vastly different seasons of life. Managing our relationships can feel complicated and overwhelming. But, it doesn’t have to. 

Simplifying our relationships is an art form that Jesus lived into well. When we look to his friendships, we can pinpoint three practical ways to simplify our relationships.

Identify your inner circle

In observing the relationships in Jesus’ life, we see an intentionality with the disciples that goes beyond the friendship extended to everyone else. Jesus was a friend to all, and best friends with some. 

When it came to choosing his closest relationships, Jesus was intentional. He chose different people with common values and invested his energy into cultivating those friendships. Developing strong relationships takes energy. It forces us to exercise trust, vulnerability, and time. We have to invest in them, and likewise they must invest in us. 

There is nothing wrong with having a lot of friends. In fact, Jesus had a ton of them. It can, however, be a rather lonely place to be if your friendships never develop a layer of depth. We’re communal beings with a desire to be really, truly known. We must surround ourselves with a handful of people who see us as our whole selves, no holding back.

Jesus knew this. He invested in those 12 friendships deeply. Now, I’m not suggesting we all need 12 best friends, or that you need to run out and make more friends. Instead, consider the relationships in your life currently. Identify 1-2 people that you feel closest with and find a way to connect with them this week. Lean into those friendships and see what unfolds.

Ditch the silos

In high school, I was the worst at overlapping my friend groups. I had my church friends in one space, my choir friends in another space, and my cross country teammates in another lot altogether. I rarely allowed for those groups to intermingle. And let me tell you, it was exhausting. 

For that kind of dynamic to work, I had to show up with only pieces of myself in every room I entered. I could never show up as my whole self, and it made maintaining friendships the farthest thing from simple. In fact, it led to a full-on panic when I showed up to church one day and saw half my choir there for an event. I had never allowed those two parts of myself to exist simultaneously, and it impacted the relationships I had formed. 

When we look to Jesus as he navigates relationships, we see him show up as unapologetically himself, every time. Some loved him for it, and some despised him. But, that never deterred him from allowing all of who he is to be present in the relationships he formed. 

There is a beautiful simplicity to forming relationships around our whole self, not fractured pieces of who we are. We don’t have to pretend or hide. We can form connections based on an honest understanding of who we are, and that is a beautifully simple way to relate.

If it doesn’t serve you, thank it and let it go

I used to be the queen of relationship hoarding. I would cling to every relationship, afraid to walk away from those connections that no longer served me or them. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but the end was always the same. I would carry around the weight of relationships that were damaging, unhealthy or generally not serving me. 

At some point, I began to realize that my hold on those connections was not only damaging to me, but them as well. We were both trying to preserve a relationship that added nothing and took quite a lot. Eventually, I started to see relationships as cycles. Some that last a lifetime, and some only a few short days. Each serves a purpose, and I don’t have to fight so hard to keep it alive. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. Relationships of any kind are work. I’m not saying that we should all ditch investing in our relationships. And still, there are some connections we carry that drain us. They lead us down paths we would rather not navigate. Or, they hold us back from our full potential. In those moments of recognition, it’s okay to hold love for the positive memories and still walk away from the relationship. 

I believe we see Jesus do just this as he interacts with Judas at the Last Supper, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas was one of the trusted 12 in Jesus’ inner circle. And yet, he was the one to betray him when the time came. In that moment, Jesus didn’t go above and beyond to keep that friendship. He called Judas friend, recognizing their past, and stepped forward into a future that Judas didn’t play a role in. 

Yes, I know that this was the beginning of Jesus’ crucifixion. However, I think this is one of many examples of the open-handed approach he took to relationships. Celebrate them when they bring joy, and mourn them as they end. But, know that it’s all natural. To allow relationships to ebb and flow without needing to control them allows for those connections to remain simple, easy. 

Shifting our mindset to a simpler approach to friendships isn’t instantaneous. It takes work. However, when you identify your closest pals, remove those barriers that prevent you from showing up as your whole self, and allow those connections to come and go, I believe you’ll experience a simplified, healthy relationship experience.

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